Brexit and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority

2nd October 2017 in Brexit, Domestic Fisheries Policy

Intense behind-the-scenes work is continuing both in preparation for the exit negotiations and for the post-Brexit fisheries regime in the UK.

Brexit and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority
Ian Cartwright, Commissioner, Australian Fisheries Management Authority

As part of this work, the Federation recently held an extremely interesting, useful and relevant teleconference with Ian Cartwright who was originally a fisherman from Kent but after a varied career in different aspects of fisheries management, for the last 11 years has been a Commissioner within the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. The AFMA is widely regarded a model of successful fisheries management and the Federation considers it important to build our knowledge about possible alternatives for when the UK leaves the EU and therefore the CFP.

Although not uncritical of some aspects of their system, Ian was able to highlight its strengths and main features; and the NFFO participants were able to contrast these with the way our own fisheries have been managed in the past, as well as thinking about options for the future.

Amongst the key features of the Australian system are:

  • In general the Federal/Commonwealth government manages fisheries outside 3 miles and individual States manage inside 3 miles. For stocks that occur both inside and outside 3 miles State or Commonwealth jurisdiction to apply for the full range of the stock can be extended by agreement.
  • TAC setting has been depoliticised. An independent AFMA Commission of experts with skills in fisheries and related disciplines (economics, governance), appointed by Government, takes the final decisions on quota levels in any given year. Ministers are therefore removed from short term political pressures to increase or decrease TACs, or adopt populist measures that are not in the best long-term interests of the fishery. Anyone directly or currently holding fishing rights (quota) or working for a fishing industry representative body is excluded from the Commission. To ensure industry have a voice it is heavily represented on the Management Advisory Committees (MACs) and Resource Advisory Groups (RAGs) that provide advice to the Commission on management decisions and the science supporting those decisions, respectively. Around 90% of the MACs’ recommendations are accepted by the Commissioners. Where a MAC’s recommendation is rejected, the Commissioners provide a written explanation of why this decision was made.
  • The Commissioners, based on scientific advice that is passed up through the RAGs and MACs, set target or limit reference points for each fishery. Target reference points are set to manage the key commercial species at or around the maximum economic yield by using harvest strategies. Limit reference points ensure that exploited stocks are maintained within safe biological limits. Where a stock requires a rebuilding plan, the Australian system eschews arbitrary timetables (such as the EU’s scientifically illiterate requirement to achieve MSY for all harvested species by 2020) and favours instead specific timelines which make sense in terms of the biology of each species and the fishery concerned.
  • The knowledge base for managing the Australian fisheries is strengthened and enhanced by the involvement of commercial fishermen in the provision of data and information about their fisheries, primarily through an ongoing dialogue within the Resource Advisory Groups (RAGs).

New draft commercial and bycatch definitions for AFMA managed fisheries are currently out for public comment noting that different management approaches are proposed, in line with this categorisation (see table).

Although defining what is a primary and what is a secondary species can sometimes prove challenging, the Australian system manages bycatch instead of applying a blanket approach, such as the EU landings obligation. The key to the Australian system of managing bycatch appears to be ensuring a sound understanding of what is retained catch and what is returned to the sea - and basing management measures on that knowledge. This information also feeds into and strengthens the stock assessment process.

  • In Australia generally only limited distinction is made between larger scale commercial fisheries and genuine small-scale fisheries. In Ian’s opinion there should be a greater distinction between them and there is scope for different management regimes, under objectives that go beyond maximising the economic efficiency of the catching sector.
  • Stronger property rights and a higher level of cost recovery for management services generally to apply to the “industrial” fisheries, whereas the genuinely small-scale fisheries tend to be indirectly subsidised. If the real costs of management were applied, it is likely a number of these small scale fisheries would become uneconomic.
  • The process of allocating catch or effort to individual license holders and removing excess capacity where necessary, has been controversial. These type of one-off structural adjustments were assisted by government subsidy.

Learning from Experience

Australia is not the UK and it is certainly not the EU. Our complex multi-species, multi-gear and multi-jurisdiction fisheries take place in a more confined and crowded space than the wide open oceans around Australia. Nevertheless, there is much to learn from the Australian system, even if we would not necessarily want, or be in a position to, follow all of it slavishly.

We are extremely grateful to Ian Cartwright for generously contributing his time and experience to enhance the debate in the UK about how best to manage our fisheries in the future.