Chapter 5 Biosecurity, certification and international aid and cooperation
This chapter deals with three major issues that were considered during
the inquiry, that are relevant to both wild fisheries and aquaculture:
biosecurity, certification and international aid and cooperation.
The biosecurity section deals with animal health, screening of seafood
imports, the link between seafood and public health, and the translocation of
species within Australia.
The certification section discusses third party certification of seafood
products, generally directed at consumers. Certification generally provides
consumers with information about the environmental sustainability of seafood
products, as well as a guarantee of the origin and custody of seafood products
along the supply chain, also known as traceability. Products are accordingly
labelled to signify compliance for sustainability or traceability.
The last section on international cooperation and aid considers
Australia’s involvement with international fisheries organisations and
opportunities to assist other countries with fisheries management and
aquaculture production through aid programs.
This section will consider biosecurity generally as it relates to marine
animals, as well as government biosecurity policy and food standards.
The setting of biosecurity policy and rules occurs mostly at a national
level, through DAFF. Within national borders, the States and Territories have
their own systems for enforcement and outbreak detection.
Biosecurity and marine animals
Overall, Mr Ian Thompson (DAFF) said that biosecurity science is closely
linked to Australia’s comparative trade advantage:
Biosecurity science underpins Australia’s freedom from many
major aquatic animal diseases and invasive marine species that are found
elsewhere in the world. That freedom gives us an advantage in trade,
productivity and sustainability.
The Australian Government, Mr Thompson said, is well-placed to carry out
certain biosecurity and border protection functions in support of developing
the aquaculture industry.
Dr Patrick Hone (FRDC) said:
By and large, I think Australia is well served by its
biosecurity processes. We have very conservative rules. Tasmania, for example,
has some extremely conservative biosecurity rules which serve that industry
Australia is free from most aquatic animal diseases present elsewhere in
the world. Were an outbreak to
occur, this could cause substantial economic losses. DAFF submitted:
Losses in productivity from diseases of aquatic animals can
be massive. Diseases such as ostreid herpes virus resulted in losses of 38per
cent in French Pacific oyster farming in recent years, and an outbreak of a
salmon virus in Chile in 2007 caused unemployment and losses of over half of
Chile’s salmon production. Research into the development of species resistant
to disease, disease treatments, and improved management practices is crucial to
minimising the impact of disease on production, and flow-on effects such as
In addition, Mr Ian Thompson (DAFF) stated that animal aquatic health is
‘relatively poorly understood in comparison to land animals’,
a point reiterated in other evidence.
Current capacity to prevent, confine or eradicate aquatic diseases is
limited, according to the CSIRO. Dr Nicholas Elliott (CSIRO) said that
although there have been recent improvements:
...generally, in the fisheries and aquaculture area, we have
a very low capability in that area. We have very few scientists working in that
area. It is an area that has been identified as one where we need more because
there is no doubt about it: we will get more diseases.
Other evidence to the inquiry also expressed concern about Australia’s
capacity to deal with a major disease outbreak in aquatic animals. As noted by
Murdoch University, the approach taken to biosecurity is generally reactive,
and in relation to wild fish stocks is constrained by limited scientific
Our ability to minimise and appropriately manage disease
risks in natural fish populations is constrained by a relatively poor
understanding (compared with terrestrial wildlife) of the diversity, life
cycles and transmission capabilities of infectious agents. This means that we
have a very limited capacity to develop proactive preventative measures and we
rely almost invariably on reactive responses after the outbreak has occurred.
The same submission noted that aquaculture shares some of the problems
of wild fisheries, relating to limited scientific knowledge. However, because
aquaculture utilises artificial environments, a disease outbreak could be ‘on a
scale rarely seen in natural populations.’ CSIRO submitted that,
whilst some Australian disease outbreaks are linked to foreign outbreaks, some
have been specific to Australia. It further submitted that disease outbreaks
would continue to occur, ‘possibly more frequently with changing climate’.
Imported fish is a major source of potential disease risk. Associate
Professor Tim Day (University of Melbourne) said:
Bringing species in from overseas is a recipe for bringing in
new diseases. That can be done sometimes—it has been done successfully with
salmon, obviously—but you have to be really careful. Salmon has been
associated with some very severe diseases in aquaculture that have spread to
wild stocks of salmon.
