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Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry
Role of science for the future of fisheries and aquaculture
House of Reps
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Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry
CHAIR (Hon. DGH Adams)
Lyons, Geoff, MP
Crook, Tony, MP
Mitchell, Rob, MP
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Content WindowStanding Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry - 12/09/2012 - Role of science for the future of fisheries and aquaculture
BIDDLE, Dr Robert Richard, Assistant Secretary, Animal Health Policy, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
NEIL, Mr Gordon, Assistant Secretary, Sustainable Resource Management Division, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
RAYNS, Dr Nick, Executive Manager Fisheries, Australian Fisheries Management Authority
STOBUTZKI, Dr Ilona Catherine, Acting Assistant Secretary, Fisheries and Quantitative Sciences Branch, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
THOMPSON, Mr Ian, First Assistant Secretary, Sustainable Resource Management Division, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
Committee met at 17:18
CHAIR ( Hon. DGH Adams ): Welcome. I declare open the public hearing of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and its inquiry into the role of science for the future of fisheries and aquaculture. Today the committee will hear from representatives of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, along with representatives from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and the Fisheries Research and Development Cooperation.
Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a formal proceeding of the parliament and warrants the same respect as proceedings of the House. Giving false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as contempt of parliament.
Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?
Dr Rayns : Chair, I would like to extend an apology on behalf of my CEO, Dr Findlay, who is running late. We hope he will be here at some point.
CHAIR: I invite you to make some introductory remarks and then we will probably have some questions.
Mr Thompson : I do not have any introductory remarks. We have appeared before you and we made a statement then.
CHAIR: Thank you for coming back as we have gone through our inquiry. A few issues have emerged. The last review of Commonwealth fisheries was in, I think, 2003. I wonder when the next review will take place.
Mr Thompson : The 2003 review was before my time in fisheries, but I understand that was probably the one relating to the policy review. The government announced yesterday that it will be undertaking another review of fisheries policy and legislation. That is expected to commence shortly.
CHAIR: There were a few going on. There was a harvest review.
Mr Thompson : There are two other reviews occurring at the present time. The harvest policy was put in place some years ago and it required that that be reviewed by next year. That review has started. There was also a bycatch policy put in place in 2000, and we thought it was timely for that to be reviewed. So those two policies are being reviewed and we expect to provide advice to government in the first quarter of next year.
CHAIR: How will the reviews fit into policy?
Mr Thompson : Under the current fisheries management arrangements, fisheries operates under the harvest policy which provides for the sustainable management of fisheries in accordance with best available science. And the bycatch policy provides for best practice management around interactions with other species that are not targeted. So they are two operational type reviews in terms of how the legislation gets administered. The other review that is now being proposed is to look at the legislation which has been in place for over 20 years—how current is the way the legislation put together, how it operates, whether it meets current values and whether it is in line with current arrangements about regulations, penalties and all those sorts of things.
CHAIR: Is it 20 years? Can I just get the date. Nick may know that.
Dr Rayns : 1991.
CHAIR: I thought it was about then.
Dr Rayns : The legislation came into effect shortly afterwards in February 1992.
CHAIR: There is also the national aquaculture policy. That is in place, is it?
Mr Thompson : There is a broad national aquaculture policy. It is not a policy about operational management in the way that the harvest policy or bycatch policy is.
CHAIR: It is a general statement, is it?
Mr Neil : There was a statement made in 2010, particularly in the context of climate change. There were projects set in place then for research and development. Aquaculture has been covered in the R&D&E policy statement in 2010 as well.
CHAIR: It is more of a statement.
Mr Neil : It is mostly focused on priorities for research, because the Commonwealth has a more significant role in the research than in the regulation of aquaculture.
CHAIR: The biosecurity side of an aqua plan is, as I understand it, a couple of years out of date.
Dr Biddle : It is under review. The last plan expired in 2010.
Mr LYONS: When was that written?
Dr Biddle : It is a five-year plan, so 2005 to 2010. The feedback from industry and other stakeholders is supportive of a new plan and steps are being taken to progress a new plan for another five-year period.
