Chapter 3 Fisheries
Our understanding of fisheries management and the surrounding marine
environment has evolved over time. Although our scientific knowledge of
fisheries and the ocean has vastly improved over the last few decades there are
still data gaps. There are also challenges in how the data is used to inform
management and policy decisions, including in how we manage the environmental
impacts of fishing. How scientific research priorities are determined and how
to gather the skills necessary to complete this work is an additional challenge
faced by the sector.
This chapter focuses on the relationship between science and key
fisheries management challenges, including:
- gathering information
on fish species;
- measuring fish
- measuring the sustainability
of the marine environment;
- managing uncertainty
and the precautionary principle;
- marine protected
- recreational fishing;
- the effects of
climate change and scientific responses; and
- research and public
education relating to fisheries science, including the demand for research,
maximising capacity and developing priorities.
The legislative framework and governance arrangements behind these areas
are dealt with in Chapter 6. International cooperation and aid in fisheries science
and management is discussed separately in Chapter 5.
Science and fisheries management
Gathering information on fish species
Science in fisheries begins with acquiring basic taxonomic information
about fish and their habitats. This includes accurate species identification;
understanding variables affecting the distribution and abundance of fish and
their larvae; knowledge of life histories; knowing prey and predator dynamics
and understanding phylogenitics (evolutionary relationships among groups of
‘Accurate species identification is fundamentally important to effective
fisheries management and aquaculture,’ the Australian Museum submitted.
A submission from the Western Australian Museum observed that what can
appear to be one species of fish may actually be several species and ‘each of
these species might require different management practices or habitat
protection, which would be overlooked without accurate taxonomy.’
Mr Neil Stump (Tasmanian Seafood Industry Council) said:
There needs to be recognition that there should be ongoing
investment in base level science. ... We have to know life history
characteristics and population dynamics of different fish species.
Dr Jeffrey Leis (Australian Museum) said that understanding the spatial
distribution of larvae needs similar attention; otherwise there is no certainty
species can properly replenish:
The young may recruit into seagrass beds in estuaries and
then move as juveniles out onto reefs, where the adults complete their lifecycle
and spawn again. So each one of those habitats has to be in good condition,
otherwise the species cannot complete their lifecycle and we will not have
Dr Leis added that without adequate knowledge, there is a risk of
‘lumping’ separate species together as one, which in turns risks ‘not getting
the fisheries management plans right’ and of falling short on the
responsibility to have ‘carriage for biodiversity’.
Measuring fish stocks
For the fishing industry, fisheries managers and government regulators
reliable fish stock information is vital.
The importance of good quality information was captured well by Mr Neil
Stump (Tasmanian Seafood Industry Council), who said:
We always require more knowledge and better tools that allow
us to make more accurate, informed, decisions in relation to the stock
The CSIRO submitted that Australia ‘has a strong and proven capability
in modelling and assessment of fisheries that is being replicated around the
world.’ However, the CSIRO also
stated that scientific knowledge and investment ‘varies considerably across
species and fisheries’ depending on economic
value or conservation status.
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and
Sciences (ABARES) currently produces an annual fishery status report for fisheries
in Commonwealth waters. This report provides a measure of sustainability and,
in a general sense, performance against the objectives of the FM Act.
However, this report does not include
data on State and Territory fisheries. ABARES informed the Committee that there
will be a consolidated stock report for all Australian fisheries released for
the first time in 2012.
The States and Territories produce separate stock or status reports for
fisheries within their own waters. The type and frequency of these reports
vary, and the large data gathering task means that the quality of information
is sometimes poor. For example, NSW reports performance information every two
years for individual fish species targeted by recreational and commercial
fishers in NSW-managed waters. The latest report, for 2008-09, found that of
108 species assessed, around one third of species are fully fished (or less)
and 11 species were classified as being overfished.
Half were ‘undefined or uncertain’, which was attributed to:
...the large number of species required to be assessed
(greater than 100), the limited resources available to do assessments,
difficulties with the proper identification and correct reporting of many
closely related and little studied species, and the ongoing need for detailed
biological studies for many species.
Western Australia, by contrast, annually reports performance for
individual fisheries as well as assessments of ecological assets within
bioregions, to demonstrate performance against an EBFM framework. Greater than
90 per cent of its commercial fisheries met performance targets in the 2010-11
period. The information in the
report also satisfies reporting requirements for EPBC Act assessments in
accordance with SEWPaC’s ‘Guidelines for the Ecologically Sustainable
Management of Fisheries’.
Dr James Findlay (AFMA) said Australia’s fisheries management system is
‘the envy of much of the world’, in part, due to fish
stock data being used in complex modelling. He outlined the general modelling
process for the Committee:
We rely on fisheries-dependent information—that is,
information we get from the fishers themselves—as well as fisheries-independent
information, so surveys and other data. Increasingly these days there is a
reliance on remotely sensed data. That information is put into reasonably
complex risk models to give us scenario-based planning exercises that say how
much fish will deliver how much return at how much risk to the future
productivity of the stock. We follow that very closely.
Dr Patrick Hone (Fisheries Research and Development Corporation - FRDC)
argued that the strength of the science is closely related to high standards of
The science platform that Australia has is very good. It
supports a very sustainable industry. There is no doubt that the science and
the sustainability are in step—it is a very close partnership. We live in a
very different industry from a lot of industries. We work in a public
resource. We are under scrutiny every day of our lives. The science plays a
very important part of that scrutiny. You cannot have fisheries management
Despite Australia being generally recognised as a world leader in
fisheries science, Professor Euan Harvey (UWA Oceans Institute) told the
Committee that in some areas of fisheries science there are gaps and in other
areas there is almost zero knowledge. He said:
We are still at a point of discovery even with things like
fish. We are still trying to figure out the distribution of some of those
species and there are huge gaps in fundamental biology such as age and growth
and having an understanding of diet. That is just for the target species.
He said that for many non-target species of fish, ‘we have virtually
zero knowledge, except people know they occur’.
Professor Harvey said knowledge of habitats was also limited:
We are also at the point where we do not understand what the
habitat requirements are of those different species at different life stages. ...
Even for many of the key target species, we still do not know where they are
The CSIRO’s submission noted that one predominant gap of knowledge is
the recreational fishing catch, which ‘remains highly uncertain for many
species, though in some cases it is known to be significant.’
(Recreational Fishing is discussed in more detail later in this chapter).
The Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) submitted that at
the level of individual species, ‘scientific knowledge tends to be limited to
biological information used for setting regulations that protect reproduction.’
IMAS also commented that ‘many stocks of fish aren’t included in Australian
fisheries statistics because they are not targeted.’
IMAS also argued that reliance on catch data, though widely used to
infer the abundance of fish is a ‘mistake’, because environmental changes can
have a ‘profound effect on abundance’. Further, IMAS submitted
that catch rates are more likely linked to market conditions rather than
necessarily the status of fish stocks:
Stability of wild total catch is widely interpreted to mean
that the opportunity for producing food from wild harvests has reached its
peak. This ignores the economic drivers of catch and the fact that many
Australian fisheries have reduced catch over the last few decades in response
to declining prices.
However, Dr Mike Hall (Australian Institute of Marine Science – AIMS)
commented that fisheries management is always based around models and estimates
because, essentially, ‘you are trying to predict population size for an
organism you cannot really see at all or count very easily.’
Professor Michael Harte (World Wildlife Fund – WWF) said that ideally,
there would eventually be ‘a real-time indication of what has been caught’.
This would support active fisheries management; however, ‘we do not have that
kind of sophisticated data collection at the moment’, he said.
Measuring the sustainability of the marine environment
In addition to considering the quantity of fish available for
sustainable harvest, fisheries managers consider the broader state of the
environment when setting catch limits.
The Committee heard of the importance of collecting broader
environmental data, but also of challenges faced in collecting this data and
then using it to implement ecosystems based management approaches.
DAFF’s submission stated that ‘the systematic collection of data is
fundamental to understating and managing Australia’s fisheries and their
interactions with the environment’.
However, DAFF’s submission also states that ‘routine monitoring of
marine ecosystems, particularly the biological components, is not undertaken in
Australia’. DAFF explained that indirect
‘ecosystems effects’ of fishing are often difficult to assess because marine
ecosystems are highly complex and there is relatively sparse data, combined
with limited understanding of the structure and function of these ecosystems’.
