Australia is a maritime nation — over 80 per cent of its 23 million people live within 50 kilometres of the coast.

It has the third largest marine territory in the world (8,148,250 square kilometres) and its diverse seascapes, which stretch from the tropics to sub-Antarctic islands, reflect unique biodiversity and deliver a flow of goods and services. However, because of relatively low productivity, Australia ranks only 52nd in the world in terms of the volume of marine fish landed.

Fishing and aquaculture also occur in a range of freshwater environments including the tropics, semi-arid regions and the temperate highlands of the southern states.

There is a broad mixture of people who fish and farm the more than 600 targeted and produced species supported by Australia's diverse environments, including on lakes, rivers, estuaries, beaches and at the sea, using a wide variety of methods and equipment.

In 2012–13, commercial fisheries production was 157,252 tonnes, with an estimated value of this harvest of $1.38 billion. Aquaculture production for the same period was around 80,066 tonnes, with a value of around $1.03 billion.

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42,978 tonnes


$497 million

Australian sardines

38,437 tonnes

Rock lobster

$451 million


21,145 tonnes


$277 million


12,530 tonnes


$190 million


11,376 tonnes


$177 million

Table 1. Top five species by volume and value in 2012–13 for both aquaculture and commercial fishing (ABARES, 2014).

Estimates of harvest, participation and value of the Indigenous and recreational fishing sectors are difficult to determine.

The most recent estimates available (2001) calculated a national recreational catch of 48,400 tonnes, with a retained catch of about 30,000 tonnes. The estimate for Indigenous customary fishing practices was about 2000 tonnes.

Disaggregated data for Indigenous commercial fishing or aquaculture are not available and are included in the aggregate figures provided in the table on the opposite page.

Data from peak organisations in the recreational sector suggests that it makes a significant contribution to the value of fisheries Australia-wide through the purchase of boats, fishing equipment and other associated costs. Using a proxy valuation method for the economic value of recreational fishing, a FRDC project (2012–214: Measuring the economic value of recreational fishing at a national level) estimated a total value of $2.56 billion for the recreational sector in 2013 (including flow-on contributions).

In June 2014, the FRDC commissioned a review to gain a better understanding of the operating environment for fishing and aquaculture in Australia. The resulting report, 2014 Australian Fishing and Aquaculture Sector Overview (FRDC project 2014–503.20), has been used, along with other planning documents such as the Australian Fisheries Managers Forum Statement of Intent, to identify drivers and opportunities for 2015–20. These are discussed in the following section.

The operating environment for fishing and aquaculture is conceptually similar to five 'megatrends' which are expected to influence primary industries globally over the next 20 years. These are identified in the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation's (RIRDC) report Rural Industry Futures – Megatrends impacting Australian agriculture over the coming twenty years. Those drivers and opportunities relevant to fishing and aquaculture are shown in the figure below.

The commonality between fishing and aquaculture and the broader primary industries, suggests there is potential 
for fishing and aquaculture to work with, and learn from, other primary industries.

Section 3 fig 3

Figure 3. The five 'megatrends' that will influence primary industries over the next 20 years (adapted from RIRDC, 2015).


Drivers and opportunities for 2015–20


Public perception and social licence

The public perception of fishing and aquaculture affects all sectors, both commercially in terms of selling produce but also in terms of access to resources. Fishing and aquaculture in Australia has a history of improved stewardship and a focus on best practice. However, community perceptions may, at times, not differentiate between good fishing and aquaculture management practices in Australia and those elsewhere in the world. This influences what the community thinks about fishing and aquaculture operations in this country which, in turn, flows on to consumer perceptions about the purchase of seafood. This is a major component of the megatrend towards 'choosy customers'.

Community perceptions — good and bad — can have a strong influence, via government regulation, on access 
to natural resources across all primary industries. For Australia's fishing and aquaculture sectors to continue to have community endorsement for their activities, all sectors must be — and be seen to be — sustainable, humane and consistent with wider community expectations and standards (megatrend — choosy customers).

Public perception of fishing and aquaculture, coupled with political influence, has been a major concern of fishing and aquaculture RD&E and management in recent times. This has been due to increased access to all forms of information through the internet, especially social media. Public perception has arguably been the single greatest emerging issue for fishing and aquaculture since FRDC's 2010–15 RD&E Plan.


  • Use targeted research to understand and anticipate community concerns and formulate appropriate responses, including effective engagement strategies.
  • Inform community and environmental organisations about how fisheries and aquaculture producers value the marine resources they depend on, including the status of those resources.
  • Communicate reliable scientific knowledge to the community on the status and standard of Australia's fishing and aquaculture resources, management and practices in an accessible, engaging and trustworthy form.
  • Develop and adopt standards to guide the science and management of natural resources in the marine environment that provide for best practice, high transparency and allow for that performance to be measured.


Environmental health

Seafood production and the health of ecosystems on which it depends are strongly linked. RD&E must continue to provide information about the sustainable management of not only fishing and aquaculture resources but also the environments where they exist (megatrend — a bumpier ride).

Ecosystem health is not only impacted by seafood sectors but also by climatic effects and other human activities. Marine waters are becoming crowded with more shipping, expanding oil and gas industries and increased coastal development. All these demands impact on the marine environment and must be considered in the science and management of fishing and aquaculture.

Environmental health is also inextricably linked to public perceptions (megatrend — choosy customers). When assessing the sustainability of fishing and aquaculture, consumers usually consider how the sector affects, or possibly affects, the environment in which the sector operates.

