The FRDC invests in science to create knowledge for the benefit of the Australian community so that Australia's marine and freshwater resources can be managed and used for fishing and aquaculture sustainably.

The primary users of these resources, and of the FRDC's RD&E investment, can be divided into four sectors: aquaculture, commercial fishing, Indigenous fishing and recreational fishing. These sectors have differing ambitions and aspirations — including profit, food production, customary and historical uses, and fishing for sport or pleasure.

The FRDC is a statutory corporation within the Australian Government's Agriculture portfolio and is accountable to the Parliament of Australia through the Minister for Agriculture. The portfolio aims to enhance the sustainability, profitability and competitiveness of Australia's agriculture, food, fisheries and forestry industries.

The FRDC contributes to the achievement of this aim through the following planned outcome. 
Increased knowledge that fosters sustainable economic, environmental and social benefits for the Australian fishing industry; including Indigenous, recreational, commercial and aquaculture sectors, and the community; through investing in research, development and adoption.

Formed on 2 July 1991, the FRDC operates under two key pieces of legislation:

  • Primary Industries Research and Development Act 1989 (PIRD Act), formerly the Primary Industries and Energy Research and Development Act 1989
  • Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 which has replaced the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997.

It is governed by a board of directors appointed for their expertise and is led by an executive director who manages the day-to-day operations of the organisation through a small team.

section 2


The PIRD Act sets out FRDC's objectives as follows.

  • a) Make provision for the funding and administration of research and development relating to primary industries with a view to:
  • i. increasing the economic, environmental and social benefits to members of primary industries and to the community in general by improving the production, processing, storage, transport or marketing of the products of primary industries,
  • ii. achieving the sustainable use and sustainable management of natural resources,      
  • iii. making more effective use of the resources and skills of the community in general and the scientific community in particular,
  • iv. supporting the development of scientific and technical capacity,
  • ov. developing the adoptive capacity of primary producers, and
  • ovi. improving accountability for expenditure on research and development activities in relation to primary industries.
  • b) Make provision for the funding and administration of marketing relating to products of primary industries.

The PIRD Act now includes a legislative objective that allows for the FRDC to undertake marketing activities. The FRDC will work with industry stakeholders, if requested, to develop and engage in promotional activities. Likewise, it will publish a separate marketing plan closely linked to this RD&E Plan, linking RD&E to marketing activities. An evaluation process will also be developed.

The FRDC contributes to a strategic national approach to fishing and aquaculture RD&E that aims to share knowledge, build cohesion and establish common goals between sectors. Partnerships and previous RD&E are considered in planning and investment processes, to maximise leverage and reduce duplication.

The FRDC has improved the way it plans, prioritises and invests in RD&E. A major achievement in this area has been the development of industry partnership agreements which have given greater responsibility in the RD&E planning and investment process and have better aligned the priorities with end-user needs. In this RD&E Plan, the FRDC will use a similar approach with the jurisdictions.

While not undertaking RD&E itself, the FRDC partners with project-specific researchers and research organisations. It then facilitates the extension, adoption and commercialisation of research and development results, and evaluates the benefits, with a primary focus on end users of RD&E and markets.

As a quality-certified organisation (AS/ NZS ISO 9001:2008) FRDC's RD&E investment is supported by a rigorous, quality-management system that includes reviewing performance and implementing changes to ensure continuous improvement.

A key activity for the FRDC is to identify gaps in data and knowledge in order to inform end users. Information and data should be the foundation for all marketing activities, to ensure stakeholders have the information necessary for effective marketing investment.

Revenue base

Revenue for RD&E investment is based on a co-funding model between the Australian Government and the commercial fishing and aquaculture industries. Funds are collected by the Commonwealth, state and territory governments as a part of their fisheries management activities.

As stipulated in the PIRD Act, and shown in the figure below, the FRDC's primary revenue source is based on:

  • a) the Australian Government providing unmatched funds equivalent to 0.50 per cent of the average gross value of Australian fisheries production (AGVP) for the current year plus the two preceding years,  
  • b) fishers and aquaculturists providing contributions via government, and
  • c) the Australian Government matches this amount up to a maximum of 0.25 per cent of AGVP.

Section 2 fig 2

Figure 2. The basis of the FRDC's revenue.

The majority of resources the fishing and aquaculture sector uses are publicly owned, with no part of the environment in which they operate being owned by any single person or enterprise.

The Australian Government provides funding that contributes to research for the sustainable use and development of these resources on behalf of the people of Australia, not just for those who use them for commercial or private gain. This component of funding, and the research it funds, is termed as 'public good'.

There is no legislative impediment to fishers and aquaculturists contributing to the FRDC above the maximum level at which the Australian Government will provide a matching contribution.

The fishing and aquaculture industry contributes to the FRDC on the basis that RD&E will be targeted to its needs and will deliver economic and social benefits. The Australian Government matches industry contributions on the basis that the beneficiaries of research should pay roughly in proportion to the benefits received, but the government should contribute to the spillover benefits to the wider community.

