Management moves to help commercial fishers

While decision-making is in a state of flux as the impacts of coronavirus-related restrictions become apparent, here is a guide to management actions for commercial fishing that have already been taken in Australia’s fisheries jurisdictions.

This summary has been collated by members of the Australian Fisheries Management Forum – which comprises the directors of each fisheries jurisdiction – who have met on several occasions to share information and collaborate on response mechanisms.

Commonwealth

  • The Australian Government has waived commercial fishing levies for the period 1 April 2020 to 31 December 2020. This is a sum of $10 million and will reduce total levies collected for the 2019-20 financial year by two-thirds. It includes the levy component for fisheries research and development and levies for Torres Strait prawn fisheries.
  • Mark Tucker has been appointed as senior agriculture industry engagement officer to coordinate liaison for the Australian Department of Agriculture. His team can be contacted at coronavirus.industry@agriculture.gov.au.

New South Wales

  • The second annual instalment of all NSW commercial fishing licences has been waived. Further licence fee waivers are under consideration for the NSW commercial fishing, charter fishing and aquaculture sectors.
  • NSW Department of Primary Industries has established a COVID-19 Primary Industry Liaison Team to help NSW primary industries navigate the challenges and impacts of COVID-19. Refer to the NSW COVID-19 DPI advice webpage at www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/covid-19 or email covidinfo@dpi.nsw.gov.au.
  • DPI Fisheries is working with the NSW Seafood Industry Council and the aquaculture industry to investigate possible industry support and recovery measures, including exploring digital transformation and strategic improvements to the seafood supply chain.

Queensland

To help alleviate the impacts of the pandemic on businesses, the Queensland Government is using funding through a $3.66 million commercial fishing industry assistance package. Measures include:

  • waiving quota fees for Tropical Rock Lobster and Coral Trout fisheries for the first six months of the 2019-20 season;
  • waiving fishing boat licence fees for these and other fisheries affected by the coronavirus-related restrictions, such as mud crab;
  • expanding the area of the Tropical Rock Lobster fishery for three months. This will reduce operating costs for quota holders and allow fishers to sell product into other markets while maintaining crew and jobs in the short term; and
  • launching a local seafood promotion campaign to encourage Queenslanders to support local fishers by buying local product.

South Australia

The South Australian Government will provide fee relief to the commercial seafood and charter boat sectors, which have been impacted by the coronavirus, as part of its $1 billion economic stimulus package. The following measures have been announced for 2020-21.

  • The charter boat sector will have annual fees waived for six months.
  • All other commercial fishing and aquaculture sectors will have their fees deferred for six months.
  • Outstanding 2019-20 fees for all sectors will be deferred (the next round of fees will not be collected until January 2021).
  • Uncaught Southern Rock Lobster quota can be carried over to the next season for Southern Zone fishers and for the next two fishing seasons for Northern Zone fishers.
  • In the state’s Northern Zone Inner Region, the winter closure period for Southern Rock Lobster will be lifted in 2020.
  • Quota rollovers are being considered for other quota fisheries.

Tasmania

  • Uncaught Southern Rock Lobster quota in the 2019-20 season has been rolled over to the 2020-21 season. The previous season ended on 1 March, but there had been a dramatic fall in demand at the end of the season as Chinese markets closed.
  • Direct sales of seafood and local seafood consumption are being facilitated and promoted.
  • Licence fees for Abalone divers, Southern Rock Lobster, Giant Crab and finfish fishers, as well as levies for shellfish growers will be waived for 12 months as part of a $5.5 million seafood sector stimulus package announced by the Tasmanian Premier.
  • A further $300,000 from the Abalone industry reinvestment fund has been authorised to support Abalone processors, to help can the 36 tonnes of product that was sitting in live tanks at the time the Chinese market closed.
  • The Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment is working with the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania to track the effects of coronavirus on fisheries and to model options for alternative approaches to fisheries management as recovery begins.

Victoria

To assist commercial fishers, the state government is:

  • allowing uncaught Southern Rock Lobster and Abalone quota to be rolled over into the next fishing season;
  • allowing Southern Rock Lobsters held in sea cages or live-wells on boats to be returned to the sea; these will not be counted against this year’s quota; and
  • providing Southern Rock Lobster and Abalone fishers with alternative access options, including a hook and line permit to catch up to two tonnes of finfish.

Western Australia

Fishing and aquaculture has been recognised as an essential primary industry. This allows workers to travel into the state’s Northern Designated Biosecurity Area, which includes Broome and Kununurra, subject to relevant conditions.

  • All general licence and application fees for commercial fishing and fishing boats, processing and aquaculture licences will each be reduced to $1 for the next 12 months. Individual licence holders will still need to apply for their renewals.
  • For all non-West Coast Rock Lobster managed fisheries, given the diversity of season and instalment dates, access fee payments for licence renewals that fall due before 31 December 2020 will be reduced to $1. Instalment payments will be waived. Fees already paid will be credited to the next licensing period.
  • Consultation related to the development of a south coast marine park proposal has been put on hold to reduce stress on local communities and fishers, who are already stressed by the coronavirus crisis.
  • The Western Australian Government will help fund MSC-related reassessments and audits of the relevant fisheries when the certification process comes back on stream.

Reduced demand for Western Rock Lobster has had a major impact on what is the state’s most valuable fishery. Measures to help fishers include the following.

  • The current Western Rock Lobster fishing season has been extended to 18 months, and will run from 15 January 2020 to 30 June 2021.
  • The total allowable commercial catch (TACC) for the extended season has been increased from the previous 6300 tonnes for 12 months up to 9000 tonnes. This is less than would have been taken over this period in normal circumstances.
  • The following season (2021-22) will be short to get the fishery back to the normal timing. The TACC for this will be determined later this year.
  • There will be additional whale mitigation measures in place to reduce the likelihood of increased whale captures from more fishing in winter months.
  • A new mechanism has been put in place to allow back-of-boat sales for Western Rock Lobsters to make it as easy as possible for licensed fishers to sell their catch locally.
  • The existing seafood ‘registered receiver’ mechanisms are being promoted to help local businesses access more Western Rock Lobsters direct from fishers.

Northern Territory

  • A series of internal borders has been created, with Designated Biosecurity Areas, under the Australian Government Biosecurity Act, allowing only essential service workers to access remote communities.
  • Commercial fishing and fishing tour operators have sought a waiver or deferral of licence fees or levies to provide relief from cash-flow pressures.
  • There has been an increase in general messaging around supporting local businesses and buying local product, including seafood.

Other support

  • The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) will extend certification of all fisheries by six months.