Chapter 2 Background
Australian fisheries, aquaculture and recreational fishing industries
Production from Australian commercial fisheries and aquaculture is small
by comparison with other countries. The economic value of each sector is
approximately $1.3 billion and $0.9 billion per year respectively.
Separately, the economic value of the recreational fishing sector is
exceedingly difficult to quantify, with some estimates placing it between $4
billion and $5 billion annually. The Australian Fishing
Trade Association’s submission suggested that the figure ‘could be as high as
$10 billion a year through direct expenditure associated with the activity of
According to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural Research and
Economics (ABARES), in 2010-11 the total national employment in commercial fishing
and aquaculture was 12,000 people. The last detailed survey
was conducted as part of the 2006 census, which estimated a total fishing and
aquaculture workforce of 15,939 people (9,736 in fishing and aquaculture
production and 6,203 in processing and wholesaling).
Despite the geographic size of its waters, Australian wild fishery
production is particularly low. The Fisheries Research and Development
Corporation (FRDC) summarised the situation:
Australia’s exclusive economic zone is the third-largest in
the world, covering one-and-a third times the area of Australia’s land mass.
However, the quantum of Australia’s commercial wild catch ranks 60th
in the world, representing only 0.2 per cent of world tonnage but 2 per cent by
value. The size of catch of one species in some countries exceeds that of
Australia’s total production.
Australia’s aquaculture sector has grown significantly in the past three
decades, corresponding with the world-wide trend. As noted by the CSIRO:
Seafood is a major contributor to global food security with
the aquaculture sector continuing to be the fastest-growing animal food producing
sector in the world. Aquaculture currently accounts for nearly half (46%) of
the world's food fish consumption, compared with 33.8% in 2000.
Tasmanian salmon aquaculture, for example, is now the ‘most valuable of
all of Australia’s seafood sectors with a farm gate value of $370 million. The
industry is based on a genetically healthy population of founder breeding
stocks introduced from Canada in the mid-1960’s.’
Further detail about the aquaculture industry is in Chapter 4.
The future direction of commercial fisheries and aquaculture are linked
to the broader challenges, such as ensuring sustainable economic growth,
dealing with climate change and supporting development in regional Australia. Dr
Patrick Hone (FRDC) said:
There is a real opportunity, as the mining boom expands in
regional Australia and gives a greater focus on regional Australia, to look at
how that industry, in terms of its needs, can complement the renewable
industries—whether they are tourism, fisheries, food, fibre or whatever. In
other words, how we build the future beyond the mining boom to the next boom,
which we hope would be the food boom. So the question then is: to what degree
can we build synergies in these regional areas? Can we build offset values? Can
we look at other ways of doing things? Everyone talks about soil carbon, but
very few people know about blue carbon, and yet the oceans contribute
significantly more to the sequestration of carbon than the land does.
Fisheries and aquaculture governance in Australia
Australian fisheries governance is shared between the States,
Territories and Australian Government. Governance issues are dealt with in more
detail in Chapter 6, though a brief background is provided below:
Generally, State/Territory laws
apply to coastal waters (up to 3nm) and Commonwealth laws apply from those
waters out to the limit of the Australian fishing zone (200nm).
The Commonwealth has generally limited its jurisdiction to
commercial fishing with the State/Territory fisheries departments assuming
responsibility for recreational fishing.
Fisheries that cross jurisdictional borders – between multiple state
governments, or between a state government and the Australian Government – are
subject to management from both levels of governments involved. Some of these
fisheries are managed through ‘joint fisheries authorities’. Additionally,
Australia has responsibility for a vast area of ocean surrounding the coast of
the Australian Antarctic Territory.
Professor Steve Kennelly (NSW Department of Primary Industries) pointed
out the artificiality of these borders:
Given the fact that these fish do not recognise borders, that
they do not know that there is any difference between one side of a river and
the other or that there is a boundary between Queensland and New South Wales,
they just do what they have been doing for hundreds of thousands and sometimes
millions of years. We have this artifice put over the top of it that involves
these boundaries. We need to recognise that.
At a Commonwealth level, primary responsibility for commercial fisheries
policies and programs rests with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and
Forestry (DAFF). Management of fisheries resources in Commonwealth waters is
the responsibility of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA).
AFMA’s role, as stated in its submission, is ‘to manage the resources of
Australia’s Commonwealth fisheries on behalf of the Australian community using
the provisions of the Fisheries Management Act 1991.’
