AFMA’s newly released Authorisation of transhipping activities in Commonwealth fisheries (Transhipping Policy) and Guidelines for Authorising transhipping activities in Commonwealth fisheries (Transhipping Guidelines) aims to improve consistency and transparency in the authorisation of transhipping in Commonwealth managed fisheries. 

The Transhipping Policy and Transhipping Guidelines apply to catch taken in the Australian Fishing Zone by boats nominated to a Commonwealth fishing concession and to be landed to an Australian port. 

Transhipping, where one fishing boat transfers its catch to another boat while at sea, can provide a range of benefits to the fishing industry. 

For fisheries that operate a long way from shore, transhipping can maintain product quality by reducing the time between catching and processing of fish. Where there is a lack of onshore processing facilities, transhipping can reduce travel time, fuel consumption and therefore costs. 

In turn, this means that a fresher, higher quality product with a smaller environmental footprint (less carbon emissions) can be provided to the consumer, ensuring the best use of the resource and improving economic returns to the Australian community. 

Transhipping has a mixed reputation due to an association with international occurrences of overfishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in some international fisheries. Under AFMA’s strict management arrangements, which includes independent monitoring, catch documentation and a strict compliance program, these types of risks are mitigated.  In addition to providing greater transparency and consistency in AFMA’s decision making process, the

Transhipping Policy and Transhipping Guidelines outline the rules and regulations that will apply if such an activity is authorised. 

In preparing the documents, AFMA considered comments and feedback received from a broad range of stakeholders including its fishery Management Advisory Committees (MACs), commercial fishing industry associations including the Commonwealth Fisheries Association, recreational fishing groups, conservation groups, the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation and the general public.  

The issues raised by stakeholders through the consultation have been addressed and AFMA’s consideration of stakeholder concerns can be found at:

63rd AFMA Commission meeting Chairman’s summary
Response to campaigns against AFMA's draft transhipping policy

What is Transhipping?

Transhipping at sea is the transfer of fish catch from one vessel to another, while at sea.

The AFMA Transhipping Policy and Guidelines only apply to Australian vessels that are nominated to an Australian Commonwealth fishing concession and for catch taken within the Australian Fishing Zone (AFZ). 

Is transhipping in Commonwealth fisheries new?

No, transhipping is not new in Commonwealth fisheries. 

AFMA has previously authorised transhipping on a case-by-case basis across a number of fisheries. 

AFMA has authorised transhipping in the Northern Prawn Fishery for many years. The recent ABARES fishery status reports 2018, found this fishery was sustainable. The Northern Prawn Fishery is also certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, an international wild seafood certification program.

How does transhipping work?

Australian vessels, nominated to a Commonwealth fishing concession (or fishing licence holder), catch fish as per their normal operations. 

They transfer their catch to another Australian vessel at sea, which must be authorised with a Commonwealth fishing carrier boat permit.  

The catch then must be landed in an Australian port.

What are the benefits of transhipping?

Transhipping can improve the economic efficiency of a fishery depending on how it operates, by reducing travel time, fuel consumption and therefore cost.

Transhipping can help fishers maintain product quality if they operate a long distance from shore, if there is a lack of on-shore processing facilities or catch a product that needs to be processed quickly.  

Transhipping may also create additional business and employment opportunities in the supply chain by maximising product quality, which opens up the opportunity for the product to have greater access to a broader range of markets. 

What are the new transhipping documents?

AFMA has developed two documents 

  1. Authorisation of transhipping activities in Commonwealth fisheries (Transhipping Policy), and 
  2. Guidelines for Authorising transhipping activities in Commonwealth fisheries (Transhipping Guidelines).

The purpose of these documents is to support AFMA’s robust management framework by improving the consistency in decision making and providing transparency to industry and other fishery stakeholders about the rules and regulations that will apply to transhipping activities, if they are authorised. 

How has AFMA taken stakeholder feedback into account? 

AFMA consulted a broad range of stakeholders, and ran a public consultation period during June and July 2018, in the development of the Transhipping Policy and Transhipping Guidelines.  

Key themes raised by stakeholders in relation to transhipping during the consultation process are addressed as separate FAQs below. 

AFMA responded publically to the misinformation distributed during the campaign. See AFMA’s Response to campaigns against AFMA's draft transhipping policy.

The AFMA Commission has considered all stakeholder feedback received from the consultation process and has endorsed the Authorisation of transhipping activities in Commonwealth fisheries (Transhipping Policy) and Guidelines for Authorising transhipping activities in Commonwealth fisheries (Transhipping Guidelines).