CHAIR: It has a breakdown of disease? Do we have a plan like agriculture has for animals? If foot-and-mouth breaks out, I think we have got all the vets lined up for it. We take an extreme position.
Dr Biddle : We have a level of planning for the sector. We have formal response plans for a number of the key diseases and they are set out in AQUAVETPLAN. The details of those manuals are on the department's website. There is no cost-sharing mechanism agreed with the different wild capture and aquaculture sectors for these diseases, but there is an engagement process with industry towards that end. The level of support and interest from industry in entering into a sector-specific arrangement is increasing, but a lot of work remains to be done in terms of drawing up a cost-sharing deed or other arrangement that would see prearranged cost-sharing agreements in place.
CHAIR: So bring in protocols, so we pull in the states, state industry and the Commonwealth in the process—
Dr Biddle : It is seen as a partnership between the industry sector, the state government and the Commonwealth.
CHAIR: An aquaculture farm at the present moment could get wiped out with a disease and there is no process for government to assist, is there, as we may do with others?
Dr Biddle : There is a process where the state governments and the Commonwealth get together in the face of a disease event and share information, but it is up to the state where the disease outbreak occurs to respond under its own legislation.
CHAIR: I meant about assisting an industry as such, when there may be a major hit on an industry with a disease—whether there is a government response, and we do not have protocols. We have not thought through those issues, have we?
Dr Biddle : There are no cost-sharing arrangements pre-agreed.
Mr CROOK: When was the last time there was a major outbreak?
Dr Biddle : Earlier last year, Pacific oysters had an outbreak of a particular herpes virus that saw mortalities in a limited part of Botany Bay and the Georges River.
Mr CROOK: I recall a few years back there was a sardine issue on the south coast of—
Dr Biddle : There were major die-offs of pilchards—
Mr CROOK: Pilchards—that is it.
Dr Biddle : right across the southern coast. In fact, that was the stimulus for the first aqua plan, because industry and governments wanted to improve the level of preparedness, training, research priorities and related matters to better deal with such events in the future.
Mr MITCHELL: I am wondering about the value of aquaculture in Australia. What sort of dollar figure would be put on it? How has it grown?
Mr Neil : Aquaculture production was valued at $817 million at the farm gate in 2009-10. The gross value of aquaculture has declined in real terms by seven per cent since 1999-2000. That was a significant decline, and there has been some recovery since 2004-05.
Mr MITCHELL: Is there any reason for that decline?
Mr Neil : Most of it is the value. There is competition from imports, so prices have come down substantially. We still have a very strong salmon market and tuna is still very strong. Tuna is our second leading export of seafood products. That is largely a farmed product. It is wild captured, put into pens, grown up and then sold. We have some very strong sectors. It is more in the prawns area where there is strong competition from imported product, but obviously salmon product would be influenced by that as well.
Mr MITCHELL: What is the potential to grow it? Has there been any work done?
Mr Neil : FRDC, who are behind us, have published some work on that and there has been examination. The general view is that there is no obvious limit to growth in terms of areas where development is possible. We are aware of various groups exploring the possibilities of investing and expanding. There is no immediate physical limit to that.
If you look at the profitability of the industry—and, again, FRDC has done work in this—the most profitable areas in seafood are things like southern bluefin tuna but that is based on a wild-capture fishery and because you have limited entry and limited product, wild-capture fisheries are often more profitable. The farmed areas are open to large competition and, if there are high profits, there is a large investment and the profit tends to be reduced. It is a highly competitive and challenging sector because the levels of investment required are high.
Mr MITCHELL: Is DAFF doing anything to encourage this sort of investment? We would have some natural advantages, would we not, as a nation?
Mr Neil : DAFF's focus is in areas like R&D, technology development. So caring for our country has supported a lot of projects in that area. FRDC provides substantial support and is very active in that field—selective breeding programs, addressing issues of environmental controls. Our effort is in the innovation end and trying to find an advantage for Australians by being clever. In the end, substantial investment in technology and in farms is required, and in their business decisions.
Mr MITCHELL: Concerning the Hawke review, done a while ago, did it have issues relating to fisheries management under the EPBC Act?