The Fisheries Management Act 1991 (the FM Act) and the Fisheries
Administration Act 1991 (the FA Act) are the main legislative
instruments governing fishing. The objectives of the Environment Protection
and Biodiversity Act 1999 (the EPBC Act), however, also have an important
bearing on fisheries management, policy and decision-making, which is overseen
by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and
Communities (SEWPaC). The Committee believes that the tension between the
environmental objectives of EPBC Act and the economic and social
objectives of the FM Act should be resolved.
Recreational fishing – inland and ocean – is principally the
responsibility of the States and Territories. Each jurisdiction has its own
arrangements regarding licensing, catch and possession limits, permitted
equipment and methods and fisheries management. Licensing arrangements in
Australia vary, though rules and restrictions usually apply in terms of bag
limits, possession limits, size limits, fishing methods and closed areas.
Recreational fishing is discussed further in Chapter 3.
Aquaculture regulation rests almost exclusively with the States and Territories.
However, the Australian Government is currently working with State and Territory
governments to develop a regulatory framework for aquaculture in Commonwealth
Science priorities for fisheries and aquaculture
The knowledge gained through the scientific method is crucial to the
future of fisheries and aquaculture. It informs breeding, management,
environmental protection, food security, product development and export,
biosecurity and economic sustainability. A National Research, Development and
Extension (RD&E) Strategy was finalised in 2010, under the auspices of the
Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC).
According to the FRDC, ‘the gap between global seafood demand and supply
represents a challenge for the entire world... science will be at the forefront
of progress.’ The FRDC identified the
following ‘five categories of drivers’ for new research in fisheries and
- global demographic
- consumers and
- climate change and
sustainable development, improved governance and resource access; and
- biosecurity and
aquatic animal health.
To meet these demands, action around the world will be necessary, and
Australia will need to play its part. In its region, Australia will be able to
make a big contribution, according to the CSIRO’s submission:
Australia is adjacent to one of the world’s largest fishing
nations (Indonesia) and to the world's two largest tuna fisheries, in which it
has shared interests - politically as well as through access to migrating
seafood resources. Indonesia overtook the USA in 2007 as the third ranked country
for fisheries production ... The Indonesian annual capture fishery catch is
five million tonnes and 3.3 million people rely directly on fishing activities
for part or all of their income ... Fish is a mainstay for food security for
Pacific island countries and territories ... Fish provides 50-90 per cent of
animal protein in rural areas and 40-80 per cent animal protein in many urban
areas of the Pacific ... These fisheries share species and ecosystems with
Australia’s capacity in this field will be important beyond its role for
fisheries directly. The CSIRO submitted: ‘There are important opportunities
for science to inform Australia’s broader policy objectives regionally given
the importance of fisheries in our region.’
Science has contributed not only to the reputation of Australian
fisheries management, but the quality of the science itself has been recognised
In a recent major international assessment of the management
effectiveness of the world's marine fisheries, Australia was highly rated [...]
In particular, scientific robustness, policy-making transparency and
probability of sustainability of fisheries were rated in the best category
Progress in Australian fisheries management can be shared to contribute
to international progress and, in this sense, contribute to global outcomes.
The ‘next-generation’ of fisheries management is at an eco-system level.
Governments throughout Australia are moving to adopt this level of management.
The role of science, the Australian Marine Sciences Association (AMSA)
submitted, ‘will be even more important’ as coastal ecosystems are sensitive to
human-induced disturbances and changes to climates.
The establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs) in Australian waters
will be another demand for scientific knowledge. As pointed out by the
Australian Marine Sciences Association, there will be various needs for
research relating to MPAs, and government decisions will need to take this
research into account for the environmental, social and economic values
affected by the creation of MPAs. However, funding
dedicated to assessing MPAs should be proportionate, given the resources
already diverted towards meeting obligations within environmental legislation (discussed
further in chapter 6).
For aquaculture, the research demands generally differ from those of
fisheries management: ‘the drivers for science in aquaculture are usually
focused on production (genetics, nutrition, disease management, chain
management); on efficiency; and on consumers’ seafood preferences.’
For an example of possible areas for future research, CSIRO has
identified ‘key areas’ of aquaculture research:
- integrating climate
change and resource use research into... aquaculture spatial planning
frameworks that encompasses environmental and social values;
- species selection;
- production systems;
- market demand and
other uses of adjacent environments;
- increasing the speed
of transition from reliance on wild broodstock to the use of domesticated
selectively bred stocks, including the application of genetic tools developed
for livestock breeding and human health; and
- developing cost
effective aquaculture feeds that minimise or eliminate the use of wild harvest
fishmeal and fish oil.
The ‘fish-in, fish out’ ratio and cost effective feed options was also identified
as a challenge for aquaculture.