Dr Adam Main (Tasmanian Salmonid Growers Association) said:
Biosecurity and the import of other products is a threat from
a supply point of view, but it is also a major threat from disease and pest
point of view. If something was to come into Tasmania, like an ISA [infectious
salmon anaemia] or any number of diseases that they have in the Northern
Hemisphere or in Chile, it would be the end of our industry.
According to evidence from Professor Euan Harvey, ballast water from
ships is another potential source of marine pests.
Managing aquatic animal health relies on suitable veterinary science and
veterinarians with appropriate expertise. According to Murdoch University:
Globally, veterinarians with skills in aquatic animal health,
to meet the disease challenges of capture fisheries and aquaculture, are in
short supply. Very few veterinary courses in Australia, or overseas, provide
even basic training in fish diseases. Exacerbating the shortage of fish health
professionals is the very limited availability of advanced training courses in
fish health within Australia. Although some courses are run by organisations
such as the University of Tasmania, Murdoch University and CSIRO, these are
typically limited in scope, often ad hoc and usually pitched at a relatively
basic, entry-level audience.
More generally, opportunities to develop new aquaculture species in
Australia needs ‘basic biological knowledge’, Prof Day said, such as growth
rates and immune systems.
Government biosecurity policy
Current national animal health policy is under review, following the
lapsing of the most recent AquaPlan. DAFF’s submission explains the origin of
the AquaPlan policies:
AQUAPLAN 1998-2003, Australia's first national strategic plan
for aquatic animal health, was developed after mass mortality events in
pilchards in southern Australian waters in 1995 and 1998...These mortality
events highlighted the need for a coordinated national approach to aquatic
animal health management in Australia, and in 1997 the Australian Government
committed $2.7 million to develop a comprehensive aquatic animal health plan
for Australia. A joint government/industry body was established in 1997 to
develop AQUAPLAN 1998-2003.
According to DAFF, a number of outcomes resulted, including:
Australia’s National List of Reportable Diseases of Aquatic Animals and
mechanisms to update the list.
emergency aquatic animal disease preparedness and response arrangements
including AQUAVETPLAN and the Aquatic Consultative Committee for Aquatic Animal
- Establishing the Aquatic
Animal Health Subprogram (AHHS) of the Fisheries Research and Development
Corporation (FRDC) to coordinate and lead aquatic animal health research and
- Raising awareness of
aquatic animal health issues through a range of educational and awareness
materials e.g. Aquatic Animal Diseases Significant to Australia: Identification
A second AquaPlan was implemented from 2005 to 2010, which has now lapsed.
According to evidence from DAFF, ‘The feedback from industry and other
stakeholders is supportive of a new plan and steps are being taken to progress
a new plan for another five-year period.’
AquaPlan 2005 to 2010 noted that for continued growth, the aquaculture
industry requires access to the skills of aquatic health professionals.
The Committee strongly agrees that education and training to ensure the
relevant skills and services are available is critical to the future of the aquaculture
Mr Reg Butler (DAFF) said with land-based diseases, the usual arrangement
is for costs to be shared between government and industry, through a levy. Mr
Butler pointed out, however, that even for some terrestrial species, there is
not a cost sharing arrangement for disease response. Mr Ian Thompson (DAFF)
added that the breadth of any levy applied across an industry may be complex,
as a ‘disease of oysters is not necessarily going to affect salmon’.
Food standards and consumers
Evidence during the inquiry highlighted the links between the health of
aquatic animals, human health, consumer confidence and industry viability. Dr
Nicholas Elliott (CSIRO) said:
Certainly I think with aquaculture, as with any primary
production, you have got to look at the whole system because everything is
dependent. So if you do not have a healthy environment you will not have a
healthy animal, you will not have a healthy industry and you will not have
Dr Adam Main (TSGA) said:
One of the things that the salmon industry has done very well
is to have a fish health surveillance program, and we can demonstrate freedom
from diseases. From a social licence, sale point and biosecurity point of view
we have the processes in place to demonstrate that freedom.
Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) has an important role
in protecting human health through the development of food standards, which are
then replicated by governments:
Standards developed by FSANZ do not have a direct legal
effect. Rather, the Food Regulation Agreement provides that the States
and Territories adopt or incorporate the Code into state or territory law.
Under this arrangement, food standards are implemented by governments
across Australia and New Zealand. A performance audit in 2010 by the Australian
National Audit Office considered FSANZ’s administration of its food standard
functions. However, as the audit report noted:
The scope of this audit did not include the bodies primarily
involved in food regulation policy or the bodies responsible for the
implementation, compliance and enforcement of the standards.
A further performance audit of the collective implementation of the
standards would not be possible under the Auditor-General Act 1997, as
such an audit would need to include state and territory government agencies not
subject to the above Act.
Evidence highlighted the important link between aquatic animal health
and an industry with strong social licence.
The Committee is concerned that although the seafood industry and, in
particular, aquaculture operations, are vulnerable to disease, there are
questions over Australia’s capacity to fully contain outbreaks. The Committee
also notes that as some diseases affect certain species (and, therefore, are a
risk to only a section of the industry) this could make charging an
industry-wide levy for services challenging. It remains, however, an important
priority deserving Australian Government action.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government
update AquaPlan as soon as possible.
The Committee recommends that the Department of Agriculture,
Fisheries and Forestry develop a model for funding and enhancing aquatic disease
control and aquatic veterinary training, possibly including an industry levy,
as a matter of urgency.
The Committee is concerned that the current arrangements by which food
standards are implemented and enforced are not sufficiently reviewable. In
particular, the inability of the Auditor-General – or the equivalent officers
in Australian jurisdictions or New Zealand – to conduct a performance audit of
the entire food standards system is a problem. In the absence of such an audit,
it is difficult to establish whether the current food standards system as a
whole is working properly.
Given the importance of maintaining disease-free status of Australian
seafood, the Committee believes that the Legislative and Governance Forum on
Food Regulation, which comprises the relevant Australian and New Zealand
ministers, should address this gap in assessing food standards performance.
The Committee recommends the Legislative and Governance
Forum on Food Regulation formulate an independent mechanism for conducting a
performance audit or review of the entire food standards system.
Standards of fisheries management in Australia and internationally are
coming under increasing scrutiny through certification schemes, which can provide
consumers with information about where a seafood product has been sourced. As
seafood companies compete to achieve higher rankings or ratings against
criteria within certification schemes, this has the potential to influence the
future direction of fisheries research as market forces demand higher standards
of evidence-based science to demonstrate claims of sustainable fisheries
As examples, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has developed global
certification programs, for both traceability and sustainability:
- the ‘environmental
standard for sustainable fishing’, which certifies the sustainability of fish
stocks, environmental impacts and effective management systems;
- the ‘chain of custody
standard for seafood traceability’, which certifies that a business has
systems, records, proof that seafood has been sourced from an accredited
supplier and an ability to ensure products are not substituted or mixed.
And the Australian
Marine Conservation Society’s ‘sustainable seafood guide’ (not intended as a
certification scheme) uses the tags ‘say no’, ‘think twice’ and ‘better choice’
against species commonly sold at fishmongers and at restaurants.
Ms Tooni Mahto (AMCS) said the Guide is ‘based on publicly available
literature, from peer reviewed academic papers to government stock status
reports and fisheries updates.’
Dr Patrick Hone (FRDC) explained the connection between markets and
There is public scrutiny, corporate social responsibility,
social licence to operate—you might call it anything you want. There are a lot
of things happening in the community where people want demonstrable evidence
that you are doing things sustainably.
Some countries like Canada are going through a trial of what
is called the FAO based code of conduct for a sustainable fishing standard. ...
our goal as scientists is to make sure that we harmonise, that we reduce the
duplication and that all fisheries can afford it, if that is where we are going
in the future, some demonstrable certification.