Mr Thompson : The Hawke review had issues relating to fisheries management and wild-capture fisheries because wild-capture fisheries occur in Commonwealth waters, plus they export and there is interaction with endangered species. I do not think the Hawke review had much to say about aquaculture. Aquaculture is almost solely state regulated and comes within state environmental requirements, except within the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. I do not think the Hawke review went there but the Hawke review did have things to say about wild-capture fisheries.
Mr MITCHELL: Why was their concern about issues relating to whether the data used in the EPBC Act and the Fisheries Management Act is similar, the same or different?
Mr Thompson : I do not recall much about the data being different. The issue has been of differing processes between the two pieces of legislation and when data is used and then judgements about whether there is a significant impact on threatened species or there is not a significant impact. It has largely been the process and in some cases the difficulty of using the same piece of data once rather than having to plug it into two processes.
Mr Neil : The frustration industry has had is, from their point of view, that they are required to meet various quite stringent conditions in relation to environmental management and, indeed, in relation to fisheries management. But those things do not sum to a certification that they can use in a market place internationally. There has always been a question about whether it is important to minimise their need for providing similar but different information to different people. The problem of certification can be expensive and the issue is,' Does the government certify us and is that useful or should a third party certify?' Our view is that experience in the marketplace suggests that you need third-party certification and that few people would accept a government logo, and our experience with government certification is that it is not very successful.
CHAIR: On the issue of a review of fishing management, and there is the EPBC Act review as well—there were recommendations from the Hawke review—is there a template or anything so that if work is done in one area, it can be ticked off in the other? It looks like it is science and people looking at getting an outcome of a similar sort. Could we not get a template so that it could be ticked off?
Mr Thompson : The recommendation of the Hawke inquiry was to try to streamline the process such that, if you had gone through a process under either the EPBC Act or under the Fisheries Management Act, there was an equivalence of process and so delegated approvals could be given.
The issue that arises is perhaps more of a legal one. You have two different pieces of legislation: one is 10 years old and the other is 20. So you end up with different steps with slightly different arrangements. Under the current EPBC Act that sort of delegation is not easy to do, because it relies on decisions being made by various decision makers rather than being locked into the legislation. There is always the possibility that you can go through the process: 'Yes, yes, yes, it's all OK, but we can't give a guarantee because we've got another step to go.' That was one of the things that the Hawke review recommendations indicated it would be desirable to have improved.
CHAIR: Could we do something with the review that is going on in that area?
Mr Thompson : The terms of reference for the new review have not been finalised as yet. Certainly we would be traversing some of the areas about fisheries regulation and the like, and it could well come up with some measures which could improve things in that regard.
CHAIR: That is what we want to do: get a more streamlined process. We also get the issue of cost on the industry, which is always talking about how many licences they have to have in the wild fisheries and that sort of thing. So streamlining is always good. But if we are doing sites twice to get an outcome, if it is about legislation or whatever, I think we should try to work towards an outcome.
Mr LYONS: You seem to be saying that you are concerned about the inefficiencies we seem to be hearing about. The streamlining could get rid of both acts and come up with—is that possible?
Mr Thompson : One of the concepts that was talked about, I do not think anyone is talking about getting rid of both acts, with the Fisheries Management Act, managed fisheries, and the EPBC Act is about managing the environment. I think the concept talked about was to have a process such that if you had been approved under the fisheries act in accordance with procedures that met the requirements of the EPBC Act, the EPBC Act would then be able to say, 'Yes, we recognise those procedures.'—process completed.
Mr LYONS: But why does it need to go to the EPBC? If the fisheries have already—that is double handling, double bureaucracy. How do you handle conflict?
Mr Thompson : The practical effect would be to try to design it so that you would not end up with that conflict. There would be almost a delegated authority from one act to the other.
Mr LYONS: We have heard that it is I think 30 years since we have had a new prawn farm in one area. Thirty years seems like a long time and a bit unusual. I think they were talking about the bureaucracy of getting through various planning processes. Are there ways of making that process more efficient?
