The measure of success

Australia’s fisheries sector has improved its performance over the course of a decade, with a new analytical framework helping to target further gains

Trawlers on Eden Harbour.

By Catherine Norwood

Sustainably making the most of Australia’s fisheries is the long-term aim of a new process designed to evaluate fisheries’ performance and to quantify the benefits being delivered.

This includes identifying the ‘performance gap’ – the difference between the potential value of benefits and the actual value of the benefits gained. The analysis incorporates not just the value of fish caught and farmed, but also the flow-on economic and social benefits from commercial, recreational and Indigenous fishing.

Over the past eight years, the FRDC has been developing a ‘Performance and Use’ analysis tool, with evaluations undertaken in 2009 and in 2014, that have included a retrospective evaluation of 2003 data.

Industry experts scored the overall performance of Australian fisheries in 2003 at just 2.8 out of 10. This rose to 5.8 in 2009, before a slight drop to 5.6 in 2014. 

FRDC research projects manager Josh Fielding says each of the four fishing sectors – commercial wild-catch, Indigenous, recreational and aquaculture – is scored separately across four topics: social and engagement, economy, environment and management. 

The results from all sectors and topics are combined to provide an overall performance score. However, aquaculture data was only added in 2014 and there are still gaps in the information available for recreational and Indigenous customary fisheries, he says.

The most comprehensive and consistent analysis across the three periods has been for the commercial wild-catch sector, which has improved its performance score from 2.8 in 2003 to 5.9 in 2014. The greatest improvement has been reported in wild-catch fisheries management, which increased from 1.6 in 2003 to 6.6 in 2014 (see Table 1).

The research methodology being used is known as the Delphi technique. It relies on input from experts involved in the fisheries sector. In 2014, 132 experts contributed, representing commercial fishers, fish farmers, recreational fishers, Indigenous fishers, researchers and fisheries managers. 

A total of 34 criteria are used to score the performance of each sector against the four performance categories (see Figure 1).

Detailed analysis of some specific fisheries or regional data has been extrapolated to provide state and national results, and to fill data gaps. 

Josh Fielding says issues such as the global financial crisis, media events related to seafood and fluctuations in the Australian dollar all have the potential to change perceptions and thus influence the scores the experts give.

“For instance, an increase in community concerns about bycatch in wild-catch fisheries might produce a lower score in future evaluations against the social engagement criteria, although there may be no change, or even a reduction in actual volumes of bycatch,” he says. “We’re using a qualitative approach, rather than a quantitative approach based purely on numbers.”

He says the value of fisheries to the Australian community and what constitutes best use also changes over time and influences the allocation of resources to achieve the greatest benefits. There was strong support from participants for the research methodology, which they felt was both sound and flexible enough to deal with changes in community values, fishing practices and new data. 

Next survey

Josh Fielding says another ‘Performance and Use’ evaluation is planned for 2019. He expects new data collected during the next few years will help to inform performance scoring. This includes the continuing evolution of the Status of Australian fish stocks (SAFS) reports, first published in 2014, as well as projects such as the planned national social and economic survey on recreational fishing.

“The alignment of state-based recreational fishing surveys may also improve our catch and effort data for this sector, but there’s more we need to do to better understand the extent and the value of Indigenous customary fishing."

“As well as more data, we would like to broaden the number of experts involved in the next study, as well as the diversity of expertise they bring.” 

He says this project will also help to quantify the value of fisheries to the community, including flow-on benefits, to serve as both a measure of success and a measure of a resource worth protecting.

Table 1 Overall performance and use scores since 2003
  Score out of ten  Management   Environment  Economy Social and Engagement1   Total
2003  1.6   5.0  1.2  3.1  2.8


5.5   7.7  6.5 4.6   5.8
 2014  6.1  6.5  5.6  4.0  5.6
 Wild-catch commercial  6.6  6.8  5.9  4.1  5.9
 Recreational  5.2  5.8  4.7  3.7  4.9
Indigenous customary  4.0  4.7 3.6   2.5 3.7 
Aquaculture 6.1 7.1 6.5 4.2 6.1

1 The social and engagement measure has been refined based on feedback from experts over the past five years.
Experts’ feedback identified the central role played by human engagement, education and training in the performance of fisheries.

Industry trends

Bar chart showing high-level performance by sector (recreational, Indigenous customary, aquaculture, wild-catch commercial) Figure 1 High-level performance by sector, 2014

The 2014 project identified several trends that have affected the performance of fisheries between 2009 and 2013. These include:

  • changes in government, resulting in a more complex landscape, and fewer government resources for fisheries management. Despite these changes there has been and continues to be a focus on reducing red and green tape while improving performance outcomes, including increased use of management control measures;
  • increased focus on co-management, collaboration and resource sharing; 
  • increased focus on accountability of commercial fishers in the fishery versus management of
    the group;
  • increased focus on third-party certification – market and consumer expectations were
    driving change with more focus on value versus tonnage output; 
  • perceived growth in recreational fishing
    and more catch and release in recreational
    fishing; and
  • new marine parks announced.

Key areas for action

The combined analysis of trends and performance has identified areas for action, in order to maximise community benefits, which include:

  • the development of management arrangements that are more flexible and reduce regulatory inefficiencies, such as harmonising regulations for fishers targeting the same species, often using the same method, across jurisdictional boundaries. In addition the inclusion of co-management arrangements would see greater impact of management arrangements;
  • well-developed harvest and management strategies which incorporate ecosystem-wide effects and processes and allow for long-term sustainability of fisheries, underpinned by comprehensive and accurate data from all users;
  • well-informed and transparent allocation of shares into fishing resources across all interested parties;
  • better engagement with the community on the performance of fishing and aquaculture, and introduction of a measure for community support; and
  • a greater awareness and use of economic analysis and return on investment in the operation of fisheries and fishing businesses. This would help businesses
    to operate on longer time periods and sustain through lower catch years. 

More information

Josh Fielding, 02 6285 0400,