2 June 2021

Annual Public Meeting – 10 March 2021

Stakeholders and the general public were invited to participate in the Commission’s Annual Public Meeting on the first day of the Commission meeting.  Pleasingly, a number of stakeholders participated virtually in the meeting.

The AFMA CEO, Mr Norris, delivered a presentation which included AFMA’s legislated objectives and a snapshot of the organisation; the status of fisheries and which fisheries AFMA has management responsibility for; the impact of climate change, AFMA’s national and international compliance, enforcement and engagement programs, independent monitoring, the impact of COVID-19 and a discussion about AFMA’s outlook.

The attendees then had the opportunity to ask questions of the Commissioners.

Commission Meeting

The Commission met for its 76th meeting in Canberra on 10-11 March 2021, with some Commissioners attending virtually due to COVID-19 border restrictions.

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.

As part of the meeting, the Commission considered written submissions provided by industry groups and individuals from the following: Atlantis (on behalf of SETFIA and SSIA), Tuna Australia, GABIA, SFAT, SSJF, SBT and Northern Prawn Fishery.  These submissions provided an update on the current industry operating environment as well as specific concerns and advice on matters in their respective fisheries. In particular, the Commission noted the difficulties in assessing stocks with status ‘depleted, depleting or rebuilding’ where it appears the stocks are unresponsive to mainstream fisheries management measures, and industry’s concerns about seismic testing and the potential impact on fish stocks and habitat.

The Commission was also verbally briefed by Austral Fisheries and the Minderoo Foundation.

  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) and the Small Pelagic Fishery (SPF) as well as to set catch limits for black tiger prawns.

                SESSF

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

a) The Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery Management Plan 2003 (Management Plan);

b) The Minutes from the Great Australian Bight RAG (GABRAG), South East RAG (SERAG) and Shark RAG (SharkRAG), including RBC recommendations, which are available on the AFMA website www.afma.gov.au/fisheries/committees;

c) The recommended Biological Catches (RBCs), TACs, percentages for overcatch and undercatch, determined amounts and RCAs (where applicable) recommended by fishery Resource Assessment Groups (RAGs), the Great Australian Bight Management Advisory Committee (GABMAC), the South East Management Advisory Committee (SEMAC) and AFMA Management for the 2021-22 fishing year; and

d) Three industry submissions from:

    1. i. GAB Industry Association (GABIA) regarding GAB Trawl Sector (GABTS) TACs;
    2. ii. Southern Shark Industry Alliance (SSIA) regarding the gummy shark TAC; and
    3. iii. Peter and Una Fishing paper regarding Blue-eyed Trevella

The Commission discussed the application of discount factors for non-tier 1 assessments and the absence of a discount factor for tier 5 assessments and requested that moving forward, that each MAC provide greater evidence and explanation in support of cases where it does not recommend to apply discount factors as standard. Further, the Commission noted that work was underway to develop decision rules for tier 5 assessments, and recommended discount factors be considered alongside this.

The Commission agreed to determine the TACs for the SESSF quota species for the 2021-22 fishing year as recommended by AFMA Management, except:

  • The Commission agreed to apply a 15% discount for silver trevally; and
  • While the Commission approved the recommendation for 100% undercatch for orange roughy (East) for 2021/22, the Commission also agreed that this would be reduced in 2022/23 to a more standard level.

The Commission also agreed to AFMA Management recommendations for:

a) TAC limits for SESSF non-quota species for the 2021-22 fishing year;

b) amounts and percentages for overcatch and undercatch for SESSF quota species;

c) RCA for orange roughy (western) and orange roughy (GAB Albany and Esperance) for the 2021-22 fishing year.

        SPF

In considering the TACs, the amounts and percentages for undercatch and overcatch and determined weight for the Small Pelagic Fishery (SPF) 2021-22 fishing year (1 May 2021 – 30 April 2022), the Commission took account of the Small Pelagic Fishery Harvest Strategy (SPF Harvest Strategy) and advice from the SPF RAG, SEMAC and AFMA Management, with AFMA’s management’s recommendation provided below.

In particular, the Commission noted the recommended TACs are derived from the RBCs recommended by the RAG; that all seven SPF stocks remain at the same tier of the SPF Harvest Strategy as the previous season and the RBCs for five stocks remain unchanged; and that in relation to blue mackerel east and Australian sardine, new biomass estimates were derived from a Daily Egg Production Method (DEPM) survey undertaken in 2019-20 and accepted by the RAG in December 2020. The results of this survey maintain both stocks at tier 1 of the SPF Harvest Strategy, allowing for maximum potential harvest.

