83rd AFMA commission meeting - Chairman's Summary

The Commission convened for its 83rd meeting in Canberra on 11-12 May 2022.

The Commission met with executives from Tuna Australia and the Commonwealth Fisheries Association on a range of important matters and noted their respective viewpoints as beneficial to the Commission’s work.

Amongst other things, the meetings with TA and CFA highlighted the extreme importance of ensuring that AFMA data is used appropriately by researchers, and the risks posed by a recent publication that included a number of data errors and published confidential information. After detailed consideration, the Commission agreed to write to the Chief Executive of CSIRO and the Vice-President (Research and Innovation) of University of Queensland to highlight concerns about the recent publication and seek their cooperation in resolving it. The Commission also noted that this was a timely opportunity for AFMA to review its policy, procedure and practice for releasing data to external researchers.

Noting the threat that climate change poses to fisheries, the Commission supported work to develop a set of actions to ensure that such impacts are integrated into fishery monitoring and decision making.

The Commission considered an update on the development of spatial closured in the South East Trawl fishery to protect rebuilding species, including the outcomes of a first round of port visits. Commissioners heard that visits have been undertaken in Lakes Entrance, Hobart, Eden, Ulladulla, Portland and with the Sydney Fish Market. The closures that were presented at the prior (82nd) meeting were used a basis for consultation. Meetings were noted to be positive and constructive. The Commission noted that proposed closures had been significantly modified based on consultation feedback, and a second round of visits was about to commence. The Commission supported AFMA managements actions and looked forward to receiving further updates ahead of final decision making, expected to be at the July Commission meeting.

The Commission reviewed and supported AFMA Management suggestions to defer some components of the monitoring and research regime in the SESSF to reallocate funding to more strategic research priorities to better position the fishery for the future.

In relation to the Bass Strait Central Zone Scallop Fishery:

The Commission approved a Research Catch Allowance (RCA) of 28 tones of commercial scallop to support the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) project 2019-120 ‘Building industry capacity to lead co-management initiatives within the Bass Strait Central Zone Scallop Fishery (BSCZSF): Training industry to conduct biomass estimate surveys.’ This will be deducted from the recommended Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for the 2022 BSCZSF fishing season, as recommended by industry, Scallop RAG and ScallopMAC.

After detailed consideration, the Commission decided not to support additional development of the Fishery Gross Margin model to incorporate economics in TAC decision-making for this fishery. The Commission’s decision was based on the following concerns:

  1. The ongoing resistance from most industry members to providing financial information to inform the model, which is a major risk to the accuracy of the model and a significant impediment to its use on an ongoing basis. The Commission was concerned that attempting to estimate a fishery-wide gross margin in the absence of a representative and large sample of the whole fleet would likely deliver a skewed result, particularly given the heterogeneity amongst industry participants.
  2. The small size of the fleet and differences in business models amongst participants also presents opportunities for individuals to deliberately influence the model results. Given small fleet size, using averages or eliminating outliers to address this concern would reduce the utility of the approach.
  3. The uncertainty around estimates of price flexibility resulted in a broad range of optimal TACs which could only be reduced by further data collection from businesses and buyers.

The Commission was also concerned that a management strategy tuned to control supply to maintain prices may be viewed as anti-competitive compared to an MEY approach which focusses on economic efficiency.
More attention is required to align decision making in the fishery with the Commonwealth Harvest Strategy Policy. The differences between FGM as a short-term static model and MEY as a long-term equilibrium assessment raised concerns for the Commission, as does the importance of the processing sector in this fishery compared to others.

While the Commission did not support the FGM model, it continued to recognise the importance of economic considerations in decision making for the scallop fishery. The Commission agreed that AFMA should continue to focus on the review of the harvest strategy and improvements that could be made to support TAC decision making in cases where biomass is high.

In addition the Commission:

  • Reviewed AFMA’s consultative arrangements by approving Terms of Reference for an independent assessment of Management Advisory Committees and Resource Assessment Groups.
  • Noted updates and supported streamlining of AFMA’s processes for Ecological Risk Assessments and the development of Fishery Management Strategies.
  • Noted updates and industry feedback on the development of a guiding policy describing how AFMA will measure performance against its Net Economic Return (NER) Objective.
  • Endorsed the AFMA Corporate Plan and Annual Operating Plan to be forwarded to the Minister for approval.

The Commission will next meet in Darwin on 13-14 July 2022.

Helen Kroger

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