Positive outlook

With five years of funding secured and expanded capabilities, the FRDC’s 2014–15 Annual Report points to changes ahead

Illustration: Sunshine Connelly

The FRDC’s 2014-15 Annual Report highlights a challenging and productive year for the organisation, including extensive stakeholder consultation across Australia to help develop a range of strategic plans and possible marketing options.

The outlook for export markets is optimistic, the report says, with new free-trade agreements with South Korea and China expected to provide long-term benefits, following the four-year reduction of tariffs.

The weakening Australian currency and decreasing energy costs during the year have made exports more competitive, improved the financial performance of several fisheries, and made exports more feasible for others, such as oyster exports.

During the year there was ongoing debate about access to marine resources, especially between commercial and recreational fishers. Three states implemented fisheries reviews and reforms that will have a lasting impact on the commercial and recreational fishing industry. Broader community debate about establishing marine parks in state and Commonwealth waters has also seen commercial and recreational fishers combining forces to secure continued access.

The Australian Government progressed its goal of transferring rights in the Torres Strait to the Indigenous community. Elsewhere, governments continued to formalise Indigenous fishing access.

The FRDC says good news continues for the sustainable management of Australian fisheries, with efforts over the past two decades leading to improved stocks for several previously troubled Australian fisheries, and important marine species – some even approaching the threshold to be taken off environmental watchlists.

However, the report notes that while the improvements in populations of species such as whales, turtles, sharks and seals is pleasing, it also increases opportunities for interactions with humans and fishing and aquaculture. Fisheries managers will be challenged to incorporate new strategies, practices and technologies to enable fishing to coexist with conservation objectives.

The expansion of aquaculture is highlighted, including Atlantic Salmon, oysters, prawns and abalone, but with increased community scrutiny, such as the Senate Inquiry into the finfish aquaculture industry in Tasmania.

During the year, the FRDC contributed to a review of country of origin labelling and a Senate Inquiry into R&D levies in the agricultural sector, as well as participating in at least four parliamentary inquiries covering both Commonwealth and state jurisdictions.

However, representation of national peak or representative organisations continues to be an issue, the FRDC says, as these organisations lack the resources to contribute to national policy and other programs designed to address collective risks facing all seafood sectors.

The FRDC contributed to the development of the National Marine Science Plan, officially released in August 2015, and participated in the first meeting of Australian and state fisheries ministers held in more than a decade, which was in Melbourne in December 2014.

It also worked with the Australian Seafood Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), which came to an end in June 2015, taking on several incomplete CRC projects to ensure their completion and supporting the development of the seafood sector in northern Australia.

This commitment follows the release of the Australian Government’s Developing Northern Australia White Paper in June 2015 and the announcement of the new Developing Northern Australia CRC.

Operational changes

The annual report highlights several major changes that are continuing to shape the way the FRDC operates. The Commonwealth funding agreement for 2015–19 was signed in May 2015, incorporating new requirements to spend funds raised from a particular fishery on projects relevant to that fishery sector or state/territory, and to consult through the relevant industry sectors in that state or territory.

The board began stakeholder consultation and a rigorous due diligence process, investigating possible relocation options, following a request from the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, the Hon. Barnaby Joyce, in May 2015 asking the FRDC to consider moving its office to a regional centre (see FRDC takes on a new design).

The FRDC’s RD&E Plan 2015–20 was finalised after a comprehensive assessment of the operating environment for fishing and aquaculture, consultation, analysis and stakeholder engagement.

This process identified three national priorities that will be the focus of the FRDC’s investment under the new Plan:

  • ensuring that Australian fishing and aquaculture products are sustainable and acknowledged to be so;
  • improving the productivity and profitability of fishing and aquaculture; and
  • developing new and emerging aquaculture growth opportunities – this means concentrating on outcomes that will have a greater impact on the future of fishing and aquaculture in Australia.