Habitat rehabilitation has been another key concern in RD&E for fishing and aquaculture in recent times. By restoring any degraded aquatic environment to a healthy state there is the opportunity to increase the breeding potential of various species by providing the conditions required for certain life stages. Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to environmental impacts, and it is therefore in the interest of all stakeholders to ensure that all fishery habitats are in the best condition possible.


  • Develop tools and resources to monitor, understand and adapt to fishing and aquaculture's impacts on fish stocks and ecosystems so both remain sustainable.
  • Identify new and more efficient methods of producing and harvesting seafood.


Food security, globalisation and market access

The world's rising population obviously brings with it increased demand for food (megatrend — a hungrier world), some of which will come from seafood. An extra billion consumers globally are expected by 2030, needing an estimated additional 25 million tonnes of seafood. Seafood is an important dietary component for the expanding Asian middle class, which increasingly seeks branded 'safe' seafood. It is also a much-needed source of protein for developing countries.

Commodity price forecasts from the World Bank (2014) suggest a modest real price gain for fish to 2030, but larger gains for fishmeal and the oil ingredients needed for aquaculture.

A major contributor to world population growth is expected to be the Asian middle class which is also growing in wealth. We are expecting a world with many more people (megatrend — a hungrier world) and one which is more affluent (megatrend — a wealthier world).

Aquaculture production has grown steadily in Australia over the past few decades and has shown potential for further increases, both in species that are currently produced and those that are new and emerging.

Bycatch and discards continue to be an issue for fishing worldwide, but could present opportunities for increasing the harvest by adding value to the caught product.

Adding value to processing waste also has the potential for increasing seafood availability. By making better use of under-valued species, Australia's commercial fishing sector can increase productivity and profitability through innovation in technology (megatrend — transformational technologies) and better management practices and regulations.

Increasingly, Australia's Indigenous communities are looking for opportunities to develop their fishery resources to: improve diets, nutrition and health; retain young people in communities; improve local employment options; increase trade and business skills; demonstrate cultural heritage; and collaborate in investments.


  • Understand consumer and market needs (domestic and international) to assist both aquaculture and the commercial fishing sectors.    
  • Optimise production efficiency and overall profitability.
  • Add value to bycatch, discards and processing waste to increase seafood availability.
  • Develop new aquaculture opportunities and expand those that are existing.
  • Understand drivers and impediments to increasing productivity and profitability.
  • Capitalise on technological advances and transformational technology to improve productivity and profitability.
  • Provide research and analysis to support efficient, open trade and market access.
  • Develop approaches to better support individual and community economic development for the Indigenous sector.


Resource access and allocation

The people and enterprises that catch and grow fish and other seafood need long-term access to aquatic resources to meet their individual and sectoral needs. However, competition is increasing from within fishing and aquaculture sectors, from external sources, and from the reduction of fishable zones through legislation of marine protected areas (megatrend — a bumpier ride). The 'space' for fishing and aquaculture is becoming very crowded.


  • Establish and document the aspirations of the sectors in relation to access and allocation of aquatic resources.
  • Establish an appropriate rights-based framework to maximise the economic, environmental and social values from the use of aquatic resources. This will require accurate social and economic data.


Resource management

The focus within natural resources management has changed from single issues (target stocks or generally isolated environmental concerns) to broader interactions between the environment, economy and communities across all sectors of fishing and aquaculture (megatrend — a bumpier ride). This is in line with current expectations of the Australian public (megatrend — choosy customers) and best practice.

Formal management of fishing and aquaculture resources has been focused on commercial interests. To ensure alignment with best practice expectations there is now momentum for the inclusion of all sectors of fishing and aquaculture in management, including Indigenous and recreational fishing.


  • Develop management practices and processes that better incorporate the needs, actual catch and effects of all sectors to effectively manage resource access and allocation.
  • Create a fisheries management 'standard' to foster innovative, streamlined and cost-effective natural resource management, with greater emphasis on protocols and data.
  • Reform the national regulatory framework to ensure standards such as the Australian Shellfish Quality Assurance program provide for internationally acceptable public health protection and for expanding market access. 

People development and capacity building

All sectors of Australian fishing and aquaculture need strong, effective, connected leadership to respond well to the challenges and opportunities before them. There is concern worldwide about the declining number of students enrolling in courses and pursuing careers in the primary industries. Australia is not immune from this trend.


  • Attract, train and maintain a skilled workforce, including researchers, fishers, innovators and resource managers at the sector, jurisdictional and national levels.
  • Identify an effective consultation process to collect high-quality, relevant data on the training needs of the fishing and aquaculture sectors in Australia.
  • Foster leadership, professionalism and entrepreneurship across all sectors of fishing and aquaculture to help build resilience.
  • Bring together the different sectors of fishing and aquaculture to build capacity, develop cross-sector programs and networks.


Aquatic animal health and biosecurity

Disease-causing organisms, including exotic, new and emerging pathogens, are a significant threat to Australian fisheries, aquaculture and their associated ecosystems. This risk is expected to rise with increased globalisation and impacts from changing environments. Australia's systems for managing aquatic animal diseases are highly regarded, however, serious disease outbreaks have shown that these systems must be actively maintained and, where possible, strengthened to prevent and mitigate disease outbreaks.


  • Strengthen Australia's capacity to prevent disease outbreaks (through stronger quarantine and biosecurity), detect diseases when they occur (through diagnostics and surveillance), and reduce their impacts (through genetics, vaccines and approved veterinary medicines).


Technological advancements

The pace of change in this area across the world is expected to continue.

New technology is being used in many more sectors and industries improving efficiencies and effectiveness (megatrend— transformative technologies).


  • Identify new and existing technologies that can be used to improve current practices and performance.