According to the WWF, ‘the questions addressed by fisheries science now
relate to whole regional ecosystems rather than single species’.
This involves understanding and responding to both the
ecosystem conditions that may affect fish stocks and their productivity and the
effects of fishing activities on marine ecosystems.
The CSIRO concurred, submitting that the movement to ecosystem
approaches to fisheries management has:
...shifted the science focus towards, on the one hand,
understanding the broader ecological impacts of fishing, and on the other to
improving of the role that biodiversity and ecosystem function might play in supporting
Dr Anthony Smith (CSIRO) referred to ‘the so-called shifting baselines’
within the state of the environment. He explained:
Over periods of decades and even centuries, we know that our
ecosystems are changing. Species mixes are changing. ... It is a dynamic
environment. Our assessment methods are trying to take that into account. ... For
good fisheries management it is going to need to be more flexible to be able to
take account of those shifts that are happening spatially.
Tracing these baselines inserts a new layer of difficulty into fisheries
management. ‘In terms of understanding the shifts, we are at an early stage of
that,’ Dr Smith said.
Some witnesses were of the view that even though more knowledge would
ideally be useful, scientific effort will need to be prioritised because
available resources are not limitless.
Neil Loneragan and Alan Lymbery, from the Murdoch University Centre for
Fish, Fisheries and Aquatic Ecosystem Research, submitted:
The commercial sector faces declining returns... This reduces
the funds available from the commercial industry to contribute to research and
this places a priority on the science being targeted and cost-effective.
Mr Richard Stevens (WA Fishing Industry Council – WAFIC) stated: ‘The
industry’s capacity to fund research and science is declining.’
The WWF similarly agreed that industry’s capacity to fund research is
Mr Brian Jeffriess (Commonwealth Fisheries Association – CFA) went
further in stating that the requirements of the EPBC Act are ‘taking
money away from straight scientific research’ related to improving
The costs involved in measuring fish stocks and ecosystem impacts have
been known for some time. As early as 1998-99 AFMA stated in its Annual Report
Neither the Government nor the fishing industry has the
capacity to fund the amount of research required to gain a full understanding
of fish stocks and the marine ecosystem, if indeed that is possible.
Managing uncertainty and the precautionary principle
During the inquiry, there was debate surrounding the costs and benefits
of the precautionary principle and its effects on the fishing industry.
Questions surrounding whether the appropriate level of precaution is being
factored into management decisions has also been the subject of extensive
public scrutiny and media attention.
In 2005, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organisation (UNESCO) commissioned a group of experts to draft a new form of
precautionary principle. A new form of words for
a ‘working definition’ was proposed, as follows:
When human activities may lead to morally unacceptable harm
that is scientifically plausible but uncertain, actions shall be taken to avoid
or diminish that harm.
Morally unacceptable harm refers to harm to humans or the
environment that is:
- threatening to human
life or health, or
- serious and
effectively irreversible, or
- inequitable to
present or future generations, or
- imposed without adequate consideration of the human rights of
The judgement of plausibility should be grounded in scientific
analysis. Analysis should be ongoing so that chosen actions are subject to
review. Uncertainty may apply to, but need not be limited to, causality or the
bounds of the possible harm. Actions are interventions that are undertaken
before harm occurs that seek to avoid or diminish the harm. Actions should be
chosen that are proportional to the seriousness of the potential harm, with consideration
of their positive and negative consequences, and with an assessment of the
moral implications of both action and inaction. The choice of action should be
the result of a participatory process.
Within Australia the precautionary principle was defined within the Intergovernmental
Agreement on the Environment, which was agreed on 1 May 1992 by the
Australian Local Government Association, the States, Territories and the
The same definition was included in the FM Act and EPBC Act,
‘If there are threats of serious or irreversible
environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a
reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.’
Other related Australian policy documents have elaborated on the
definition and application of the precautionary principle, including: the 1998
Oceans Policy, the 2007 Harvest Strategy Policy; and the 2007 Guidelines for
the Ecologically Sustainable Management of Fisheries.
The 1998 Oceans Policy added the following caveats to the application of
the precautionary principle. Firstly:
If the potential impact of an action is uncertain, priority
should be given to maintaining ecosystem health and productivity.
If there is a risk of serious and irreversible environmental
damage resulting from an ocean use, that use should be permitted only if the
damage can be mitigated, or it is limited in its extent, and there is an
overriding net community benefit from the use.
Ocean users carry a responsibility to assure the ecological
sustainability of their operations and an obligation to identify and implement
When released, the 2007 Harvest Strategy Policy was prefaced with the
By its nature, fisheries management is an activity involving
substantial elements of risk and uncertainty. ...it is necessary to develop a
consistent framework which will deliver an evidence-based, precautionary
approach to achieving long-term sustainability and profitability drawing on
The 2007 Guidelines for the Ecologically Sustainable Management of
Fisheries appeared to express less latitude when uncertainty arises:
Sources of uncertainty within the data should be identified
and where possible quantified. Until research on the specific stock provides
information, a precautionary approach should set conservative limits to account
for the unknown level of uncertainty.
The precautionary principle is either replicated or referred to in all
state and territory legislation (although there are differences within the
exact text used). In two cases, the precautionary principle has been expressly
modified from its original form: WA’s Fish Resources Management Act 1994
confines the principle to ‘cost effective measures to ensure the sustainability
of fish stocks or the aquatic environment’ and Queensland’s Fisheries
Act 1994 expanded the principle to cover the risk of ‘possible
environmental degradation’. Other areas of common
ground were the objectives of achieving optimum resource benefits or
utilisation, ensuring equity of access or allocations (with consideration of
relevant interests) and protecting biodiversity and or ecosystems. Some
jurisdictions included an objective
regarding safeguarding the wellbeing of future generations. The Tasmanian Living
Marine Resources Act 1995 was to some extent an exception; although
having regard for various objectives; the only mandatory aim is the furtherance
of ‘the objective of resource management.’
Despite the long history and documentation of the precautionary
principle in Australia, some witnesses argued that the concept was subjective
or that governments have been applying excessive restrictions and limits on
fishing activity. There was concern that the level of evidence required to
prove minimal impact is unattainable and too costly, even though Australia’s
fisheries are acknowledged as having the highest management standards.
Dr Warwick Fletcher (WA Department of Fisheries) said the precautionary
principle could be a subjective concept:
You can set precautionary levels of consequence within your
risk analysis and then actually undertake it under that rate. For many things
you do not have to have absolute, full certainty to do all these things. ...I
think that in many respects that precautionary approach or precautionary
principle has been somewhat changed through time to mean whatever someone wants
it to mean.
The Australian Marine Science Association’s submission that good science
was necessary to avoid ‘overly conservative and risk-averse management
decisions’ or ‘poorly informed management decisions’.
Its submission also predicted that future fisheries management would encompass
an even higher level of risk management, due to ‘cumulative anthropogenic
disturbances in coastal ecosystems’ and ‘impacts related to climate change.’
Dr Walter Starck (private capacity) said that the precautionary
principle ‘has sort of morphed into the idea that if there is any hypothetical
objection then you cannot do anything until you can prove that there is no
problem.’ He said that management
processes should be ‘empirically based’, and include direct industry
involvement, ‘not just consultation’.
Mr Richard Stevens (WAFIC) said:
If it is over-precautionary then business just cannot invest.
They cannot keep doing these endless surveys and studies, when your regulators
say, ‘Well, do it, and then we’ll have a look,’ and then, five years later, ‘Do
it again and we’ll have another look.’
Mr Dean Logan (Australian Marine Alliance) agreed and went further by
Fisheries management is, in our view, somewhat sidelined. I
think the process has been controlled—and I do not say this lightly—by
environmental ideologues in departments here in Canberra who are so far removed
from the notion of primary production that it is scary.
Dr Starck concluded that Australia is effectively saving fish ‘for the
Asians to catch and sell back to us.’ Professor Bob Kearney
said overfishing in Australian waters is a perception:
There are very, very few fisheries that are seriously
overfished. ... We have not had one that has been fished to a level where it
has not recovered. And the government is responsible for making them recover. We
already have all of those steps in place and all of that legislation there.
And, he argued, fisheries is subject to far tighter laws than land-based
Wild caught fisheries do not start like agriculture does by
clearing the land, introducing foreign species... There is not a single
agriculture industry in Australia that would be allowed to operate if it had to
operate under the conditions of the FM Act.
