77th AFMA Commission Meeting - Chairman's Summary

Commission meeting 7 & 8 July 2021

The Commission convened for its 77th meeting in Lakes Entrance, with some Commissioners attending virtually due to COVID-19 uncertainties. The Commission Chairman, Ms Kroger was unable to attend due to personal circumstances and Ms Catherine Cooper, the Deputy Chairman chaired the meeting.

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.

The Commission considered written submissions provided by industry groups and individuals from the following: Atlantis (on behalf of SETFIA, SSIA, SPFIA and BSSIA); Tuna Australia; Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Australia (ASBTIA), Scallop Fishermen’s Association of Tasmania (SFAT).

These submissions are greatly valued by the Commission, providing general updates on the current industry operating environment as well as specific concerns and advice on matters in their respective fisheries. In particular, the Commission noted that some fisheries continue to struggle with the ongoing impact of COVID-19 while, for others, close to normal operating conditions have resumed. The Commission noted that the issue of the future of Pink Ling had been raised in the SETFIA submission and requested AFMA Management to provide a paper on this topic for its consideration.

Commissioners met with representatives of SETFIA, SSIA and SSFA throughout the course of the meeting. The Commission also had representatives from the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) provide it with a presentation on NOPSEMA’s role and recent engagement in issues of relevance to the fishing industry.

In addition to considering a number of papers regarding AFMA’s corporate, compliance and governance matters, the Commission noted developments in the Electronic Monitoring space, with particular reference to the government’s recent announcement of $10.1 million to improve and expand the existing EM into additional Commonwealth fisheries. These funds (as well as the $9.95M government announced for the E-fish initiative) will reduce regulatory burden, increase productivity, support new export opportunities, and improve environmental outcomes for Australia’s Commonwealth fishers. The Commission noted the importance of these initiatives and encouraged AFMA Management to ensure adequate project governance and to pursue a co-design approach with industry.

The Commission discussed rebuilding stocks in the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF), noting  that the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) has recently invited AFMA to meet with it to discuss species listed as ‘Conservation Dependent’ under the EPBC Act.  Commissioners agreed to revisit this issue in July, and asked for a brief supporting paper on each of the relevant species to support its discussions.

The Commission carefully considered an ASBTIA request, supported by TA, to provide increased flexibility through increased undercatch provisions in the Southern Bluefin Tuna (SBT) fishery. In reaching its decision to not support industry’s request, the Commission:

  • Recalled its decision to provide this flexibility for the 2019-20 season only, as a direct response to COVID-19;
  • Noted that the presence of undercatch from 2020 was contributing to the likely further undercatch in 2021;
  • Noted that markets are gradually freeing up; and
  • Considered whether there would be perceived inequity in treating the SBT fishery differently to other fisheries.

The Commission did note, however, that the current application of undercatch provisions in Australia’s domestic SBT fishery differs from other members of the CCSBT, and presents annual lost opportunities for Australia.  The Commission agreed to explore, in consultation with industry, a long-term arrangement that might result in greater usage of Australia’s CCSBT allocation and avoid ad hoc considerations that would likely lead to inconsistent decision making over time.

The Commission agreed to determine the Small Pelagic Fishery Fishing Period, as 1 May in a year and ending on 30 April in the following year.

The Commission also agreed to determine the amounts and percentages for overcatch and undercatch and determined weight for Western Tuna Billfish Fishery (WTBF) quota species for the 2021-22 season. Both these determinations will be lodged on the Federal Register of Legislation.

The Commissioners noted that industry members have written to the TSSC requesting that the eastern stock of orange roughy (ORS-E) be removed from the Conservation Dependent list on the basis that it no longer meets the listing criteria. The Commission noted that from a fisheries management perspective, the rebuilding of ORS-E should be considered a success, with the stock having recovered to well over the limit reference point (20% SB0) and expected to continue to increase.  However, the Commission noted that there is no information available as to what criteria the TSSC would use to make a recommendation on the matter, or how it would handle technical issues such as connectivity between ORS stocks.  The CEO undertook to take the matter up with the TSSC when a meeting has been settled and report back to the Commission. 

Catherine Cooper
Acting Chair

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