The Commission agreed to AFMA Management recommendations on:

a) the TACs for SPF quota species for the 2021-22 season; and

b) the amounts and percentages for overcatch and undercatch and determined weight for SPF quota species for the 2021-22 season.

Catch limits for black tiger prawns (broodstock)

In setting the catch limits, the Commission noted:

  • the results of the P. monodon stock assessment undertaken by the CSIRO;
  • the recommendations from NPRAG and NORMAC to maintain the status quo for the management of P. monodon to allow continued data collection and monitoring over the next three years with another assessment proposed for 2024;
  • that the Australian Prawn Farmer’s Association (APFA) forecasts a requirement of 12,000 increasing to 20,000 prawns over 5 years; and
  • that despite APFA’s forecast, the Northern Prawn Fishing Industry P/L (NPFI) has advised that orders to date for 2021 are currently less than 7,000, noting NPFI treats the order numbers as commercial-in-confidence.

The Commission agreed that there is insufficient data available to confidently allow an increase in P. monodon permit catch and therefore decided to maintain the current catch limit while promoting a strong focus on data collection and monitoring in accordance with the precautionary principle.  This is to include annual monitoring of total catch (5-year running average) against the two different model estimates of MSY to assess possible risk to stock sustainability until another assessment is undertaken, noting there needs to be contingency planning in the event that catches are not trending well against the MSY estimates.

The Commission agreed to the recommendation to maintain the co-management arrangements with NPFI for P. monodon for the 2021 fishing season under the three broodstock permits including:

a) a 9,000 individual prawn supply limit; and

b) Move-on provisions for Sawfish – operators must move more than three nautical miles if four or more sawfish are caught in a single shot.

Hagfish

The Commission discussed hagfish management and noted there is increasing interest from other fishers to target hagfish.

The Commission noted that AFMA and SERAG are developing a Hagfish Research Plan to collect the data needed to support an assessment of the resource and long term decisions about the fishery. This is because information about the target species is poor, and any additional catch and effort in the absence of better understanding would not be consistent with the precautionary principle. The Commission further noted the Research Plan will undergo further consultation with the MAC, RAG and the concession holder.

The Commission evaluated the differing advice of the RAG and the MAC in relation to catch limits and settled on setting a maximum catch limit of 80 tonnes, to be distributed in two zones based on the currently fished SESSF statistical zones (zones 10 and 20). The Commission noted 80t remains a precautionary approach compared to the significantly higher catches in other parts of the world.

The Commission determined:

  • escape hole size to be set at 16mm initially;
  • when observers are on board, there is to be experimentation with escape hole sizes of 16mm and 18mm;
  • a review of existing logbook and catch disposal record (CDR) was required.

Overall, the Commission stressed the importance of the AFMA and the operator working constructively to develop and implement a research plan to inform future management arrangements.

2. Appointment of new Bass Strait Central Zone Scallop Fishery Management Advisory Committee (ScallopMAC) members

The Commission recalled that it had, out of session, appointed Dr Daryl McPhee as ScallopMAC Chair.  The Commission agreed to appoint the following ScallopMAC members from 1 May 2021 to 31 March 2024: Andrew Watts, John Cull, John Hammond, Debbie Wisby, Peter Mellios  and Stuart Richey as Industry members; Brendan Kelaher as ScallopRAG Chair; Julian Morison (economic expertise) and Sylvia Zukowski as conservation member.

3. Terms of reference for SquidRAG and SESSFRAG membership

The Commission was requested to address a technical issue that has been identified with the Southern Squid Jig Fishery Resource Assessment Group (SquidRAG) and SESSFRAG meeting the requirements of a ‘quorum’ set out in Fisheries Administration Paper 12 – Resource Assessment Groups. The Commission endorsed revised the SquidRAG and SESSFRAG TOR, specifying a quorum appropriate to the current membership.

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 heard from an expert communications consultancy which assisted in crystallising the way forward. Further work by the AFMA communications team will focus on developing a Communications Plan and a Stakeholder Engagement Framework which will align with AFMA’s Corporate Plan.

Other matters

The Commission noted AFMA’s paper to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee’s inquiry into the fisheries quota system which was to be submitted on 12 March 2021.

The Commission noted that the CEO had approved the AFMA Research Committee budget and discussed taking a strategic view on what research topics should be prioritised.

The Commission noted that AFMA’s fisheries officers have resumed field duties for both the domestic compliance program and foreign illegal fishing programs, with particular being taken by those officers to ensure they are working in a COVID-safe manner.

 

Helen Kroger

Chairman