WWF submitted that there is ‘considerable uncertainty attached too much
of the scientific advice provided to stakeholders and managers.’ WWF was
concerned that ‘management responses are delayed pending the delivery of
scientific advice or the resolution of some of the uncertainty in that advice.’
Professor Michael Harte (WWF) explained that without active management,
the industry could be unprepared for changing conditions:
It does not matter where the source of those changes comes
from—whether they are human induced, fishing induced or whether they are
environmentally induced in the broader sense, beyond our control, perhaps—we
really have to understand the role of uncertainty and ensure that our systems
are robust and resilient in the face of that uncertainty, otherwise we will be
caught out by surprise.
He said that in practice, ‘the largest impacts on the reef may not be
fishing’ and fishing and aquaculture operations need to respond accordingly.
He said these could be ‘pollutants from agriculture just being washed off the
land’. In one case:
When I chaired the aquaculture council in New Zealand, there
was a very rich oyster-growing area near Whangarei that unfortunately was
closed down because of effluent run-off from septic tanks. It was nothing to
do with fishing but the response had to be to close that sector down because it
no longer met the health requirements for safe seafood. That was not the fault
of the fishermen. They had done nothing wrong. They actually had excellent
Ms Tooni Mahto (Australian Marine Conservation Society) said:
I understand that funding is limited, and I understand that
it is very limited in state fisheries, but we do not believe it is not an
acceptable situation to effectively say, ‘Because there’s no funding and it’s a
low-value fishery, we’ll just keep on going with our fingers crossed.’ We
absolutely believe that good science is the foundation of good fisheries
In the view of her organisation, Ms Mahto said that in cases, at a state
level, there had been undue ‘influence’ on fisheries managers that have raised
a ‘barrier to effective management of the resource’. There should be ‘valuable
stakeholder engagement in fisheries management, rather than fisheries
management being led predominantly by vested interests of certain groups,’ she
Marine protected areas
Issues around Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were raised by many
submissions and witnesses. The Committee heard that despite their long history
internationally and in Australia much controversy remains about the rationale
and value of MPAs.
The definition of an MPA is:
an area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the
protection and maintenance of biological diversity and of natural and
associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective
This definition was originally developed by the 1994 World Conservation
Union's (IUCN) and has since been adopted by Australia.
The concept of MPAs was endorsed in Australia’s 1998 Oceans Policy and the
legal framework was established in 1999 through the EPBC Act.
Australia’s target date for a fully representative system of MPAs is
The relationship between productivity from the oceans and bioregional
planning was highlighted in the 1998 Oceans Policy:
The collapse of a number of major marine ecosystems and
fisheries resources in the northern hemisphere, with the associated economic
damage and social dislocation, is a stark warning of the vulnerability of
marine systems. ...we are not immune from such threats. ... The Commonwealth’s
commitment to integrated and ecosystem-based planning and management will be
implemented through the introduction of a major Regional Marine Planning
Mr Stephen Oxley (SEWPaC) outlined the background of MPAs (or marine
reserves) for the Committee:
...bioregionalisation, which essentially divides our marine
environment into areas that essentially have the same ecological processes or
ecosystems, is the foundation on which the marine reserves network is being
established. Then we have worked the lessons we learned from the creation of
the south-east marine reserves network in the mid-2000s to develop and then
publish in 2007 the goals and principles for the establishment of the National
Representative System of Marine Protected Areas in Commonwealth waters.
SEWPaC’s website states that bioregional plans have a threefold purpose:
- support strategic,
consistent and informed decision-making under Commonwealth environment
legislation in relation to Commonwealth marine areas;
- support efficient
administration of the EPBC Act to promote the ecologically sustainable
use of the marine environment and its resources; and
- provide a framework
for strategic intervention and investment by government to meet policy
objectives and statutory responsibilities.
MPAs should also yield information and data for researchers in the
future. A supplementary submission from SEWPaC explained:
A monitoring strategy is being developed for the management
of the national Commonwealth marine reserves network. This monitoring strategy
will enable the review of effectiveness of management in reserves over time. Monitoring
of the marine environment is a challenging task, both scientifically and
This information and datasets will be made publicly available, which
will allow open access to the science informing marine management.
Professor Euan Harvey (UWA Oceans Institute) commented that MPAs have a
secondary benefit for scientific research by eliminating fishing pressure as a
variable from areas under study.
Throughout the inquiry a number of witnesses made claims that the
restraints imposed due to MPAs have been excessively precautious, even when
risks of fishing-related impacts appear exceedingly remote.
Mr Brian Jeffriess (CFA) said areas have been closed to fishing without
basis and in ignorance of available information. He said:
Green parks are desirable in many ways, but where a fishery
is absolutely no threat of any type to the ecosystem, why would it be excluded
from that area?
Mr Jeffriess added: ‘It is an ad hoc process... You try and explain
that to a fisherman. They lose confidence and faith in the whole system.’
IMAS submitted that in practice, ‘scientific knowledge is not commonly
used to develop ecosystem and biodiversity indicators.’ According to IMAS,
‘there has been a long history of marine protected area monitoring in
Tasmania,’ yet ‘the results of this monitoring have not been used in setting
performance measures for protecting ecosystems or biodiversity.’
Professor Colin Buxton (IMAS) said MPAs are unnecessary:
If you have good fisheries management, which we argue is
predominantly the case in Australia, then fisheries management is usually based
on ensuring that your spawning stock biomass is not below a certain level. If
your spawning stock biomass is not below a certain level then there cannot
possibly be any limitation on recruitment. That is the fundamental basis of
all fisheries management. That is widely accepted through all of the
scientific literature. So if you have that good fisheries management in place
then you do not have a constraint of inadequate recruitment and therefore you
do not expect the reserve to make any difference.
Mr Dean Logan (AMA) said the closing areas to fishing causes an effect
that reverses the intended benefits:
If you look at the maps that have been proposed you will see
that a lot of the best fishing grounds have been taken, which means that those
who wish to stay in the industry will aggressively fish areas that they can
fish a lot harder to get to the quotas that they need to put food on the table.
Mr Richard Stevens (WAFIC) said: ‘The problem is if you invest and then
somebody dumps a giant marine park over it. Then all your investment is
Mrs Judith Lynne (Sunfish Queensland) said that during consultation
processes, people were asked where they catch fish. She said that
subsequently, the best fishing areas were closed, ‘which created a history of
mistrust.’ She added that closing
areas of value to fishers had led to apathy for the health of oceans:
Once upon a time there were fish habitat areas and reserves
and everybody in the community knew the value that they had and the reason they
were there. They were very conscious of it and looked after them extremely
well. We now have areas that appear to have just been painted on a map only to
make percentages and they have lost their value. People are not as concerned
about looking after them.
Professor Bob Kearney (private capacity) said that MPAs are merely
‘lines on the water’ based on ‘terrestrial’ management models.
The concept of area management of that sort came from
forestry, where you are dealing with sedentary, non-mobile stress in an area
that you can draw a line around and control. ... But it has no relevance,
really, to the marine environment.
However, Mr Stephen Oxley (SEWPaC) told the Committee that science has
been central to the creation of MPAs:
That scientific foundation has its genesis in the 1990s and a
national endeavour involving major research institutions such as the CSIRO,
Geoscience Australia and a number of universities and museums around Australia
to create, over several iterations, what has become known as the integrated
marine and coastal bioregionalisation of Australia.
Professor Kingsford (James Cook University) gave evidence in support of
the science behind marine reserves, in particular the ‘spill over’ effects they
generated, stating that:
‘there was is demonstrable proof which has been refereed by
scientists in different parts of the world, so it is not, as was said, pretty
much a bunch of hippies coming up with an eco-argument on this. It is based on
really good science. It is quite clear that you can see that the blue zones are
doing better as a result of having green zones nearby.’
However, Mr Oxley recognised that MPAs are not necessarily a ‘panacea’,
with other fisheries management tools also being utilised to enhance
Mr Oxley also acknowledged that MPAs have ‘impacts on people,
communities, businesses and families’, making the subject ‘a highly contested
space’. However, consultation has been extensive, he said, involving 245
meetings, 1,953 people and a large quantity of submissions over a three-year
He pointed out that not all MPAs will necessarily result in total
They allow for a range of different activities. The extent
to which those activities are allowed is determined firstly in terms of the
risk they pose to the biodiversity values within them. We have done some risk
assessment work in that regard, but there is also a socioeconomic consideration
that is taken into account.