Both the aquaculture and fishing industries have recognised the rise of
certification schemes. Dr Adam Main (Tasmanian Salmonid Growers Association)
Certification and accreditation and standards have become vitally
important for our industry to move forward. ... I do not know if the
accreditation necessarily gives us social licence. It helps us demonstrate
sustainability in one aspect and to an end user—possibly the purchasers of our
seafood—but we do work on the social licence issue in quite a different way.
Mr Neil Stump (Tasmanian Seafood Industry Council) said:
We do have to acknowledge that the community at large is
placing increasing scrutiny over the need for sustainable fisheries, and there
has been a lot of debate about the need for independent third party
certification of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture practices.
The CSIRO’s submission warned that reducing assessments and monitoring
could put the industry at risk, because of the linkage between product
marketability and management standards:
Reduction in such programs would place at risk the scientific
basis of Australia’s claim of good management and potentially threaten
high-value markets that demand high environmental standards and demonstration
of ecologically sustainable practices, such as through the Marine Stewardship
Professor Michael Harte (WWF) said that certification for standards is
important: ‘it is about showing that you have the chain of custody and that you
meet globally agreed standards for sustainable fisheries management,’ he said,
We see truly outstanding examples of companies and fisheries
that are leading the way not just in Australia but globally, yet they are
dragged down to the same level as the guy who takes his tinny out, throws his
net over the side and turfs a couple of turtles overboard which the net brought
Mr Ian Thompson (DAFF) said:
We do not see there is a role for government to come in over
the top and impose something but we encourage it as an advantage to Australian
producers so that people know where their food is coming from. We encourage it
in terms of truth in labelling so that people know what they have.
However, Professor Kearney said that third-party certification schemes
were mostly about ‘making money’ for non-government organisations who sell
their guidebooks. He said that certification is unnecessary because fisheries
legislation already imposes the need for sustainability. If a problem arose,
he said, ‘the government should be held to account and made to fix it.’ In any
event, he said, ‘our fisheries are extraordinarily sustainable, with very, very
Professor Kearney emphasised, however, that certification for
sustainability is distinct from certification for product traceability.
His submission observed that there are ‘no essential qualifications or
experience’ required to conduct an assessment for third party guides or
accreditation schemes, which he stated are then sold as independent scientific
assessments by groups ‘that have a self interest in misrepresenting the state
of Australia’s fisheries’.
The Committee endorses the development of independent product
certification. Although one witness argued that certification for
sustainability is unnecessary, in general the industry, environmental groups
and governments were supportive. Inherent in such certification are particular
judgments about the relative importance of differing measures of
sustainability: if consumers are sympathetic to the judgments of a particular
certification scheme, they can make decisions about purchases accordingly.
At the same time, Australian governments have a legislated
responsibility to ensure the sustainability of fisheries, whilst acknowledging
that there are varying levels of confidence about the sustainability of
individual fisheries and ecosystems. All governments compile data on fish
stocks to inform decisions about fisheries management. This data should be placed
in the public domain to support findings about fisheries and ecosystems
sustainability. Consumers who share governmental judgments about sustainability
can rely on government data to inform their purchases.
The Committee believes that the Australian Government should collect and
publish national data about fish stocks and ecosystems, as is expected in late
2012 (discussed in Chapters 1 and 2). However, the Committee does not
recommend that the Australian Government should move to the next stage of
developing a certification scheme. Such schemes are maturing and the
Australian Government should confine its role to reporting national data.
Without mimicking available consumer guides, government-published
information should be readily accessible, easy to understand, and should give clear
advice about the sustainability of a fish stock or its ecosystem. This could
take the form of fact sheets, with clear and systematic indications of the
sustainability of particular species from particular ecosystems. Where there is
doubt about a particular measure of sustainability, an emerging trend, or
specific remedial action being taken by governments, this should be
communicated and updated as necessary.
As well as the expected high-level and technical publication in a
national report, data should also be published for specific species and
In addition to direct use by members of the public, third parties can
use this information as a foundation for independent research.