In conjunction with this, the board has reviewed the FRDC’s enterprise strategy and organisational design, including its Fisheries Research Advisory Bodies in 2014-15. This has led to some significant changes. Both reviews aimed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the delivery of services, and to best structure staff and resource needs.

The FRDC has also been involved in extensive consultation to evaluate what the industry wants in relation to marketing, both at sector and national levels. The stakeholder engagement follows changes to the Rural Research and Development Legislation passed in 2013, which has given the FRDC the ability to undertake marketing activities.

From 1 July 2014, the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 replaced the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997, and key changes will involve additional governance and performance reporting for the FRDC.

A pending budget issue for the FRDC is the payment of membership to six regional fisheries organisations, previously paid for by the Australian Government. These memberships are estimated at $1.4 million per year. However, the required legislative changes making the FRDC responsible for these payments have yet to be finalised.

The annual report acknowledges the continued support from the Australian Government and stakeholders across the commercial, recreational and Indigenous sectors as vital in ensuring high-quality research priorities are identified and turned into outcomes. The complete report is available for download at the FRDC website and feedback is welcome.


Key research activities in 2014-15

  • Received $3 million from the Rural Research and Development for Profit program for a project to further develop Yellowtail Kingfish aquaculture.
  • Created an Indigenous Subprogram to be managed by the Indigenous Reference Group to drive the FRDC’s investment in this area.
  • Developed national guidelines for developing fishery harvest strategies.
  • Technically reviewed formal harvest strategies to assist in the revision of the Commonwealth’s harvest strategy policy.
  • Developed a methodology to measure the economic value of recreational fishing at a national level.
  • Developed and tested social objectives for fisheries management.
  • Made significant progress in the development of octopus aquaculture.
  • Assessed the vulnerability of benthic habitats to impacts by demersal gears in Australia’s exclusive economic zone of the Southern Ocean.
  • Validated the use of near-infrared spectroscopy to age fish.
  • Developed a management framework and harvest strategies for small-scale, multi-species, multi-method community-based fisheries using the South Australian Lakes and Coorong Fishery as a case study.
  • Signed five industry partnership agreements with peak industry sectors.
  • Identified viable refrigerant alternatives for use in the Northern Prawn Fishery.
  • Developed a methodology to forecast the spatial distribution of Southern Bluefin Tuna in the Great Australian Bight fishery.
  • Developed a method to add value to seafood processing waste through the recovery of bioactive molecules.
  • Worked closely with stakeholders in the small pelagic fishery to fund priority research to improve the knowledge base for key species across Australia.

Table 1 FRDC Income and Expenditure 2010-11 to 2014-15
Expenditure
2010-11 $ million
2011-12 $ million
2012-13 $ million
2013-2014 $ million
2014-2015 $ million
Total expenditure
25.76 29.68
25.69
27.56 28.16
Total of R&D projects
21.56 25.98 22.14
22.87
24.85
R&D Program 1 (Environment)
10.14
11.8 8.25
10.2 10.44
R&D Program 2 (Industry)
8.34 9.47 9.57 8.33 10.09
R&D Program 3 (Communities)
0.16 0.47
0.74 0.75 0.83
R&D Program 4 (People development)
1.9 2.12 1.8 1.94 1.49
R&D Program 5 (Extension and adoption)
1.02 2.12  1.78 1.65 2.00
Management and accountability
4.20 3.70 3.55 4.69
3.31
Total Income
26.70 25.42 25.98

26.89

31.75
Industry contributions
8.69 7.70 7.98
8.46
8.57
Government matchable contribution
5.52 5.56
5.83
5.99 6.25
Government 0.5% AGVP
11.03 11.12 11.66
11.97
12.49
Project funds from other parties
0.89
0.46
0.48 0.17 4.27
Other revenue
0.59 0.63
0.29
0.33
0.20

The FRDC had an increase in $1.2 million write down of assets, which increased the cost of
management and accountability in 2013-14.