Mr Oxley added that management plans within MPAs are subject to a
ten-year statutory lifespan and there would be a new opportunity to review
arrangements. The Australian
Government is also offering ‘case-by-case decisions on adjustment assistance’
to people affected by the creation of MPAs, an update of the same policy used
in 2004 when the first tranche of MPAs were established in the south-east
The Committee informed Mr Oxley that other witnesses had described MPAs
as flawed for being akin to terrestrial approaches of management. Mr Oxley
As for this transposition of terrestrial models into the
marine environment, my observation is that the spatial management of the marine
environment is something that demonstrably works.
Within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, he said, there has been a
biomass increase, although he emphasised that benefits in other cases can vary
depending on the circumstances. He commented that ‘fisheries management
extensively uses spatial management as a way of effectively managing fisheries’.
SEWPaC has advised the Committee that a national monitoring strategy is
currently under development to evaluate marine ecosystem health and the marine
reserves network. The monitoring strategy is being developed over several
years from 2011 to 2014, and the following three outcomes are anticipated:
- A considered
understanding of the data requirements for managing a network of Commonwealth
Marine Reserves including how to mobilise national capacity to provide the
- A considered
understanding of the data requirements to evaluate and report on national
marine ecosystem health including how to mobilise national capacity to provide
the required data (especially with the Integrated Marine Observing System and
National Plan for Environmental Information); and
- Access to the
relevant data analyses (within limits of existing data) to report on
national-scale marine ecosystem health for input to the 2016 State of
The Committee heard evidence that there has been a concerted effort in
recent decades to improve fisheries science and management around Australia. Australia’s
fisheries science and management is now held in very high esteem around the
world due to the efforts to move to more sustainable yields; development of a
more sophisticated industry; and working towards ecosystems-based management. These
changes have been significant, and not without controversy, but they have also
improved the long term viability of our fisheries industry and the environment
on which the industry depends.
Despite the relatively high standard of fisheries science and management
in Australia, more still needs to be done.
This section provides the Committee’s views in the areas of:
- The adequacy of measuring
and reporting of fish stocks and environmental sustainability;
- how uncertainty is
managed and the precautionary principle applied; and
- ensuring our marine
park system contributes to world leading science.
Measuring and reporting of fish stocks and environmental sustainability
The Committee heard that good fish stock data is important for better
fisheries management and better policy decisions. However, the first nationwide
fish stock report will only be released later this year, and may still show a
range of areas where data is lacking.
The Committee also heard that fish stock data is only part of the
picture, and that assessing the environmental impacts of fishing and the
sustainability of marine ecosystems is also necessary.
In the past, the fishing industry focused on financial returns and
management of a resource; but today environmental objectives require management
of ecosystems and habitats. Managing environmental impacts are integral to industry’s
financial returns both in terms of meeting regulatory requirements and satisfying
consumers’ demand for more information about the sources of their food, how it
is harvested, and its overall sustainability.
The ecosystems based management approach has been a central part of
Australian fisheries management for more than a decade, and is included in
foundational documents such as the 1998 Oceans Policy.
However, the impetus to achieve higher levels of sustainability has
placed increasing pressure upon fisheries managers and the industry. Substantial
amounts of time and money are being invested in data collection and analysis to
minimise impacts on surrounding ecosystems and to demonstrate sustainability.
During the inquiry witnesses commented on the additional data, analysis and
reporting costs involved in collecting stock information and measuring
sustainability. They also commented that the funding for this work is limited. The
Committee heard that priorities need to be set and that pragmatism is needed to
place limits on the desire to gain a ‘perfect’ understanding of the marine
The Committee agrees that tough decisions need to be made on research
priorities to fit within constrained budgets, but which also still support good
However, by taking a ‘whole of system’ approach to fisheries management
this will ultimately support the ongoing viability of the industry and also improve
sustainability outcomes and hopefully help to grow the future fishing industry.
The work towards a better understanding of the environment in which we
fish will continue, and the Committee encourages all stakeholders to contribute.
However, a critical step is to gain a reliable consolidated national
picture of fish stocks. The Committee therefore looks forward to the ABARES consolidated
stock report expected later this year. This report needs to be made a regular
publication, and supported with adequate funding to ensure it is comprehensive
and can be relied upon by all stakeholders. It could then be expanded over time
to include more detail on ecosystem sustainability and other issues as
Publication of a consolidated stock report for all Australian fisheries will
complement existing publications and other publications recommended for
production by the Committee in other chapters of this report. Together the
reports will provide a full suite of national reporting on fisheries and
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government continue
to publish a consolidated stock report for all Australian fisheries on a regular
basis, after the initial publication of such a report in 2012, in
consultation with State and Territory governments.
Uncertainty and the precautionary principle
During the inquiry, there was debate surrounding the costs and benefits
of the precautionary principle and its effects on the fishing industry.
Questions surrounding whether the appropriate level of precaution has been
factored into management decisions have also been the subject of extensive
public scrutiny and media attention.
Despite the fact that the precautionary principle (as defined in the
‘Rio Declaration’ agreed at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment
and Development) has been enshrined in Australian fisheries management policy
and legislation for some two decades, there has been no universal agreement as
to its definition.
It has been used to decide how we manage uncertainty and risk. Yet when
a risk or uncertainty becomes clearer and is no longer a risk or uncertainty,
this principle becomes redundant.
In the Committee’s view, the precautionary principle should not be
interpreted as requiring zero impact, as some evidence has suggested is
occurring. If this were the case, the precautionary principle would be
excessive, prohibitive and unworkable.
The Committee feels that the precautionary principle should only be used
as a guideline that can balance the interests of all stakeholders and recognise
that decisions under its name are larger than just environmental decisions, but
are also about jobs and communities.
The Committee therefore encourages the Australian Government to develop
a guideline, rather than new principle, to assist with the development of a new
national regional policy statement for fisheries, aquaculture and recreational
Once this guideline is developed the Australian Government should take
action to ensure the community understands the new approach and explain how it
The Committee believes that precaution is about managing
risk; and therefore recommends that a new guideline on precaution be
developed with agreement and support of stakeholders, for inclusion in a new national
regional policy statement for fisheries, aquaculture and recreational fishing.
The science of MPAs
The Committee heard a diverse range of arguments during the inquiry
Despite the fact that the establishment of a system of protected areas
has been supported by successive governments since 1992, and several
consultation processes have been run, some stakeholders remain unsatisfied
about the rationale for MPAs. Particular questions and debate remain on the
linkages between restricting activity, fisheries management and scientific
The Committee heard that whilst there might be benefits of MPAs for
fisheries management, they are primarily tools of conservation. MPAs may also
contribute to scientific research and improving our understanding of the
oceans, but only if good quality science is prioritised.
If Australia is going to create one of the world’s largest systems of
marine parks, we need to make the most of the scientific opportunity this
offers. Extracting good data as to the effectiveness or otherwise of MPAs is
crucial to justifying their establishment and also ensuring they are robustly
evaluated. Furthermore, this data will inform the establishment of MPAs around
The Committee recognises that getting the science right takes time,
effort and money. The Committee was informed that there is a multi-year work
plan in place under the National Environmental Research Program which will
culminate in data being published in a 2016 State of Environment report.
However, given the years that have passed in the development of marine
reserve networks in Australia, and the stakeholder concern heard during the
inquiry, the Committee feels that additional efforts are needed to finalise the
monitoring and evaluation strategy as soon as possible.
The monitoring and evaluation strategy needs to ensure that the value of
MPAs is critically assessed. Once the value or otherwise of MPAs has been
determined, the Australian community can then be fully informed when making
decisions about whether to establish additional MPAs or potentially whether
some environmental controls should be relaxed.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government
expedite the creation and implementation of the monitoring and evaluation strategy
for the national Commonwealth marine reserves network – to ensure that they
are well managed and thoroughly evaluated, before consideration of any new MPAs
domestically and globally. A timeline should be announced to show:
a complete monitoring strategy will be in place;
a full evaluation will be completed; and
the findings of the evaluation will be implemented.