International cooperation and aid
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, wild fisheries
production has reached a plateau that will not increase until the world’s fish
stocks are more effectively managed. While Australian
fisheries and aquaculture production is well-managed by global standards, other
regions of the world may face food security issues in the future due to
unaddressed management issues. Australia contributes to efforts
internationally to overcome these problems through participation in
international agreements, giving direct assistance through its aid programs and
Australia has involvement with international fisheries agreements that
are both regional and global in scope. Australia participates in regional
fisheries management organisations (RFMOs), which aim to protect species on the
high seas or migratory species, such as tuna. Mr Ian Thompson (DAFF) said:
In terms of governance, the institutional structures and
relationships for science and fisheries are quite different to land based
science. ...fish do not take notice of our boundaries and they swim
internationally and between jurisdictions. It means we have to work
internationally on our science and we have to work with our state colleagues on
Internationally, the issues are around shared
stocks—migratory species such as tunas and swordfish—and we have
responsibilities under international treaties to cooperate in science and
information to inform conservation and management.
Australia’s RFMO membership includes the following:
- Commission for the
Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT);
- Indian Ocean Tuna
- South Pacific
Regional Management Organisation (SPRMO); and
- Western and Central
Pacific Fisheries (WCPFC).
Australian participation in global organisations and agreements
- United Nations Fish
- Food and Agriculture
Organisation Committee on Fisheries;
- United Nations Law of
the Sea (UNCLOS); and
- Commission for the
Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).
In addition, Australia has fisheries management agreements with its
northern neighbours where maritime boundaries are shared, such as the Torres
Strait Treaty between Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Australia can also make a significant contribution to improvements in
food security for developing nations through its aid programs. According to
Professor Carlos Duarte (UWA): ‘The technologies for aquaculture are highly
transferable.’ He further suggested
that ‘we believe that there is enough potential to satisfy the food
requirements of the nine billion people if we develop a more intelligent
approach to aquaculture.’
The Pacific Islands manage a delicate food security situation and supply
chains due to relative isolation and economies of scale. Some Pacific Island
nations, reliant on fish as a source of food, are predicted to incur a supply
shortfall by 2030.
The Australian Government is a member of the Network of Aquaculture
Centres (NACA) in the Asia-Pacific, an organisation that:
promotes rural development through sustainable aquaculture.
NACA seeks to improve rural income, increase food production and foreign
exchange earnings and to diversify farm production. The ultimate beneficiaries
of NACA activities are farmers and rural communities.
In this regard, Australia is well-placed to offer assistance to
countries in the Pacific region, using the expertise of its scientists. The
Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR) has an
extensive fisheries program, in particular sustainable aquaculture production
and fisheries and aquatic resource management.
Additionally, export of intellectual property may present an avenue to
make a financial return on investment in aquaculture and fisheries science. Dr
Mike Hall (AIMS) said:
...a lot of our focus may not be so much on [aquaculture] production
but on the technology associated with production. Potentially, via intellectual
property or even our patents, we can protect that. So, if the production is
not done in this country for various reasons such as labour costs and that
production shifts overseas, at least Australia is in the game of aquaculture by
developing technologies that are essential for that production, whether in
Australia or overseas.
The recent National Food Plan green paper noted that
Australia’s advanced expertise in agricultural and fisheries technology ‘will
be sought after by developing countries wanting to improve their own
agricultural capacity and fisheries management.’
Australia is a good global citizen in the area of international
fisheries cooperation. With active participation in a number of
intergovernmental organisations and contributions to United Nations programs,
the Australian Government is assisting with the task of improving the
sustainability of fish stocks in the region and around the world.
In addition to cooperation through intergovernmental organisations,
Australia can contribute to fisheries management and aquaculture production in
other countries through its aid program. The Committee notes that these
programs are already underway, though recommends an expansion of aid in this
area, especially for Pacific Island nations.
Australian fisheries management – and the science underpinning it – is
held in high esteem around the world. Sharing Australian expertise in this area
can contribute to global food security, particularly in the South Pacific.
Through AusAID and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural
Research, Australia can assist other countries improve their own fisheries
management practices. The Committee believes that this should be pursued as a
The Committee recommends that, while protecting Australian
intellectual property, the Australian Government make available technology
and expertise through aid programs dedicated to fisheries management and
From within the existing aid budget, the Committee
recommends that the Australian Government increase aid to Pacific Island
countries for projects and programs relating to fisheries management and