In addition, significant funding is also received by the FRDC from RD&E providers, both as cash and in-kind contributions through projects that have been successful in their applications for funding.

Funds for marketing activities will be treated separately from RD&E funding. They will be collected from the sectors through a different means to those for RD&E and are not eligible to be matched by the Commonwealth. The FRDC will ensure there is a clear separation and reporting of these activities.


FRDC's stakeholders

The FRDC works with a diverse and geographically-dispersed group of stakeholders and the four main sectors of fishing and aquaculture (aquaculture, commercial fishing, Indigenous fishing and recreational fishing) are not mutually exclusive. For example, Indigenous fishers may participate in customary fishing, conduct aquaculture and commercial fishing, and fish recreationally.

FRDC's stakeholders include:

  • federal, state and territory governments, including fisheries and natural resources managers
  • all fishing and aquaculture sectors
  • the Australian community, on whose behalf aquatic natural resources are managed
  • seafood consumers
  • the research community, including universities, government fisheries organisations, further education organisations (e.g. TAFE), international research organisations and private-sector research providers.

The FRDC regularly engages with its stakeholders through:

  • four ministerially-declared representative organisations to which the FRDC is accountable under legislation:
  • National Seafood Industry Alliance (representing the seafood industry)
  • Australian Recreational and Sport Fishing Industry Confederation Inc. trading as Recfish Australia (representing recreational and sport fishers)
  • Commonwealth Fisheries Association (representing commercial fishers who operate in Commonwealth fisheries)
  • National Aquaculture Council (representing the aquaculture industry)
  • the Governance Committee that supports the National Fishing and Aquaculture RD&E Strategy and the National Research Providers Network which represents fishery and aquaculture researchers (FRDC is a member of both groups)
  • partnerships between the FRDC, industry sectors and jurisdictions
    the Australian Fisheries Management Forum, representing government agencies responsible for fisheries management ( FRDC is an observer)
  • the FRDC subprograms and coordination programs.

The FRDC Board regularly meets at locations where it can meet with those involved in fishing and aquaculture and hear their views on issues first hand. 

Sector profiles

There is considerable diversity among fishing and aquaculture stakeholders. While four broad groups can be identified, there is wide variation within each group.

For example, the aquaculture sector has large companies that employ hundreds of people supported by expensive equipment, and harvest thousands of tonnes of product. It also has small businesses who farm in land-based dams with very little capital and who harvest small volumes.

[ The seafood industry includes those concerned with the commercial take, culturing, processing, preserving, storing, transporting, marketing and selling fish and fish products (including pearling). ]

[ The term social licence is now often used in relation to most primary industries and the mining industry. 
It refers to the level of acceptance or approval continually granted to an operation or project by the local community and other stakeholders, and changes through time. ]


The aquaculture sector can generally be described as having business 'smart', value-adding ventures, with larger enterprises processing, packaging and branding their own produce. The sector is currently dominated by Atlantic Salmon with significant contributions from pearl, oyster and prawn producers and by the ranching of Southern Bluefin Tuna.

Increased consumer demand for Australian-produced seafood is driving industry growth and creating opportunities to integrate production from the 'hatchery' through to consumers. Aquaculture is on course to be the major provider of seafood.

Aquaculture in this country is in a position to capitalise on progress in breeding and disease management, and from associated technological advances that can increase yield while reducing environmental impact. Improved production techniques also have the potential to 'grow' seafood with the smallest use of environmental resources of any primary production sector.

Of major consideration for Australian aquaculture is its ability to make its end product affordable and economical, both domestically and internationally. The cost of production has been relatively high in Australia compared to other countries. Advanced techniques and technologies have the potential to reduce how much it costs to make Australian aquaculture a more competitive industry.

Aquatic animal health remains a challenge for this sector, with disease outbreaks continuing to be a major risk and there is a need for further research on disease diagnostic capability, surveillance and treatment.

A major impediment to the increase of aquaculture is access to suitable production areas (both land and water). This is mostly a concern in coastal regions close to residential areas, where conflict can arise between the industry, local communities and recreational users of the waterways. Lack of support from some sections of the community is a major factor impacting access to suitable locations. Further research is needed to understand and evaluate the interactions between aquaculture, local users, communities and other fishing and aquaculture sectors.

Certification processes are being used in aquaculture to promote environmental and production credentials, and build consumer and societal trust. Those in aquaculture believe that achieving such credentials will improve public perceptions of this sector.


Commercial fishing

The commercial fishing sector has a long history in Australia. A need to reduce pressure on some fish stocks and better consolidate entitlements in these fisheries has led to a smaller but more sophisticated and modern industry. This has been combined with improvements in the management of Australian commercial fisheries and has resulted in a balance between long-term environmental sustainability and economic viability.

However, these characteristics do not apply across the entire sector and there are a number of small fisheries that do not necessarily have management practices that best suit the scale of their operations.