Recreational fishing is a popular activity in Australia. Despite the
significance of the sector, the level of policy attention given to recreational
fishing issues is comparatively less than for commercial activities. Information
relating to recreational fishing activity is limited. Facts and figures that
are available tend to be out of date.
The CSIRO’s submission stated that the recreational catch ‘remains
highly uncertain for many species, though in some cases it is known to be
significant.’ Dr Andrew Rowland
(RecFish West) explained that unlike the commercial fishing industry,
recreational fishers ‘are not bound by statute to record our catches’.
The last major survey of recreational fishing, the ‘National Recreational
and Indigenous Fishing Survey’, published in 2003, used a mixture of telephone
surveys, face-to-face interviews and self-reporting through diaries to estimate
effort, catch and expenditure.
The Survey also alluded to the fact that for some species, recreational
fishers may match or exceed the impact of commercial fishing.
Many recreational fishers use boats with electronic aids, allowing them to
range further out to sea and more effectively locate fish.
Boat sizes and technology continue to advance and evolve.
Recreational fishing is primarily managed by the States and Territories,
including where recreational fishing occurs in Commonwealth waters. The
Australian Government has scope to intervene through general powers of the EPBC
Act and s.17(6)(h) of the FM Act (relating to fisheries management
plans), though in practice refrains from directly managing recreational
fishing. Mr Ian Thompson (DAFF) said:
The data about how much fish are taken in recreational
fishing is limited. It is from surveys of people coming in and those sorts of
things, so it is a bit patchy from time to time. Recreational fishing is
almost exclusively managed by the states, and there is not a consistent
national picture of recreational fishing take.
Dr Rowland suggested that to compliment surveys, recreational fishers
could keep diaries – ‘where they might record the length of the fish, where it
was caught, the day, the tide and all those sorts of things.’
Mrs Judith Lynne (Sunfish Queensland) said that licensing and reporting
for the recreational sector should be enhanced through licensing and
standardised data collection:
We rely heavily on the limited data collection that
government provides. The issue nationally is that there are some state based
licensing systems. They are not all the same. ... Some do it species-wise;
some do it as total fish; some do not collect any data at all. To be honest,
this is one case where we believe that the Commonwealth should have an
overarching guideline that says we require data collection and therefore
require the states to have some form of licensing system to provide that level
of data collection. We know it is an issue. We cannot see any way around it
other than some form of reporting.
A further advantage of licensing recreational fishers would be the
ability to generate revenue to fund scientific research relevant to the
recreational sector. Mrs Judith Lynne (Sunfish Queensland) said that DAFF,
FRDC and Fisheries Queensland prioritise science for commercial fishing,
leaving development of recreational fishing a challenge when ‘the science
dollar is being spent elsewhere.’
These themes have been recognised, discussed and reviewed prior to this
inquiry. In 2002, recreational fishing stakeholders issued the ‘Coolangatta
Communique’ on recreational fishing in Commonwealth waters. The Communique
identified the following key issues:
- recreational fishing resource
- agreement on resource
- a cost recovery
mechanism to fund improved management; and
- the need for research
to estimate the recreational catch.
In 2011, an advisory committee on recreational fishing (formed in 2008 by
the then-Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture) completed a review
of national recreational fishing policy entitled Recreational fishing in
Australia – 2011 and beyond: a national industry development strategy. It
highlighted two key issues:
The first and most critical is the need for a
nationally-coordinated approach to the funding of recreational fisheries
programs and of the representation of recreational fishers. The second is the
need for strong leadership and an effective well-resourced national
recreational fisher representation and advocacy body.
The review also observed that there is not a consistent national
approach to licensing or funding for research and development.
Recreational fishing is a very popular pastime in Australia and is a
significant economic activity, with potential impacts in terms of environmental
The Committee learnt that recreational fishers were becoming
increasingly sophisticated in their approach, using modern technology to locate
fish and increase their vessel range. This poses a challenge for how
recreational fishing is governed, but technology could also be an opportunity
to gather additional information on recreational fishing impacts. For example,
fishing groups could encourage individual members to report information using phone
applications or website-based interfaces to capture data in ‘real time’.
Recreational fishing is governed by a combination of State, Territory
and national environmental legislation. The powers within the FM Act
have not been used to actively manage recreational fishing in Commonwealth
There are also different standards and rules for licensing and data
collection arrangements between Australian jurisdictions. This creates
resource management challenges when information relating to the numbers of
fishers and their catch is limited or out-dated.
The Committee believes that recreational fishing impacts and catches
should be better understood, and its contribution to the economy more
accurately estimated. The last comprehensive national survey of recreational
fishing was in the early 2000s. The Committee has therefore recommended
regular reporting on recreational fishing statistics. This is one among a
number of areas of national reporting the Committee believes should be
addressed, with several related recommendations made throughout this report.
Separately, COAG should discuss standardising recreational fishing
licensing and rules and agreeing to a framework for data collection on
recreational fishing activity, to assist with national reporting.
In addition, the current review of Commonwealth fisheries management
legislation should consider whether the FM Act needs to be revised to
facilitate the Australian Government engaging more readily in regulation and
data collection of recreational fishing in Commonwealth waters.
The Committee recommends that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries
and Forestry work with State and Territory counterparts to commission a
regular estimate of recreational fishing activity and impacts in Australia,
with data and results published in a yearly consolidated report, using a
nationally agreed data collection model.
The Committee recommends that COAG seek to harmonise, where
there is agreement, recreational fishing licensing, rules and data
The Committee recommends that the current review of Commonwealth
fisheries management consider whether revisions to the Fisheries
Management Act 1991 are necessary to allow the Australian Government to more
readily manage recreational fishing activity in Commonwealth waters.
Climate change was recognised by a range of stakeholders during this
inquiry as a known variable that will present a host of effects and challenges
for the fishing industry. The appearance of tropical fish species as far south
as Tasmania was given as a tangible example. The Committee has
sought, through this inquiry, to test the ability of science to provide answers
and forecasts in relation to fisheries and aquaculture.
The CSIRO’s submission made the observation that:
The majority of Australia’s fishery species are considered
sustainably managed but future climate change may impact industry
This view was also shared by James Cook University, which in its
submission described climate change as a ‘one of the top emerging threats
facing fisheries resources worldwide.’
The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency (DCCEE)’s
submission contained a bleak assessment:
Changes to ocean temperature, currents, winds, rainfall,
extreme weather, ocean chemistry and nutrients supply are likely to have
significant impacts on marine ecosystems. This will lead to changes in species
dispersion and stock levels and impact on fishing communities. While climate
change may present some opportunities, it is likely that overall, climate
change will pose significant challenges to the fisheries and aquaculture
Mr Ian Thompson (DAFF) said:
...we expect direct impacts that could range from changes in
fish populations, fish physiology, breeding habits, new diseases, changes in
immunity and then indirect impacts like changes in algae and micro-organisms
and the food chains.
A recent CSIRO publication, entitled ‘Marine Climate Change in
Australia’, reiterated that ‘climate change is already happening’ and outlined
three general responses currently underway:
- designing adaptation
strategies to ‘reduce the vulnerability of marine species, systems and
industries to climate change’;
- observing key
physical and biological variables in the ocean, which will be ‘critical to
evaluating effective adaptation strategies’; and
- preparing for climate
change through ‘changes in management or policy arrangements’, a point also
emphasised separately in the CSIRO’s submission,
particularly where these ‘currently limit adaptation responses.’
The WWF agreed that adaptation strategies will be required; however its
Within already stretched budgets, it is difficult to see how
these research needs can be met without compromising existing programs.
However, notwithstanding the expected predictions surrounding climate
change, according to DCCEE, ‘there is little consolidated knowledge of the
potential impacts of climate change’ and ‘much of the evidence... on marine
fisheries has been inferred’.
During this inquiry, there was noticeable diversity in opinions espoused
by witnesses and submissions in terms of the specific impacts climate change might
produce for fisheries or how other factors could be contributing to variability.
- localised social and
economic impacts if species move to new habitats. The Australian Marine Sciences
Association (AMSA)’s submission stated:
In Australia, fisheries in some regions may benefit from
climate change but other regions are likely to experience significant reduction
of catches (particularly in southern temperate waters).
Mr Brian Jeffriess (CFA) flagged the
financial implication of climate change for the fishing industry:
Most importantly, it frightens the banks, and they are still
the foundation, unfortunately, of the industry.
