House of Representatives Committees

Standing Committee on Primary Industries, Resources and Rural and Regional Affairs

Inquiry into the management of commonwealth fisheries


Press Release

List of Submissions

Transcripts of public hearings

23/09/96 Hobart
24/09/96 Hobart
08/11/96 Canberra
18/11/96 Canberra
26/11/96 Port Lincoln
27/11/96 Adelaide
04/12/96 Canberra
12/02/97 Canberra
14/02/97 Melbourne
05/03/97 Canberra
26/03/97 Canberra
07/04/97 Brisbane
08/04/97 Canberra

Government Response (PDF Format)

Role of Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA)

Fisheries resources in Australia are managed by the Commonwealth Government and the State and Territory Governments. Generally the Commonwealth Government manages the offshore and highly migratory fish stocks while the State and Territory Governments manage the inshore fisheries. Several major fisheries are administered under Commonwealth law by agreement with the States. Commonwealth fisheries within the Australian Fishing Zone are managed by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), a statutory authority established in 1992 by the Fisheries Administration Act 1991. The establishment of the Authority was a direct outcome of the 1989 policy statement, New Directions for Commonwealth Fisheries Management, issued by the then Minister for Primary Industries and Energy.

The objectives of AFMA, as specified in the Act, are to:

The Act also sets out the functions of AFMA which include:

Other functions specified in the Act relate to recreational fishing.

The legislative basis for AFMA's management of fisheries is provided by the Fisheries Management Act 1991. AFMA also administers Torres Strait fisheries under the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984.

Auditor-General's report

The Australian National Audit Office conducted a performance audit which examined the efficiency and administrative effectiveness of Commonwealth fisheries management, with particular emphasis on AFMA's systems and procedures for planning and operations. The report, Audit Report No. 32 1995-96, Commonwealth Fisheries Management - Australian Fisheries Management Authority, was tabled in the House of Representatives on 25 June 1996. The report was subsequently referred to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Primary Industries, Resources and Rural and Regional Affairs for inquiry and report.

The Auditor-General found that in its four to five years of operation, AFMA had developed a wide range of systems and procedures to provide an administrative framework directed at achieving its objectives. However, it was also recognised that there was scope to enhance AFMA's efficiency and administrative effectiveness in a number of areas. Strategies recommended in the report included improving the operational direction of the Authority by improving its policy base, planning activities, and management strategies; improving its knowledge base in relation to such matters as fishing stock levels, available fishing effort and catch statistics; improving its decision-making regarding the limits placed on commercial fishing and making more use of environmental impact assessments.

The report identified a number of areas relating to the interaction between Commonwealth and State governments, many of which are beyond the scope of AFMA to resolve, but which, according to the Auditor-General, need to be addressed. These matters relate to the need to resolve jurisdictional issues through a revision of the Offshore Constitutional Settlement (OCS), which determines which government will have responsibility for particular fish types in particular areas, and the need to resolve difficulties associated with instruments to establish Joint Authorities, where the respective legislative powers of the Commonwealth and States are in question. According to the Auditor-General, these sorts of unresolved jurisdictional issues have impeded AFMA from implementing efficient and cost-effective fisheries management.

The report also identified significant difficulties with 1989 fisheries policy statement, which have impeded AFMA from successfully implementing such things as statutory fishing rights and individual transferable quotas.

The Auditor-General also found that AFMA could not be certain that it is achieving ecologically sustainable development of Australia's fisheries resources. The lack of knowledge about fish stock and their habitats caused the Auditor-General to conclude that 'fish stocks cannot be regarded as being adequately protected from the possibility of excessive commercial fishing'. Concern was also expressed about the lack of environmental impact assessments and compliance with the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974.

According to the report, the economic efficiency of Commonwealth fisheries does not appear to have improved since the establishment of AFMA.

Inquiry report

The report of the inquiry by the Committee was tabled in the House of Representatives on 23 June 1997.

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