Mr Thompson : Some of the prawn farming ones have been particularly difficult. Again, the only place that I am aware of where the Commonwealth has a major role in that has been within the Great Barrier Reef. Most prawn farms have to go through local government approval, they have to go through environmental approval, they need planning approval, there is often approval required from the state and they need licences to discharge. The complication in Queensland would have been that, because they are in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon, in addition to going through all the Queensland procedures they have to go through Commonwealth procedures. It has been very difficult to get prawn farms operating in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon because of the layers of legislation. That is an issue.
Mr LYONS: How do we overcome that? I think we had evidence that someone had been trying to get something up for over 20 years. That does seem a little unusual. It indicates that maybe it is a little bureaucratic.
Mr Thompson : I do not know the example you are talking about, but I certainly am aware of at least one prawn farm in one state that has taken a very long time and has run into a lot of hurdles. Because it has taken a long time, I think some of the planning powers and the interpretation of those have changed over that time. So they get through one process and then find that something else has gone wrong. From a Commonwealth point of view, most of those steps along the way are ones that were prior to the Commonwealth getting involved, because we have limited approval. There have been quite a few discussions with the states to try to get alignment of Commonwealth and state legislation around these sorts of things. But because it involves local government, planning powers and water pollution controls, it becomes a very difficult process. A prawn farm is quite a significant operation in terms of energy use, impact on the ground and waste disposal.
Mr LYONS: If there is a conflict, how is that handled now?
Mr Thompson : At the present time it is up to consultations between the relevant approving authorities to see if they can work through their differences.
Mr Neil : They are not regulated under fisheries management, so there is no conflict—
Mr LYONS: So if there is a conflict it just keeps going up the steps and does not quite get to the end of the steps.
Mr Neil : In wild capture fisheries, there are two managements. The EPBC Act is managing the marine environment, per se, and we are managing the fisheries which shares the common space. So there are two sets of rules. They are joined and we cooperate. AFMA implements the joint requirements in most cases as it affects the fishery. In aquaculture that does not apply. We do not regulate aquaculture from a fisheries management point of view. It is not, as far as we are concerned, a fishery. It is essentially a farm, so it is regulated by the state. The EPBC Act would come into play if it is of national significance, or if it is flowing into the Great Barrier Reef area then it would be automatically caught. That is not so much a conflict issue as that there may be state requirements and then environmental requirements of the Commonwealth as well as the state environmental requirements. But that is outside our remit as DAFF.
Mr LYONS: I guess I should be asking the Queensland government, but if we get to this point where there is a never-ending series of acts and processes there must be some way of telling them, 'Move your application to some other place on the Earth.' It is just amazing to me. In terms of species-specific reaction and change due to climate change, what are the plans? We have had evidence, particularly in Western Australia, that the Leeuwin current is moving around and hitting Tasmania and there are different sorts of fish being moved south. How are your plans flexible enough to handle those increased temperatures? We know in Tasmania the water temperature was warmer this summer that it has been in my lifetime. How do you guys plan for that?
Mr Thompson : The major thing the Commonwealth can do in planning for climate change is to actually get an understanding of what is happening in the marine environment, what species might be moving where and to monitor that to provide some predictive capacity. The issues that arise are where we have management plans that work for species that are roughly where they were and where they are going to be in the future. Perhaps Nick can factor that in.
Dr Rayns : A lot of our fisheries, especially in the south-east where climate change we know is a major issue for all our fisheries. We have very broad zones. Most of our fishing zones extend latitudinally quite a long way north and south. For example, the south-east fisheries extend from the Queensland-New South Wales border right around to Tasmania. There is some latitude there for Commonwealth fisheries. We do not box the fishermen into particular parts of the coast. In most cases, we manage by stock. A lot of our stocks are divided east and west of Tasmania, for example. But most stocks extend right up to the Queensland border. Out west we often have zones that will extend from western Tasmania right around to southern WA. we try to manage on that sort of scale because it gives fishermen more flexibility. Ultimately, I think climate change is an issue for our resource assessment groups. It is raised from time to time. We are aware that some species are moving latitudinally further south, for example. But, so far, given the broad areas we allow our fishermen to fish in it really has not been a significant issue for us.
