Collaboration to streamline fisheries management

The first meeting of fisheries-sector government ministers in more than a decade could prove the beginning of an era of cooperative fisheries management

Ministers and senior officials meet in Melbourne.
Photo: Eamon Gallagher

The benefits of greater collaboration in managing all Australian fisheries sectors was the focus of a meeting of ministers and senior officials from Australian, state and Northern Territory governments, held in Melbourne in December 2014.

The meeting was hosted by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Senator Richard Colbeck.

Senator Colbeck said the meeting provided a real opportunity for the jurisdictions to continue to work together to improve fisheries management around Australia, including reducing the complexity and duplication of management and the cost to government and industry.

Four themes were the focus of the discussion:

  • streamlining regulation by all governments at all levels to reduce unnecessary costs to the fisher and consumer;
  • applying common and agreed principles to fisheries management so that everyone understands the basis of Australia’s fisheries management, particularly ensuring solid science underpins good fisheries management;
  • communicating the effectiveness of Australian fisheries management with the Australian community and markets; and
  • using Australia’s strengths in fisheries management as a base for maintaining and growing markets domestically and overseas.

Action plan

Participants at the meeting undertook the following actions.

  • Welcomed streamlined approaches to environmental regulation and supported moves by the Australian Government Department of the Environment to investigate whether independent accreditation of the sustainable management of a fishery can meet requirements under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
  • Agreed that there are real benefits to be gained from working better across agencies and removing duplication and inefficient regulation.
  • Agreed to explore further opportunities for sharing services to reduce costs of fisheries management. For example, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority provides monitoring and compliance services to the Northern Territory.
  • Agreed that the state jurisdictions were best placed to work bilaterally on ensuring consistent stock management.
  • Agreed further discussion is needed to align recreational fishing surveys so that jurisdictions can better capture the benefits of linking recreational fishing with tourism and economic development.
  • Agreed that each jurisdiction had its areas of expertise that would benefit other jurisdictions. For example, the Northern Territory has had success working with Indigenous communities to build capacity and South Australia has a well-developed aquaculture industry with a one-stop-shop approach for environmental and transport approvals.
  • Agreed to work towards the development and adoption of biotoxin management plans.
    Tasmania shared its experiences of the 2011–12 biotoxin event involving the detection of the toxic algal species Alexandrium tamarense in mussels and the impact these events can have on Australia’s reputation for safe food.
  • Agreed to work together to develop a national aquaculture strategy. The strategy will be a national document, owned equally by all governments, along with the aquaculture industry.
  • Recognised the importance of food safety standards, aquatic animal health and biosecurity, and the benefits of streamlined approvals for the ongoing success of the aquaculture industry.
  • Recognised the need for the wider community to be involved and understand Australia’s seafood industry and that industry has a role in explaining clearly and simply how it supports the ongoing sustainability of fisheries.
  • Recognised the value of the Australian Fish Names Standard in helping consumers to easily identify which fish they are buying (for example, the use of the name ‘flake’).
  • Acknowledged the importance of the recreational-fishing sector and agreed that working towards the application of more consistent management arrangements, where appropriate, would create benefits for the recreational sector.
  • Endorsed the National Guidelines to Develop Fishery Harvest Strategies as an important step in fisheries management. The guidelines, developed through an SA-led project funded by the FRDC, provide a national framework to support consistent harvest strategy development across Australian fisheries.

The Australian Fisheries Management Forum will be responsible for progressing actions agreed to at the meeting. The forum is an advisory group comprising senior fisheries officials from all the jurisdictions, the Australian Government Department of the Environment, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and the FRDC.

Forum members will also develop principles for prioritising and reforming Offshore Constitutional Settlement agreements – the arrangements that determine which jurisdictions are responsible for managing each fishery – and report back to their ministers.

The December meeting was the first time fisheries Ministers have come together to discuss the future of the sector for more than a decade, although forum group members have met regularly. Ministers expressed a desire to meet annually.