79th AFMA Commission Meeting - Chairman's Summary

The Commission convened for its 79th meeting in Canberra, with 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 welcomed and Brian Jeffriess of the Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association (ASBTIA). Mr Jeffriess addressed issues of proposed carryover of undercatch. The Commission values industry updates in addition to specific advice and/or concerns raised, and the Commission discussed, with Mr Jeffrriess, the recognition of international fisheries engagement in the draft National Fisheries Plan, the recent support by other Commonwealth agencies for the fishing industry – particularly in managing COVID and the impact of La Nina - and the returns for communities such as Port Lincoln.

The Commission considered Industry updates on tuna with regard to the Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery (WTBF) and the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) reductions for yellowfin tuna, including Australia’s share; the proposal to establish new marine protected areas and exclude fishing around Australia’s Indian Ocean Territories, and the ability to bring in foreign fishing vessels.

The Commission heard that industry had raised these issues on several occasions and the challenges faced by Australia in managing yellowfin tuna, such as addressing a meaningful catch history. It was also noted AFMA does not have policy carriage on these issues and Commissioners agreed that it would be useful to seek a briefing from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment at the next Commission meeting.

The Commission, through the CEO, discussed some recent developments in Woolworths on policies for sourcing sustainable seafood. Anecdotal advice from industry was that this would have a dampening effect on investment in, for example, cold storage and processing facilities.

The Commission noted the impact of large retailers, who were partnering with third parties in applying assessment methodologies such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), and whose standards were being used for marketing purposes.

The Commission noted that recreational stakeholders in Victoria, the Victorian Fisheries Authority, and the Victorian Fisheries Minister have raised concerns over a spike in Danish Seine catch of King George Whiting in May/June 2021. These stakeholders have requested that AFMA prohibit the take of KGW. AFMA Management and the Assistant Minister have responded, stating that there does not appear to be case for management action given that Commonwealth catch represents about 2% of the total Victorian catch.

The Commission heard from the AFMA Fisheries Operations Branch.

Of note was that 85 legislative forfeitures of fishing equipment and catch (where present) were conducted on illegal foreign fishing vessels for the 2020-21 financial year. These actions also included the seizure and disposal 12 vessels at sea. A further 64 legislative forfeitures were undertaken for the 2021-22 financial year up to 20 September, which also included 13 vessels. Ongoing efforts to maximise on the water enforcement capabilities and complimentary activities, including the dissemination of education material in Indonesia, information sharing and direct liaison with Indonesian authorities were also noted.

The Commission noted the effort and difficulties in meeting observer program objectives and the impact of COVID relative to commitments for long trips and international travel and the potential for staff to be impacted by domestic border closures. The Commission noted that work is progressing to ensure fisheries meet the new standards for export under the United States Mammal rules which start on 1 January 2022.

The Commission also considered papers on:

  • Options to address stock regionalisation in the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF);
  • Orange Roughy and Blue Warehou rebuilding strategy in the SESSF;
  • Southern Bluefin Tuna undercatch arrangements; and
  • Northern Prawn Fishery Harvest strategy for Red Endeavour Prawns.

Further papers will be prepared for the November meeting of the Commission addressing matters such as the SESSF and Annual Catch Entitlement (ACE) approaches to regionalisation.

The Commission agreed to amend undercatch provisions in the SBT fishery to better reflect the measures and allowances set down by the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna and applied by other fisheries. Those changes will commence in the current fishing season.

The Commission also addressed matters regarding strategy setting on broad ranging issues relating to decreasing stock rates; changing fleet dynamics; climate change impact, and fishing mortality rates. The Commission agreed that AFMA Management would prepare a brief overview paper, outlining the current status of management, drivers for change (such as rebuilding species, undercaught TACs, climate adaptation), existing work that could be drawn on, and timeframes/costs. The aim of the paper would be to assist the Commission to identify how best to progress further work, including the option of a workshop.

The Commission also considered papers on Communications “risk matrix” methodologies; the Executive Governance Report and the AFMA Research Committee.

The Commission is scheduled to meet again on 17 and 18 November.

Helen Kroger

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