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    The Observer Program provides fisheries managers, research organisations, environmental agencies, the fishing industry and the wider community with independent, reliable, verified and accurate information on the fishing catch, effort and practice of a wide range of boats operating inside, and periodically outside, the Australian Fishing Zone.

    The Observer Program places AFMA trained Observers on domestic and if required, foreign boats fishing within the Australian Fishing Zone and some adjacent high seas areas under international arrangements.

    Each year the requirements and priorities for the Observer Program are determined by AFMA after consultation with the relevant Management Advisory Committees and Resource Assessment Groups, so that timing and spacing observer coverage is proportional to fishing effort within and across fisheries.

    All operators are required to carry observers when requested by AFMA.

    Whenever possible, AFMA sends advice to operators that they have been nominated to carry an observer during a particular period. This notice is given with as much warning as possible, usually in excess of four weeks and possibly as much as twelve months in advance.

    In some cases operators may be contacted at short notice to carry an observer when unforeseen circumstances arise, such as a breakdown to a boat that was set to carry an observer.

    In the Heard Island & McDonald Islands Fishery and the Macquarie Island Toothfish Fishery, one hundred per cent observer coverage is required on every trip.

    This arrangement has been in place since operations began in the 1990s in Australia’s sub-Antarctic fisheries (the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery and the Macquarie Island Toothfish Fishery). This is consistent with requirements specified in the Conservation Measure for all finfish fisheries adopted by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

    Observers play a critical role in monitoring fishing operations and with the collection of biological information for use in stock assessments including data on the catch and size composition of target and bycatch species, undertaking tagging work and otolith collection for studying the age of fish.

    One hundred per cent observer coverage is also required for trawl operators on the High Seas. This is supported by the international fishing community and by environmental risk assessments associated with High Seas trawl fishing methods. Other arrangements exist for non-trawl boats that fish on the high seas.

    For non-trawl boats the first trip has mandatory coverage with 10 per cent coverage thereafter.

    There is a fee-for-service when an observer is placed onboard a boat. For fishery specific Observer fees information please contact the Manager of the Observer Program on (02) 6225 5555 during business hours.

    If AFMA directs a concession holder to carry an observer on a nominated boat, the concession holder must ensure:

    • that an observer, observer’s safety equipment, and the observer’s monitoring equipment are on board the boat when the boat commences the trip to which the direction applies.
    • the observer is carried safely on the boat and is provided with adequate food and accommodation while the observer is on board the boat during a trip.
    • the observer is given assistance by the master and crew members and is given access to all parts of the boat, to the extent reasonably necessary to allow the observer to complete his work duties.
    • the concession holder as well as the master and crew members of the boat must not interfere with, or obstruct, the observer in the course of collecting data or samples.

    When a concession holder’s boat does not meet survey requirements to carry an observer, the concession holder must take steps with the relevant authorities and agencies to rectify this.

    Where an operator refuses or fails to carry an observer as required, an ‘Observer Compliance Notice’ will be issued in relation to the boat.

    The notice will specify when an observer is to be carried, such as within a specified time period, the next fishing trip, or on a specified number of fishing trips.

    Failure to meet the terms of the notice may lead to suspension of the fishing concession or other enforcement action. The boat will then be removed from the Observer-friendly boat register.

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    Page last updated: 10/08/2023