Will there be impacts on sustainability?

No, transhipping will create no new impacts on fisheries sustainability.

AFMA makes decisions using the best available scientific and economic information along with advice from stakeholders to ensure fishing in all Commonwealth fisheries is sustainable. 

In pursuing its ecologically sustainable development objective AFMA takes an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries by managing the effects of commercial fisheries on the marine environment. As part of this commitment, the Ecological Risk Management (ERM) framework is used to assist decision makers in developing fisheries management arrangements that are consistent with the ESD objective. The framework uses the Ecological Risk Assessment for the Effects of Fishing (ERAEF) as the primary means of assessing the risks that fisheries may pose to the marine environment.

Catch limits for target species are set in accordance with the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy and fishery-specific Harvest Strategies. Fisheries are managed through a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) system, or a Total Allowable Effort (TAE) system. This limits the amount of fish caught and amount of effort in fisheries to sustainable levels. 

Limits on TAC and TAE systems are set by the AFMA Commission. The policy and guidelines do not propose any changes to the operation of TACs, TAE, or other fisheries management regulations and as such, the sustainability of fisheries will be maintained. 

Transhipping will only be authorised where the integrity of the management systems in place can be maintained. 

Will there be increased impacts on protected species?

The requirements Commonwealth fisheries must meet in relation to protected species do not change through the use of transhipment.

In terms of bycatch and protected species, AFMA uses a scientific ecological risk assessment process to identify and quantify risks posed to each species, from fishing. AFMA then develops management arrangements to reduce the risk to these species. 

In addition, AFMA will ensure that its obligations under the Environment and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, to take all reasonable steps to minimise interactions with protected species continue to be met. 

Transhipping will only be authorised where these management arrangements can be maintained. 

Will recreational fisheries be directly impacted?

Vessels used in transhipment can only fish in areas already open to other Commonwealth vessels, that is, no additional areas

The Commonwealth commercial catch is limited by output or effort controls which take into account reported recreational catch. 

Does the Transhipping Policy authorise fishing in Australian Marine Parks?

Activities authorised in Australian Marine Parks are not determined by AFMA and the Transhipping Policy and Transhipping Guidelines do not change existing marine park rules. 

Will foreign boats be used for transhipping?

The Transhipping Policy and Transhipping Guidelines only applies to vessels nominated to Commonwealth concessions harvesting fish from the AFZ and landed in an Australian port. 

In order for a vessel to be nominated to a Commonwealth concession it must be an Australian boat. There are several ways that a boat can be an Australian boat and these are outlined in the Fisheries Management Act 1991.

How is AFMA going to monitor transhipping?

All vessels operating in Commonwealth fisheries, are subject to strict rules and monitoring requirements. This includes:

  • catch and effort logbook reporting
  • a mandatory, on-board Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) that tracks vessels 24 hours a day
  • a requirement to carry independent AFMA Observers and/or have electronic monitoring (camera) systems on board, as determined by AFMA
  • commercial fishers are also subject to a comprehensive compliance program that involves at-sea boardings, port inspections and aerial surveillance. 

All of these fisheries management and compliance activities are in place to ensure the integrity of the management framework is maintained. 

In addition, fishery-specific compliance risks will be identified and treatment will be applied to compliance risks with new proposals to reduce risks to an acceptable level before authorisation to operate is given

Will super trawlers be used in transhipping?

No, super trawlers are permanently banned from operating in Australian waters.

A super trawler has been defined by the Australian Government as “a fishing boat over 130 metres in length, undertaking fishing related activities”. The Federal Government has permanently banned boats of more than 130 metres in length from fishing in Commonwealth waters.

Will transhipping affect Australia’s international obligations?

No, the Transhipping Policy and Transhipping Guidelines will only apply to vessels nominated to Commonwealth concessions, which fish within in the AFZ and then landed into an Australian port. 

While the policy only applies to activities in the AFZ, any authorisation involving internationally managed species must also be consistent with Australia’s obligations under Regional Fisheries Management Organisations’ (RFMOs) and similar international arrangements.

Vessels that transit the high seas are regulated under the requirements for the relevant international fisheries and are not within the scope of this policy and the guidelines. 

What will authorisation look like?

Please refer to the Transhipping Guidelines.

Who can apply for approval to undertake transhipping

Operators of Australian vessels nominated to Commonwealth concessions may apply. 

Approval will be considered in line with the Transhipping Policy and Transhipping Guidelines and provided all of AFMA’s requirements can be met.