16 April 2020

The Commission met for its 70th meeting in Canberra on 10-11 March 2020.

This document provides a summary of the key discussions and decisions by the Commission. It is not a record of discussions and does not cover agenda items and discussions that are either routine or confidential.

Stakeholders and the general public were invited to participate in the Commission’s annual public meeting before the Commission meeting.  No stakeholders chose to participate in the meeting.  Commissioners continued previous discussions on how to better engage with stakeholders (see below).

As part of the meeting, the Commission also considered written submissions provided by industry groups and individuals from the shark and trawl fishing sectors in the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery, the SPF and Bass Strait Central Zone Scallop Fishery. These provided an update on the current industry operating environment as well as specific concerns and advice on matters in their respective fisheries. The Commission also noted a verbal update provided by Mr Brian Jeffriess on behalf of the Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association.

1. Total Allowable Catches (TACs)

The main focus of this meeting was to set TACs for the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF), Small Pelagic Fishery (SPF) and Macquarie Island Toothfish Fishery (MITF)

SESSF

In considering the proposed TACs, the Commission noted a range of advice including:

a) Recommended changes to be made to the SESSF Harvest Strategy as an interim step while a broader review of the Harvest Strategy is undertaken over the next two years. The changes aim to broaden the parameters that can be considered in the TAC setting process including expanding the assessment tiers for data poor species, the use of recent recruitment scenarios in stock assessments and what to do if a stock assessment is not accepted by the RAG ;

b) Recommended Biological Catches (RBCs), TACs, percentages for overcatch and undercatch and determined amounts and Research Catch Allowances recommended as applicable by fishery Resource Assessment Groups (RAGs), the Great Australian Bight Management Advisory Committee (GABMAC), and the South East Management Advisory Committee (SEMAC) for the 2020-21 fishing year.

In relation to school whiting in particular, the Commission noted that a review of the stock assessment is being undertaken and that catch sharing arrangements are being pursued with NSW as a matter of urgency in light of increasing catch by state fishers.

c) Advice provided directly by the Great Australian Bight Fishing Industry Association and the South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association.

The Commission agreed to:

  1. amend the Harvest Strategy;
  2. determine TACs for SESSF quota species for the 2020-21 fishing year (https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2020L00299).  
  3. determine TAC limits for non-quota species for the 2020-21 fishing year (https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2020L00300);
  4. determine amounts and percentages for overcatch and undercatch for SESSF quota species (https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2020L00302);  
  5. set a research catch allowance of 200 tonnes each for orange roughy (western) and orange roughy in the Great Australian Bight Trawl Fishery for the 2020-21 fishing year.

SPF

In considering the proposed TACs, the Commission noted:

a) the  TACs are derived by deducting all available sources of mortality i.e. state catch, SPF discards, and catch (retained and discarded) from other Commonwealth fisheries, from the RAG Recommended Biological Catches (RBCs) for each stock;

b) the TACs for all seven SPF stocks remain unchanged except for minor adjustments resulting from a new biomass estimate for jack mackerel east, state catches, discards and catch from other Commonwealth fisheries;

c) for jack mackerel east, the new biomass estimate was derived from a Daily Egg Production Method (DEPM) survey in 2018-19 and accepted by the RAG in 2019.  The results of this survey maintain the stock at tier 1 of the SPF Harvest Strategy, allowing for maximum potential harvest. 

The Commission agreed:

a) to determine the TACs for SPF quota species for the
2020-21 season
https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2020L00284;  

b) to determine the amounts and percentages for overcatch/undercatch and determined weight for SPF quota species for the 2020-21 season https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2020L00285.

MITF

In considering the proposed TAC and bycatch limits the Commission noted:

a) the Patagonian toothfish stock is assessed to be at 70 per cent of unfished spawning biomass, well above its target reference point of 50 per cent;

b) the advice provided by the Sub-Antarctic Resource Assessment Group (SARAG) and Sub-Antarctic Fisheries Management Advisory Committee (SouthMAC) in support of the TAC and bycatch limit recommendations.  

The Commission agreed to determine the TAC and bycatch limits for the MITF for each of the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons (https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2020L00286).

 

2. Appointment of an Industry Member to the Scallop Management Advisory Committee (MAC) and an AFMA Member to the Sub-Antarctic Fisheries Management Advisory Committee (SouthMAC)

The Commission agreed to extend the appointment of Mr Peter Mellios as an Industry Member to ScallopMAC for the period 1 June 2020 to 30 April 2021 and appoint Mr Brodie Macdonald as the AFMA Member to SouthMAC effective immediately until 30 July 2021.

The appointments are in response to the resignation of a ScallopMAC member in 2019 and recent movements by AFMA staff, the terms of which are consistent with the remaining terms of appointment for other members on each of the respective MACs.   

3. Western Orange Roughy Research Plan

The Commission considered the Western Orange Roughy Research Plan. The plan aims to support adequate data collection to inform an assessment of the western orange roughy stock with a view to demonstrate rebuilding. Any targeted fishing in the future would be in accordance with the SESSF Harvest Strategy.

The Commission approved the Western Orange Roughy Research Plan including 200 tonnes of research catch allowance for 2020-21 and a high level of observer coverage initially to collect information on bycatch. Observer coverage levels are to be reviewed and adjusted by AFMA Management as required.

Prior to setting research catch allowance for the second year of the plan in 2021-22, the Commission requested additional advice from the South East RAG regarding what the minimum data requirement is in order to provide a signal of stock status.

In making its decision, the Commission noted that if fishing under the research plan did not occur or the minimum data requirements were not met, it would not be in a position to open the fishery or approve further research for this stock in the future.

4. AFMA communications

Building from ongoing discussions about how AFMA can best engage with key stakeholders, including the general public, Commissioners discussed the development of a more comprehensive engagement strategy.  Commissioners exchanged ideas as to what this might incorporate, including the need for closer collaboration and information sharing with other relevant agencies in order to promote a number of goals including:

  • To ensure that direct fishery stakeholders are well informed on management issues, have adequate opportunity to participate in decision making, and understand the basis for and implications of decisions; and
  • To increase the general community understanding of fisheries issues and support for sustainable commercial fishing as a food production industry.

Commissioners agreed that this would be a standing item on the Commission agenda.

5. Other matters

Commissioners were provided an update on the project to simplify the management of the Gillnet, Hook and Trap Fishery (GHATF). The GHATF has a long and complicated history of management being an amalgamation of a number of different state and Commonwealth fisheries. The current project is looking at ways to simplify the number and types of concessions with the intent of improving the efficiency of administration as well as simplifying rules for fishers.

Commissioners considered an update on the various Workplace, Health and Safety (WHS) activities that AFMA Management is undertaking including AFMA Observers and other Field Officers, who are required to conduct at sea business operations on behalf of the agency. The Commission noted that AFMA has issued revised Health and Safety Management Arrangements in accordance with the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Commissioners considered the 2020-21 draft budget and Cost Recovery Impact Statement and praised the transparency of the information provided. 

The Commission noted that AFMA is currently considering recommendations from an independent review to improve the design and management of AFMA’s performance measures as part of its performance reporting systems. Some relatively small improvements are being considered in the short term while more substantive changes are being considered in the longer term.

Helen Kroger

Chairman