Outcome of AFMA’s review of fishing quota undercatch and overcatch provisions
In many of its fisheries, AFMA manages the take of commercial fish through the use of fishing quotas.
Fishing quotas are typically set based on catch or the use of fishing gear for a fishing season (up to 12 months). While operators must make all reasonable efforts to avoid catching more fish than they have quota for, sometimes they may exceed their quota by small amounts, for example due to an unexpectedly large catch at the end of the fishing year. In such circumstances AFMA enables an operator to ‘borrow’ quota from the next fishing season (overcatch). Similarly AFMA also allows small amounts of unused quota in a season to be used in the following season (undercatch). In both cases this is usually limited to no more than 10% of the operator’s quota holding of each species or stock being commercially fished.
Where an operator borrows quota from the next season they must pay it back the following season. This ensures fishing remains sustainable and maintains the integrity of the TAC/ITQ management system.
During the development of AFMA’s Quota Administration Policy, feedback was obtained that operators were ‘hoarding’ (not trading) quota and it was thought that the undercatch provisions were a major cause. It was also thought that undercatch and overcatch distorted the quota market reducing its efficiency and impacting on the economics of quota managed fisheries.
AFMA undertook a review of its undercatch and overcatch provisions, which included consultation with stakeholders. A review of the economic aspects was done by the ABARES fisheries economics section and expert advice was sought from AFMA’s Economics Working Group (EWG). The EWG is composed of prominent fisheries economists including those on AFMA’s Resource Assessment Groups.
Since the review, there have been changes to AFMA’s within season quota reconciliation arrangements. AFMA now requires that catches in excess of quota must be covered by quota within 28 days of landing the excess amount of catch. Overcatch can only be used for the last month of fishing in a season and therefore only small amounts of catch are carried over to the following season.
Results of stakeholder consultation
Stakeholder consultation showed overwhelming support for keeping undercatch and overcatch provisions. The fishing industry feedback was that the provisions provide flexibility, particularly at the end of the fishing season, that helps them better manage their businesses.
Results of the economic advice/review
ABARES and the AFMA EWG advised that undercatch and overcatch provisions assist the economics of fisheries and help soften hard fishing season end dates. Removing these provisions would increase the transaction and search costs because operators needing quota would need to find it in the market instead of using their following season’s quota via overcatch. Those who had not used all of their quota would need to find buyers in the market instead of using that quota in the next season (via undercatch).
Outcome of the review of undercatch and overcatch provisions
AFMA has decided to retain the undercatch and overcatch provisions as they currently operate. This provides for stock sustainability as any overcatches must be ‘repaid’ in the next season and only small amounts can be carried under or over (usually up to 10% of a quota owners quota holdings). The provisions provide administrative efficiency for AFMA as AFMA’s compliance section does not need to investigate operators for small amounts of overcatch. The provisions also provide flexibility and economic benefits to the fishing industry.