The commercial fishing industry is made up of about 15,000 licence holders. A small number of operators take a large portion of the harvest (by value and volume). These are diverse enterprises that may hold multiple licences. They may work in a range of fisheries and, in some instances, are integrated along the supply chain. The remainder of the commercial fishing sector is made up of a large number of small owner-operator businesses. They are vital to sustaining small coastal communities and are passionate about what they do — supplying Australia with seafood.

In recent times the commercial fishing sector has focused on obtaining third-party certification of fishing practices and management to display its sustainability credentials and this will continue. Additionally, sustainability issues arising from external environmental factors (e.g. pollution, climate variability, disease, biosecurity and habitat destruction, including through coastal development), will have to be considered by the sector.

Australia's marine waters are increasingly a multi-user environment, reducing access to areas for all types of fishing and aquaculture production. There are competing claims for these waters, not only between fishing and aquaculture, but from other users such as the oil and gas industry, and from those wanting more areas protected.

Streamlining governance and regulation is an on-going priority for those involved in commercial fishing. Within this is the desire to continue investigating co-management approaches, to give greater responsibility and stewardship to commercial fishers.

Economic viability of the sector requires long-term meaningful access to resources, efficient harvesting methods, elimination of unnecessarily complex legislation, better use of underutilised species and opportunities to increase yield.

The Australian commercial fishing industry now competes in a global market with access to quality seafood from a range of countries. There is an ongoing need to differentiate Australian seafood to an increasingly discerning consumer — whether they be in China, Europe, the United States or Australia.



Indigenous Australians are a distinct group by virtue of their ancient ties to the land and sea, carried on through traditional practices that include fishing. Indigenous fishing occurs in coastal, estuarine and inland waters, taking a mix of species, some of which are also important to other fishing sectors. Marine and freshwater species are an important food source and a component of many ceremonial and social events.

A culture of 'no waste' ensures fish are shared within communities and families. Indigenous Australians also take part in the aquaculture, commercial fishing and recreational sectors across Australia.

Fishing helps Indigenous communities retain their independence and connection to country, reinforces social networks through the sharing of gathered food, and maintains traditional fishing knowledge. Fish and fishing are important educational tools with customary fishing practices being passed on to successive generations.

Many Indigenous Australians believe their traditional fishing rights have not been sufficiently recognised by governments across Australia. Several state and territory governments and authorities do explicitly recognise some Indigenous rights through legislation.

Improved understanding and engagement is needed between Indigenous fishers and policy makers, resource managers, researchers and other stakeholders to improve the adoption of useful research. Many national and regional agencies are working with Indigenous Australians to improve outcomes, but there is significant work needed to create better futures for Indigenous Australians by acknowledging the value of their traditional use and management of aquatic resources in policy and/or legislation.

Australia's Indigenous communities are increasingly seeking ways to develop their fishery resources with the aims of improving diets, nutrition and health; retaining young people in communities; engaging in regional employment by developing local trade and business skills; demonstrating cultural heritage and collaborating in investment opportunities. A key area is advancing appropriate governance and economic models to best support individual and community economic development.



Aquatic resources present recreational fishers with opportunities for hobby, sport or vacation-related activities. These include exercising and relaxing, socialising with friends and family, meeting new people, seeing new places, engaging with nature, and providing a source of food.

The main economic value of the recreational sector comes through the business activities that support it. This includes the bait industry, tackle manufacturers and retailers, fishing tourism, charter and guide operators, as well as the money spent in communities by anglers during fishing trips.

Resource management in the recreational fishing sector is achieved — not by limiting the number of people able to fish — but by controlling parameters relating to the catch; for example, bag limits, method of catching, spatial or seasonal closures, and minimum or maximum fish sizes.

Australia's recreational fishers are increasingly seeking to take more responsibility for aquatic resources, by making a greater contribution to funding its impacts (economic and catch) and collecting quality data that contributes to research, particularly where they are the sole users of a resource. This will help to maintain the sector's social licence and enhance the quality of fishing experiences, given that healthy aquatic environments are fundamental to it. The FRDC aims to ensure that decision making in this sector is based on accepted ecological, social and economic research.

Environmental health is linked to the recreational sector wanting to improve its angling experiences. This includes what gains can be made by improving the quality of habitats that fish rely at different life stages, and increasing the number of fish available to be caught.

Recreational fishers also want to establish a long-term, sustainable, national funding model to increase the quality of fishing in Australia by investment in RD&E, education, and fisheries enhancement initiatives. 


Elements of the post-harvest sector have previously been considered part of the aquaculture or commercial fishing sectors but, more recently, they have become a sector in their own right. This sector could therefore benefit from the FRDC undertaking marketing activities on its behalf.

There are many opportunities to improve the profitability of fishing and aquaculture in the post-harvest sector. These include reducing processing waste, improving the value-add of processed products, and better understanding of consumer needs. RD&E funded by the FRDC could answer questions in all of these areas.

The post-harvest sector includes some businesses that are vertically integrated (i.e. they control a product from harvest to consumer delivery). However, many businesses only operate in one area of the supply chain. There are many opportunities to improve profitability through better supply-chain connections.