He commented that there could be ‘some
positives’ arising from climate change. ‘Sardines in the Great Australian
Bight, for example, will blossom to be better than they are now,’ he said.
- whether other changes
to the oceans, such as acidification, may deserve greater or equal status.
According to Dr Anthony Smith (CSIRO):
Professor Michael Harte said that ‘cumulative impacts’ including
sedimentation and agricultural run-off could greatly affect the state of the
In some ways, acidification is perhaps an even more important
issue than temperature. We are still a long way from understanding what the
consequences of those changes might be. That is right at the base of the
ecosystem, so there is potentially a very large impact from that.
- whether climate
change should be regarded as part of broader environmental changes, which are
ongoing rather than isolated events. Mr Neil Stump (TSIC) said:
...I would hope to see this fleeting focus on climate change
turned into a longer-term view, and recognition that there is ongoing environmental
change in the world’s oceans, estuaries and whatever, and that we do need to
invest money to understand what those changes are and what the possible
- overcoming a shortage
of knowledge about impacts on individual species of fish, which may vary.
For most fisheries little is known about how climate change
dynamics, for example, the timing of spawning or the tolerance to increased
and interaction within communities; [and]
and dynamics of communities, including changes to productivity due to physical changes in the environment such and wind-driven upwelling.
During a site visit to JCU, the
Committee observed first-hand experiments underway in controlled conditions to
test for the tolerance of individual species to temperature changes.
The Committee notes that there has been active interest in answering the
types of questions raised above. DCCEE cited three reports and strategies
within its submission:
- ‘Implications of Climate
Change for Australian Fisheries and Aquaculture: A Preliminary Assessment’,
released in 2008;
- the ‘National Climate
Change Adaptation Research Plan for Marine Biodiversity and Resources’,
released in 2010; and
- ‘Australian Climate
Change Science: A National Framework’, released in 2009.
Ms Jo Mummery (Assistant Secretary, Science and International Adaptation
Branch, DCCEE) said:
At this stage, there is quite a lot that is not known. There
is a level of confidence in the science community that many marine species
operate within particular temperature ranges or have a preference to be within
temperature ranges... it may lead to some unexpected predator-prey
relationships that are not currently what we are managing around.
It may lead to species moving further offshore or, in the
case, for example, of species off the southern coastline of Australia, there
may not be the nutrient support if the temperatures become too uncomfortable
for their current distribution. There really is still too significant a gap in
our understanding to fully respond to that question.
Nonetheless, Ms Mummery was confident that the necessary research
priorities have been identified:
We have tried through our establishment and work through the
adaptation research planning to make sure that there is a good engagement with
other researchers and with stakeholders and industry in defining the research
that is important. That has certainly been a core part of the way forward with
the adaptation planning.
She also said that DCCEE is bringing together a coordination group for
climate change science to enhance collaboration. 
Climate change was often raised as a significant source of concern and
uncertainty by witnesses during the inquiry. Irrespective of the causes of
climate change, change is occurring that will have large effects on the ocean
environment and Australia’s coastal communities.
The level of understanding surrounding climate change, oceans and
fisheries is limited and the long-term outlook uncertain.
However, there was general consensus that further research is needed
into how climate change may affect the oceans and how to best adapt to these
The Committee supports the need for this additional research.
There is one central document prepared by the Department of Climate
Change and Energy Efficiency - ‘Implications of Climate Change for Australian
Fisheries and Aquaculture’ – that provides a foundation for further work.
Whilst this is a short and specialised publication, it should be further
developed into a comprehensive document that acts as a national reference
document for the impacts of climate change on fisheries and aquaculture.
The Committee recommends that the 2008 preliminary
assessment of the ‘Implications of Climate Change for Australian Fisheries
and Aquaculture’ be developed by the Department of Climate Change and Energy
Efficiency into a more comprehensive study, to include broad strategic issues
and localised impacts.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government
ensure there is a continued strong effort to monitor and analyse the effects
of climate change on Australia’s oceans and communities.
Research and public education
World leading science is critical to Australia’s high standard of
fisheries management. Continuously building on this science will support the
future viability and competitiveness of Australian fisheries and will lead to
even better environmental outcomes. Harnessing Australia’s scientific skills
will also allow Australia to play our global role in helping to provide food to
surrounding developing nations.
In order to have good research outcomes we must foster our research
capacity, including through skills development and targeted investment.
In order to use this research to achieve better fisheries management and
environmental outcomes the research needs to be communicated to all
stakeholders and the general public.
Breaking these issues down, there were four main themes raised during
the inquiry, which are dealt with in turn within this chapter:
1. the demand for
2. maximising research
capacity, in terms of people, infrastructure and investment;
3. setting research
priorities and coordinating research efforts; and
fisheries research through public education.
The Committee recognises that there are many different terms used to
describe scientific efforts and that there is also a spectrum from initial
research to development, commercialisation and extension. For simplicity, the
remainder of this chapter collectively refers to these issues as ‘research’.
Demand for research
The ‘National Fishing and Aquaculture RD&E Strategy 2010’,
commissioned by the Australian Primary Industries Ministerial Council, is a key
source of information, facts, figures and discussion of fisheries research in
Australia. It identified several ‘strategic research themes’ (separately, the
FRDC has its own RD&E plan based on these themes):
- biosecurity and
- habitat and ecosystem
- climate change;
- governance and
- resource access and
- growth and
- maximising value from
- consumers and
- community support;
- community resilience
- develop the
capabilities of the people to whom the industry entrusts its future; and
- to create positive
practice and attitudinal change through information transfer (addressing public
Demand for fisheries research is growing. Consequently, having a plan
for fisheries research priorities is essential. Dr James Findlay (AFMA) said:
The uncertainty about our marine stocks puts a lot of
pressure on science. We are very science hungry organisation. We are making
evidence-based decisions. It is highly contestable environment. Every
decision we make about the level of catch, where people should fish or what
method they should use or about managing things such as by-catch... is heavily
contested. Because of that, we are heavily dependent on science and it is a
large part of our investment.
As AMSA explained in its submission, less science would translate into
‘overly conservative and risk-averse management decisions’ or ‘poorly informed
Markets and the desires of consumers are key determinants of research
investment. Dr Patrick Hone (FRDC) said:
For the commercial sector, whether it is wild catch or
aquaculture, it is about linking to markets. It is about getting market
signals back into the research, back into the production base and to make sure
that we have informed decisions about where they put their investment. If you
build a fishing boat, that is a 15 to 20 year investment so you want to make
sure if you are putting that sort of money in that you know what the market is
going to do for white fish or what it is going to do for the sorts of products
that you are producing.
Mr Brian Jeffriess (Commonwealth Fisheries Association) said that
Australia’s science is a source of competitive advantage, which would ‘suffer’
without an investment in training.
Maximising fisheries research capacity
The ‘National Fishing and Aquaculture RD&E Strategy 2010’ defined
capacity as having three elements: ‘human, infrastructure and investment.’
The RD&E Strategy estimated that there are ‘531 FTE research and
extension professionals employed by major institutions’, most in government
agencies and the remainder in universities. The report estimated expenditure
by research providers in 2008-09 to have been $142million and capital investment
in fisheries research infrastructure (for example, aquariums, laboratories and
ships) was estimated to be around $323million.
Fisheries research relies on mixed funding sources. The effort is partly
funded by the fishing industry and funded partly from the government sector.
Contributing stakeholders, therefore, expect spending to accord with their
respective interests and contributions.
The Committee was informed that marine research has a relatively high
cost and degree of difficulty. According to DAFF’s submission:
Marine environments are generally far less accessible than
their terrestrial equivalents and present a much more challenging environment
in which to conduct research. As a result marine ecosystems are generally more
difficult and expensive to study than terrestrial ecosystems.
Professor Neil Loneragan (Centre for Fish, Fisheries and Aquatic
Ecosystem Research) said:
The size of the pie is being reduced in the wild harvest
fisheries and more research is expected because of the requirements to
demonstrate ecological sustainability and the requirements of ecosystem based
fisheries management. There are two issues: how do we grow the funding pie
and how do we do research more efficiently within the current model?
