78th AFMA Commission meeting - Chairman's summary

Commission meeting

The Commission convened for its 78th meeting in Canberra, with most Commissioners attending virtually due to COVID-19 travel uncertainties.

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; Squid Jig Industry, Northern Prawn Fishery Pty Ltd (NPF), Great Australian Bight Industry Association and Scallop Fishermen’s Association of Tasmania (SFAT).

The Commission values these industry updates on the operating environment in individual fisheries as well as any specific advice and/or concerns raised. The Commission discussed issues arising from all reports. In particular, the Commission:

  • discussed the differing industry views about the role of economic and market considerations in the Bass Strait Scallop Fishery, noting that the MAC recommendation for a 4000 tonnes TAC had been endorsed out of session.  The Commission agreed that greater consideration of the influence of these factors on the advice is required to inform future decision making, and that the review of the harvest strategy will provide an opportunity to explore this issue;
  • noted the specific concerns raised by Tuna Australia regarding recent IOTC decisions that reduce Australia’s interim catch limits for key species and considered the proposal for internationally-traded quota in the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery; and
  • discussed various considerations relating to stock structure and the implications for species management, affirming the request from the 77th Commission meeting for a paper to guide definitive action on the management of Pink Ling.

The Commission welcomed a presentation from Dr Russell Reichelt AO who spoke about his role as Australia’s Sherpa and Australia’s role in the work of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (the Ocean Panel). Dr Reichelt highlighted the five pillars of the Ocean Panel (health, wealth, equity, finance and knowledge) and provided the Commission with insights into the Ocean Panel’s view of a sustainable oceans’ economy.

Dr Beth Fulton and Professor Keith Sainsbury delivered a joint presentation on the Benchmarks for Ecosystem Assessment under Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management. This highly informative presentation detailed methods by which to better advance the concept of Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management through a greater focus on ecological indicators on a fishery. The Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF) was one of the case studies chosen to explore the approach.

Further to the Commission’s consideration of a number of papers regarding AFMA’s corporate, compliance and governance matters, the Commission approved the following documents:

  • draft Co-management Fisheries Management Paper for consultation,
  • draft Protected Species Strategy for consultation; and
  •  the final Fisheries Management Paper 5 – Developmental Fisheries Policy.

The Commission noted an update on the scheduled October meeting of the Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and the link between decisions of that meeting and the Commission’s subsequent decision on TACs for the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery.

In regard to Macquarie Island, the Commission agreed to support the recommendations made by the Sub-Antarctic Fisheries Resource Assessment Group and the Sub-Antarctic Fisheries Management Advisory Committee (SouthMAC) to:

  • amend the Macquarie Island Toothfish Fishery (MITF) fishing year so that it starts on 15 April and ends on 14 April of the following year, commencing on 15 April 2022; and
  • approve the following TAC and bycatch limits for the MITF for each of the 2022/23 and 2023/24 seasons:

Target species

Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides)                                          635 tonnes

Bycatch species

Any other single species taken in the fishery                                                50 tonnes.

The Commission also agreed the Explanatory Statement and Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights for the Macquarie Island Toothfish Fishery (Total Allowable Catch) Determination 2021.

During the May 2021 meeting, the Commission carefully considered an ASBTIA request, supported by Tuna Australia, to change undercatch provisions in the Southern Bluefin Tuna (SBT) Fishery. While the Commission did not support this industry request, it 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.

During this (July) meeting, and in response to a further submission on the issue from ASBTIA, AFMA Management presented a paper to the Commission exploring options that would allow the SBT Fishery to maximise its undercatch allowance while ensuring international and domestic obligations continue to be met. After detailed consideration, the Commission reaffirmed the decision it made in May for this year’s fishing season. Looking forward, the Commission requested that AFMA Management provide scenario modelling and implications under Australia’s international agreements under different options for a long-term arrangement.

The Commission noted that affected industry is intending to provide some advice to inform the Commission’s final decision on whether to continue the current 100 per cent undercatch for orange roughy (East) from the 2022-23 season.

Helen Kroger

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