63rd AFMA Commission meeting Chairman’s summary

The Commission met for its 63rd meeting in Canberra on 5-6 September 2018.

Key decisions and discussions by the Commission at its meeting included:

  • Catch Triggers for Target Species in the Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery (WTBF)

The Commission agreed to Tropical Tuna Resource Assessment Group (TTRAG) providing the Commission with a summary of the most relevant scientific indicators and advice for WTBF stocks to inform future Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) decisions in that fishery. TTRAG will develop an indicators paper over the next 12 months. This approach is already being developed for tropical tuna species in the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery (ETBF) whilst the new harvest strategy is under development.

  • Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery (ETBF): Indicators for broadbill swordfish and striped marlin

While CSIRO has commenced work on a new Harvest Strategy for these species, until it is complete, the Commission will draw on a summary of the most relevant scientific indicators and advice to assist it in setting catch limits for ETBF Swordfish and Striped Marlin for 2019. These indicators are drawn from both domestic and international data and assessments.

  • AFMA Communications Strategy 2018-2021

AFMA’s Communications team has been working to maintain links with other agencies, industry and the Seafood Industry Association to increase the reach of media messages.

Commissioners supported a collaborative communications approach and suggested that this be expanded further including with the recreational fishing sector. Harnessing the full range of media technologies was regarded as an approach that would complement broadening AFMA’s engagement with stakeholders.

  • Transhipping Policy and Guidelines

In preparing the Transhipping Policy and Guidelines, AFMA consulted with its fishery Management Advisory Committees (MACs), commercial fishing industry associations including the Commonwealth Fisheries Association, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and (then) Department of Environment and Energy, the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation and also sought submissions from the general public. AFMA received a range of views as transhipping at sea has a mixed reputation due to an association with international occurrences of overfishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in some international fisheries.

Commissioners noted AFMA Management had made changes to the draft Policy and Guidelines in response to some of the comments received during the consultations. Commissioners also noted AFMA Management advice that refuted some claims received during the consultations including:

  1. some stakeholders believed that transhipping will lead to catch increases in fishing effort to industrial scales never seen before – this is incorrect as AFMA manages fisheries using a sustainable total allowable catch (TAC) limits and quota allocated to fishers based on science. Transhipping does not affect TACs;
  2. some stakeholders believed transhipping has direct implications for recreational fishers – this is incorrect given Commonwealth catch is limited by output or effort controls that take account of reported recreational catch;
  3. some stakeholders believed that the transhipping policy will lead to easier and faster approvals for the activity – this is incorrect as transhipping already occurs in Australian fisheries. The draft policy is about ensuring best practice and a consistent approach across fisheries;
  4. some stakeholders believed that transhipping can be unsustainable if poorly managed – this is true but AFMA’s strict controls on catch, regardless of whether the catch is unloaded at sea or in port, mean that fishing will be sustainable and banning transhipping would only make it harder for Australian fishers to compete internationally and domestically;
  5. some stakeholders believed there are negative environmental impacts from transhipping – this is incorrect as in terms of environmental footprint, recent research has found that compared to other sources of animal protein, products derived from marine fisheries and destined for human consumption produce relatively low greenhouse gas emissions (Parker et al. 2018 'Fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions of world fisheries' Nature Climate Change). Transhipping can reduce fuel consumption, further minimising the environmental footprint of commercial fishing;
  6. some stakeholders believed that transhipping would encourage localised depletion – this is incorrect as transhipping means that boats are less likely to stay in one area. Transhipping can spread catches out, lowering (the already low) risk of localised depletion, and can reduce conflict between resource users; and
  7. some stakeholders believed there is little benefit from transhipping – this is incorrect and transhipping may be attractive to fishers who seek to use it because transhipping enables faster processing thereby improving quality and freshness for seafood consumers. This ensures the best use of the resource and improves economic returns to the Australian community.

The Commission agreed that the revised Transhipping Policy and Guidelines are expected to benefit commercial fishers by enabling them to maintain product quality (and therefore price) when operating long distances from port; when catching product that needs processing quickly; or where there is a lack of adequate onshore processing facilities. It may also allow fishers to reduce their operating costs, especially fuel usage, through more efficient use of fishing vessels. New fisheries related business and employment opportunities in the supply chain may also be developed. Furthermore, AFMA’s strict management arrangements will mitigate against risks associated with transhipping activity that is known to occur is some other regions.

Accordingly, the Commission agreed in principle to the revised Transhipping Policy and Guidelines pending some wording revisions. AFMA expects to implement the policy by late 2018.

  • Seabird Bycatch Mitigation

Commissioners noted the recent publication in a peer reviewed journal, Endangered Species Research, of a report on an industry-led study that occurred in 2013-2014 investigating two novel seabird mitigation devices for trawl vessels in the Commonwealth’s Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF). The two devices trialled were the “bird baffler” system, and a water sprayer system. The results of the study indicated that both devices trialled showed an improvement in bird mitigation compared to both bare warps (96 per cent fewer interactions) and pinkie buoys, the mitigation device used in the fishery at the time of the trial.

Based on the preliminary results of the study, AFMA had established a project in 2016 with the South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association (SETFIA) and the Great Australia Bight Industry Association (GABIA) to assess the results of the studies and implement bafflers in the SET and GAB fisheries. AFMA introduced new seabird mitigation requirements into the Commonwealth Trawl Sector (CTS) in May 2017.

To confirm the effectiveness of these improved mitigation techniques on seabird interactions in the CTS, Commissioners noted that AFMA is working with operators on a range of initiatives including further education, port visits, e-monitoring and compliance activities.

  • School Shark Close Kin Project

Commissioners noted advice from the Shark Resource Assessment Group (RAG) that initial results of the school shark close kin project indicated some rebuilding of the school shark stock. The RAG supported the ongoing development of the close kin model and made a number of recommendations for its refinement. The close kin project should provide an improved estimate of current biomass, fishing mortality and an updated estimate of unavoidable bycatch that allows rebuilding in accordance with Harvest Strategy Policy requirements. The results of this next body of work will be considered at RAG meetings later this year.

  • Autonomous Adjustment Indicators in the Northern Prawn Fishery (NPF)

Since the major restructure of the NPF fleet in 2006-7, the Commission has continued to encourage further improvements to the Individual Transferable Effort system used in the NPF so that in as far as possible, autonomous adjustment takes place. As part of this, the Commission had requested the Northern Prawn Fishery Industry Pty Ltd (NPFI) to develop indicators for monitoring structural adjustment risk, which can then trigger an adjustment response.

The Commission considered the NPFI Indicators Report and response strategies paper, and associated presentation. Commissioners agreed to refer the report to AFMA’s Economics Working Group for advice and involve NPFI and the Northern Prawn Fishery Management Advisory Committee in subsequent considerations.

Helen Kroger

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