The CSIRO’s submission mirrored this view, adding that public sector
funding for research is ‘flat’, notwithstanding the ‘ongoing needs for
monitoring and research to reduce uncertainty about future resource dynamics...
and demand for scientific proof to meet society’s high environmental
standards.’ JCU’s submission
warned that diminishing resources has ‘meant management agencies can struggle
to base decisions on high quality science.’ Another consequence of
this situation may be that organisations have to devote a greater amount of
time to bidding for funds in an environment of scarce funding.
However, Mr Richard Stevens (WAFIC) said cuts to research funding may be
having the effect of driving cooperation and dismantling silos. ‘I am seeing a
greater amount of public cooperation now as the capacity to fund research
declines. People are really starting to cooperate,’ he said.
Mr Stevens added:
If you are looking at areas to fund, you should concentrate
on those people who are working together rather than those people who are
working apart. That would be a good strategy.
Associate Professor Robert Day (University of Melbourne Department of
Zoology) said that funding for fisheries and aquaculture research has been
concentrated into a few institutions only. A secondary issue arising, he said,
is ‘real or perceived conflicts of interest in allocating funds,’ which he
believed is reinforcing the concentration. He said this
concentration is undesirable:
Expertise for projects depends on the project and it is very
difficult to predict what kind of expertise you are going to need, so you need
to be able to draw on expertise from institutions right across Australia when
they are required for a particular project. It is very unlikely that the few
institutions which are specifically targeted for fisheries and agriculture are
going to have that sort of expertise in every case.
AMSA’s submission described the intensive process from experts across a
range of disciplines and fields to conduct stock assessments:
Obtaining such information (which may be fishery dependent or
fishery independent) relies on fisheries biologists and mathematical modellers,
regular sampling by fisheries observers, compilation and analysis of the catch
data by scientists and computation of various scenarios with respect to yield.
Associate Professor Robert Day said that ‘usually you need a combination
of mathematics and biology and there are very few students anywhere who have
those qualifications.’ Professor Neil Loneragan
said that attracting enrolments was largely dependent on the research interests
of individuals. The long-term direction of the university is something ‘you
cannot control’, he said, adding: ‘That depends on the success of the research
area and the demand for teaching in the area.’
Mr Greg Jenkins (Challenger Institute) said that in his view there is ‘a lot
of competition’ among universities, at least in his home State of Western
Australia, and consequently ‘the entry standards have lowered.’
Dr Michael Hughes (Office of the Chief Scientist) said that based on
figures from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations,
the numbers of students in specialised agricultural science or fisheries
science degrees has ‘steadily declined’. He said fisheries science has now
become encompassed part of physical and natural sciences degrees, although this
will expand the cohort of graduates. He added that
cadetships and scholarships should be available to add ‘some attractiveness and
career path that is laid out and clear in the fisheries and aquaculture
sector.’ Dr Hughes (Office of
the Chief Scientist) said that although he believed ‘potential’ existed through
cooperative research centres (CRCs):
...to be quite frank, the way this situation is at the moment
is not ideal. There is a disconnect between people at the coalface and
recognition of the problems they are having and the science that they need to
innovate and deal with those problems.
Dr Patrick Hone (FRDC) agreed that the number of fisheries science
courses are ‘in decline’, though he said this has been offset by an enlarged
pool of employable graduates:
It is fair to say, though, that in our industry the sorts of
graduates that come in from science are multidisciplinary—they will come from
information technology, computational science or nutrition backgrounds. There
are plenty of good graduates still coming through the system in that regard.
He said that in some areas, however, there is a shortage of graduates:
The veterinary area is an area where we still have some gaps.
We still struggle to get aquatic animal health vets coming through the system
and we are trying to address that. We still do have some gaps around
computational science—mathematical modellers—not because there are not
mathematical modellers; it is just that the competition for those sorts of
people is very intense, like in a lot of industries.
Dr Hone added that regarding courses aimed at the technical and trade
level, ‘there are definitely requirements to do more work in TAFE-type
Associate Professor Robert Day (University of Melbourne Department of
Zoology) said the FRDC should offer small grants to doctoral students to fund
the operational costs of their projects, which should be framed to:
drive greater collaboration between industry, universities
and state based fishery agencies and create a pathway to attract students who
are interested in this from anywhere in Australia and train them in the
fisheries and aquaculture fields.
Dr Elizabeth Smith (private capacity) said:
The difficulty that I saw as a working scientist and which I
still see in scientific research is that research tends to get narrower and
narrower and narrower. It has to because only in that way can you fully
understand a system, but there are fewer people who are doing the broad-range
research and it tends not to be the younger people.
Dr Smith suggested there could be fellowships offered that are designed
to provide students with broader views.
Dr Len Stephens (Seafood CRC) said that CRCs are obliged to fund
graduate students and that the Seafood CRC is funding around 55 students.
Setting priorities and coordinating efforts
The National Fishing and Aquaculture RD&E Strategy 2010 (RD&E
Strategy), developed by the Primary Industries Ministerial Council, aims
‘the future direction to improve the focus, efficiency and
effectiveness of RD&E to support Australia’s fishing and aquaculture
The RD&E Strategy’s ‘research themes’ included ecosystems, climate
change, governance, marine resources and social and economic issues.
Despite the aim of the RD&E Strategy, a number of witnesses claimed
that the organisation of fisheries science in Australia is devolved, dispersed
and not well coordinated.
The RD&E Strategy itself recognises that in 2010 there was ‘no
common forum for stakeholders to work together on RD&E’ and characterised
Australia’s fisheries research effort as being one of ‘confusion, competition,
inefficient investment and suboptimal adoption rates.’ Once implemented, it
was claimed the RD&E Strategy would result in ‘higher returns on the
substantial resources invested by government and industry’.
A key issue for achieving coordination is that the range of fisheries
research stakeholders is diverse, potentially emanating from the following
types of organisations:
- state and Federal
government departments with responsibility for the primary industries and
institutes, relying on a mixture of government and non-government funding,
which deliver relevant projects in accordance with the wishes of their
stakeholders and financiers (but unlike universities, most do not have teaching
programs, though they may fund graduate studies) (e.g. CSIRO, AIMS, FRDC,
- universities, with
expertise in areas including marine resources, habitats, ecosystems, climatic
studies, oceanography, oceans policy and aquaculture. Universities are also
training the future generations of fisheries scientists;
- technical skills
institutes, which concentrate on practical aspects of harvesting fish,
workforce training and improving production; and
- museums and
aquariums, which collect and catalogue taxonomic information about fish
According to the WWF’s submission, coordination is still generally lacking:
There are significant differences across the jurisdictions’
arrangements for delivery of scientific advice, engagement of stakeholders, the
identification of research priorities and the conduct of peer review and
evaluation of scientific research.
The WWF submitted that although some research programs been developed to
address issues at a national or regional level, many institutions continue to
operate in ‘silos’ based around jurisdictions or sectors, ‘and this restricts
their access to funding and prevents them achieving the “critical mass”
required to address and increasingly complex set of questions.’ The tight and
uncertain funding situation (except for the CSIRO, which has core funding),
according to WWF, ‘does not engender good strategic planning of either research
Professor Michael Kingsford (James Cook University) said:
Essentially, you have a limited number of scientists and
managers in Australia. You want to maximise the interaction between them and
maximise the opportunities for collaborative research.
Mr Jon Bryan (TCT) said there is ‘no coordinating body’ and ‘there tends
to be silos’. Mr Bryan also that the
FRDC was essentially ‘an industry research group’ with ‘fairly narrow,
industry-directed research goals which look at industry problems in the
Dr Elizabeth Smith (private capacity) said:
I do believe that publicly funded science should be for the
benefit of the public and the environment, not so much for the benefit of
private companies or publicly listed companies.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries submitted that there are a
number of structures and processes in place which are designed to ensure
collaboration and minimise duplication of effort.
NSW DPI suggested:
To build upon this success and formalise these processes, NSW
recommends the development of a national centralised database or notification
register for fisheries and aquaculture-related projects.
Professor Steve Kennelly (Director Fisheries Research, NSW DPI) said
that a web-based format would be preferable; he commented that past attempts
had led to incomprehensible ‘reams of paper’ being produced.
The Committee heard a variety of views regarding priority accorded to
research fields or sectors, with witnesses concerned that important areas are
not being accorded appropriate priority.