Structures for fisheries and aquaculture science in Australia
The Australian Government provides funding for research into fisheries
and aquaculture through the FRDC. As the FRDC submission outlines, its role is to:
…plan, invest in and manage fisheries and aquaculture
research, development and extension (RD&E) activities in Australia. This
includes providing leadership and coordination of the monitoring, evaluating
and reporting on RD&E activities, facilitating dissemination, extension and
commercialisation. The FRDC achieves this through coordinating government and
industry investment, including stakeholders to establish and address RD&E
priorities. In addition the FRDC monitors and evaluates the adoption of
RD&E to inform future decisions.
Research may also be funded through bodies such as the Australian
Research Council, or in the establishment of Cooperative Research Centres
(CRCs), such as the Seafood CRC (based in South Australia). The Australian
Government also has conducts research directly, through organisations such as
the CSIRO and the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
Many Australian universities have ongoing fisheries and aquaculture
research programmes, such as the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies
or James Cook University’s Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and
Aquaculture. Universities, being
state-based, tend to concentrate their research on local or regional issues.
As part of the development of the National Fishing and Aquaculture
RD&E Strategy 2010, the FRDC commissioned an audit of the RD&E
capability supporting Australia’s fisheries and aquaculture industries. Relying
on data up to 2009, the audit found that the investment in RD&E grew from
$117 million in 2004-05 to $142 million in 2008-09.
The audit found that most of this growth in investment related to the areas of
environment and ecosystems research and research supporting legislative
However, the Committee was informed during the inquiry that funding for
research is flat or reducing (see Chapter 3).
A national reporting framework
Stakeholders suggested that reporting of facts and figures should be
improved, and that there are areas where reporting could be enhanced.
During the inquiry the Committee identified four national reporting
areas where adequate data is needed to inform good policy decisions:
The level of investment in fisheries and aquaculture RD&E. This information
was collated for the ‘National RD&E Strategy’ in 2010, but is not routinely
The status of wild fisheries stocks and ecosystems. This information is
currently published by each State and Territory individually as well as for
Data on recreational fishing impacts, catch and other statistics. The
last national recreational fishing survey was conducted in the early 2000s.
The States and Territories separately publish recreational fishing surveys of
varying detail and regularity; and
Fisheries and aquaculture industry activity statistics, as well as
information relating to infrastructure, equipment and technology. ABARES
produces the ‘Australian Fisheries Statistics’ on an annual basis, though its
focus relates to industry performance and trade.
The Australian Government is expected to release a new publication by
the end of 2012, entitled ‘the State of Australian Fish Stocks Report’, which
will attempt to bring together State, Territory and national data. Dr Ilona
Stobutski (ABARES) said:
It will be the equivalent of Australia’s State of the Forests
report. It is intended to be something that goes longer term and that develops
over the longer term as well.
Science is central to fisheries management and aquaculture in Australia,
and the role of science will only increase in importance in the future.
Throughout the course of the inquiry, the Committee met with scientists
conducting research fundamental to the long-term sustainability of fisheries
and aquaculture, and their passion and commitment was always evident. Beyond
the occasional contested issue, a broad message of strong science and a
sustainable industry was consistently communicated by evidence to the inquiry.
The Committee believes that the industry has a bright future, and that the role
of scientists will continue to be central to that future.
However, in general, the Committee found that it was a challenge to
understand the relationships and hierarchies between government, research
institutes, industry and the strategic direction of scientific research
priorities relating to fisheries management and aquaculture. The Committee was
referred to a vast array of legislative objectives, strategic documents and
policy guidelines during the inquiry. These issues are expanded upon throughout
this report, but in particular in Chapter 6.
In order to assess arguments that the investment in fisheries and
aquaculture research is declining, it is important to have regular national
reporting on total investment. This will enable all interested stakeholders to
assess the ongoing commitment to fisheries and aquaculture science across
Australia. The Committee believes that the FRDC should conduct a regular audit
of investment in RD&E in order to address this area of need.
In addition to RD&E investment data, the Committee believes that information
on the status of wild fisheries stocks and ecosystems, recreational fishing
statistics, and industry statistics – must all be improved to support good
decisions about fisheries management, aquaculture development and consumer
product choice. These areas of reporting are the topics of other
recommendations within this report.
Furthermore, it is essential that these areas of reporting are
coordinated so that they provide a comprehensive suite of information that can
be relied upon by the industry, the general public, and governments.
The Committee recommends that the Fisheries Research and Development
Corporation conduct and publish an annual audit of total national investment
in fisheries and aquaculture research, development and extension.