Associate Professor Tim Day and Dr Rob Dempster submitted that ‘almost
all’ funding for fisheries and aquaculture research is ‘focused on tactical
research for management’ and ‘strategic research with obvious direct benefit
for the industries.’ However, Mr Warwick
Nash (Queensland DAFF) explained that research involving information-gathering,
such as for ongoing stock assessments, is not of particular interest to
universities because it is not publishable. He said:
Universities to a large extent get funded by the quality of
the research that they do and the number of papers they have in those
high-level journals. So, to some extent, the type of research that is needed
for the states to be able to have their fisheries going into the future is not
the sort of work that is attractive to universities.
Mr Richard Stevens (WAFIC) said that most science is about counting fish
and oceanography and felt that contrary to claims of other witnesses, industry
Mr Gregory Jenkins (Challenger Institute of Technology) said:
We only use the science when we have a problem that prevents
our industry partner getting to a particular goal. Scientists love their
science, they love their areas. Quite often perhaps... some of their science
may not be completely necessary for the industry to move forward but it may be
important for their career progression. Our career progression depends on us
having an industry result. It has certainly got nothing to do with a number of
papers we publish.
The recreational fishing sector also expressed concerns about having its
interests perceived as being unimportant. Mrs Judith Lynne (Sunfish
Queensland) said that the sector cannot make its case when ‘it is the
commercial sector that receives all the interest’ and ‘the science dollar is
being spent elsewhere.’
The Australian Marine Science Association expressed a similar view,
noting that whilst historically commercial interests have set priorities, there
has been a realisation of the need to include recreational fishers, indigenous
fishers and other community groups.
DAFF assured the Committee that while some duplication may exist,
coordination is being achieved. Mr Ian Thompson (DAFF) said that generally,
research providers ‘tend to specialise in different areas’ and coordinate their
work through the National Fishing and Aquaculture RD&E Strategy 2010 and
forums to minimise duplication and overlap. However, he said:
The risk of it happening with so many providers is probably
quite high but, with budget pressures and the existence of a coordination
strategy, I am in no position to say how much overlap still exists or whether
it ever did exist.
He said the potential for ‘inefficiency and duplication’ is addressed
through the National Fishing and Aquaculture RD&E Strategy 2010:
It is brought to life through the cooperation between
Commonwealth and states in the Australian Fisheries Management Forum, which is
Commonwealth and state fisheries managers, and the FRDC plays a major role in
coordination implementation. Under that strategy there tends to be some
specialisation between states and the Commonwealth and institutes in what they
should do so everyone does not need to be an expert in everything.
Mr Gordon Neil (DAFF) added that there is ‘a big effort to avoid
duplication’ through the research and development strategy and forums convened
by the FRDC.
Communicating fisheries research through public education
A number of witnesses expressed a degree of concern that at times, the
standards of fisheries management and sustainability of species is subject to
unfair or factually questionable public commentary, based upon mistaken
perceptions and incomplete information.
Dr Anthony Smith (CSIRO Wealth from Oceans National Flagship) said that
although Australian fisheries are ‘well-managed’, with few exceptions:
The difficulty is that globally there is quite a lot of
mismanagement in fisheries and there is quite a lot of overfishing. I think the
media tends to play up those issues, and that is a lot of what influences
public perception. ...there is not a lot of differentiation in the public’s
mind between the global situation and the situation in Australia.
Dr Smith said the CSIRO is considering ways to improve the public
perception, ‘or at least get it based on more realistic information and
Professor Neil Loneragan (Murdoch University) commented that science is being
used for ‘political arguments’ and has become ‘lost’.
Mr Neil Stump (TSIC) said that there are people who are ‘hell-bent on ignoring
the science.’ Mr Robert Gott
There are some sections of the community that want a
zero-risk approach. The amount of science that would need to be invested to
get to that point would be significant and we will probably never achieve that
Dr Adam Main (TSGA) said:
I see that there is a tremendous amount of science being done
for our industry by some very qualified and independent researchers. It is my
role, our role—that of the company—to try and get the science translated across
so it is understood, not just by the community but also by government. Failure
to do that means that there could be a perception that we are not utilising
science when we make decisions or plan.
Dr Andrew Rowland (RecFish West) explained the need to adequately
The essential role of science in underpinning the management
is one thing, but it is actually the understanding of the science in the
community which is needed, given the political nature of the way management
decisions are made, particularly given the large size of the recreational
If the science is solid and it is communicated well and the
rationale and reasons behind any management reforms are put forward in that
manner, then generally we have found that the recreational fishing community
will be accepting of any changes and, indeed, as I said earlier, will drive
those changes because they care deeply about the resource.
Dr Len Stephens (Seafood CRC) emphasised the need for customer outreach
to feature in production research and ‘marketing science’. He explained:
The CRC is doing a lot of work in the area of the three major
activities... technical research in the whole area of seafood product,
packaging and retailing; consumer research—consumers’ attitudes to seafood and
seafood marketing and retailing; and provision of technical advice on issues
such as trade negotiations...
Dr Stephens commented that he believed that ‘post-harvest research into
seafood... is an area where Australia’s capability is quite deficient.’
However, he said there have been efforts to communicate the health benefits of
seafood through schools, health professionals, industry and retailers.
Professor Colin Simpfendorfer (JCU) said that managing fish is about
managing the people who catch fish, which means taking account of the social
aspects of fishing within the research agenda, in particular attitudes and
Fisheries research makes a significant contribution to the fishing
industry, communities and the environment. Fisheries science contributes to:
- maintaining the
industry’s comparative advantages;
- guaranteeing that
marine resources will be available for future generations;
- ensuring the health
of ecosystems and the environment; and
- informing and
reassuring consumers and markets that Australian products are harvested
sustainably from fisheries managed under best-practice conditions.
The Committee found that Australian fisheries science is world leading, and
that our fisheries are well managed - especially in comparison to international
standards. However, the Committee also heard of the challenges of prioritising
limited research funding in order to find the right balance between diverse
stakeholder agendas and also between short and long term interests.
Despite the increasing demand for high quality research the Committee
heard of the challenges in getting the right people with the right skills into
the industry. In particular, the area of veterinary science for fisheries and
aquaculture was highlighted to the Committee, and this area is discussed in
more detail in Chapter 5.
While the aims of better coordination within the National Fishing and
Aquaculture RD&E Strategy 2010 are commendable, the Committee nevertheless found
that issues of poor coordination and disagreement surrounding research
priorities still appear widespread. Industry, recreational fishers,
environment groups and academics expressed concern that one aspect or another
of fisheries science is not given high enough priority or attention. The
Committee is not in a position to judge whether certain aspects of fisheries
research are being neglected nor to specifically identify a source of
coordination or leadership failure. However, unless these issues can be
addressed there is a risk that the RD&E Strategy could become marginalised.
The Strategy itself identifies a number of pre-existing shortcomings, to which
the Strategy in part was expected to respond.
The Committee recognises that the RD&E Strategy is at the early
stages of implementation, however, it also believes that a review should be
undertaken to assess how the RD&E Strategy is improving coordination outcomes.
As part of this review – and update of the strategy if necessary – there should
be consideration of new coordination mechanisms, such as a regular national
fisheries RD&E forum and registry of research projects.
In addition to the appropriate research being undertaken and published,
there is a need to ensure that it is also communicated amongst the industry,
and to the community at large. It is essential that scientists themselves be
active in this communication effort. Numerous witnesses commented on the high esteem
in which Australian fisheries management and aquaculture development is held
around the world. However, it was also evident throughout the inquiry that this
does not always find reflection in Australian community attitudes towards
fisheries management and aquaculture. Problems with other countries fisheries
management of environmental outcomes are too often falsely claimed to also be
occurring in Australia. Ongoing efforts by scientists, industry stakeholders,
fisheries managers, and governments will be fundamental to overcoming these
misconceptions; and achieving greater public awareness and acceptance of the
strong management and environmental sustainability credentials of our fisheries.
The importance of seafood for health has been addressed during the
inquiry, and the Committee believes that further work by the FRDC and Seafood
CRC (amongst others) can ensure that this message is widely understood.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Primary
Industries Ministerial Council commission a review of the ‘National Fishing
and Aquaculture RD&E Strategy 2010’, to assess progress in achieving the Strategy’s
aims, in particular in regard to the co-ordination of Australia’s scientific
effort. The review should consider whether additional mechanisms are
necessary to complement the strategy, such as a regular national fisheries research,
development and extension forum or registry of research projects.