Mr Neil : The states, given they have borders, have more of an interest in this issue. If a Victorian fishery is moving south it means it is moving into Tasmanian waters and they will need to talk to the Tasmanians potentially about jointly managing the stock, whereas they may have been able to manage it themselves because they did not move that far south previously. I think the states have more issues in this area. They will talk to us about them because we generally cooperate in the management of shared stocks across Commonwealth and state waters.
Mr MITCHELL: Doesn't it also work with pest animal species?
Mr Thompson : The same issue does arise that pest animals also can find new habitats because of climate change.
Mr MITCHELL: Do you work with the states on looking at a plan or an opportunity to eradicate it or create a market out of it? I am thinking particularly of urchins moving down the New South Wales coast into Victoria.
Mr LYONS: Or Tasmania.
Dr Biddle : There is also the issue of translocation over long distances unrelated to factors like climate change—vessel movements and other risk factors—that do receive attention. There are ballast water programs and hull-fouling programs where risks are mitigated, particularly with international vessels, but there are also arrangements between states. Some states, like Western Australia and Victoria, have very specific legislation to safeguard the coastal waters from risks posed by vessels.
Mr MITCHELL: What about things like the sea urchins moving south down through the abalone fields through Mallacoota and Eden and around that way?
Dr Biddle : To the extent that it is a natural expansion of their range, because of whatever factors, they would be monitored, but I do not think there are necessarily specific programs directed at the risks that that expansion might pose.
Mr MITCHELL: Do you think it is something that should be done, given that the abalone market is a pretty serious market?
Dr Biddle : If they became threatening that would be a stimulus to look at some restrictions that might, for example, slow the movement.
Mr LYONS: What are you doing about the starfish, for instance? Are there things you have to do to or change?
Dr Biddle : In Port Phillip Bay or whatever.
Mr Thompson : It is a big starfish. Money is the next question. I do a lot of work for under my other hats in weed and pest management through Caring for our Country. The movement to things like starfish or some new pest coming across gets into the same problem: you have to monitor and surveil where they are, then you need to search to know what is effective and then look at cost sharing, because while sometimes industries can protect themselves it is a bit harder for the broader environment. It would become a much broader pest animal or pest plant but just in the marine environment.
Mr LYONS: I assume it would be covered in your plans.
Dr Rayns : We work closely with the CSIRO and a lot of its ecosystem modelling—for Commonwealth waters certainly. That is proving to be very useful for us on a range of fisheries management issues and indeed could probably assist us with climate change issues as well. We are not ignoring the issue; we are keeping a close eye on it and are working very closely with the scientists to make sure we get where we have to
CHAIR: Presumably we are engaging some chefs to find ways to eat some of these pests. I heard that in northern England the grey squirrel is taking over from another squirrel, so they started putting the squirrels into pub meals. We have to be innovative in finding solutions. Starfish on the barbie? I don't know, but sea urchins certainly bring a big dollar.
Mr CROOK: Careful Dick, they'll be into politicians soon.
CHAIR: I would like to get a bead on the AFMA advisory groups and how they work. Can you give us a run down on them?
Dr Rayns : We have two types of advisory group at AFMA. The first is the management advisory committees, which are statutory advisory committees that are required to meet certain requirements under the fisheries legislation. They are generally appointed by the AFMA Commission. They advise the commission and the authority generally on matters relating to the management of fisheries. We have six of those advisory committees at the moment. They vary in size and geography, but most of our major fisheries have one—for example, the Northern Prawn Fishery has one and the south-east fishery has another. They are made up of a chair; members including industry, recreational and conservation members; scientists and managers. They have a good cross-section of those with an interest in fisheries management and the fisheries concerned.
The other type of group is the resource assessment groups. They are not statutory; they are an animal of AFMA. AFMA created them for a specific purpose: to provide the commission directly with scientific advice on its fisheries. The resource assessment groups are composed similarly to the management advisory committees but they have a strong weighting towards science. With the MACs you will find a more even, I guess, distribution of membership, generally with quite a few industry members.
The resource assessment groups tend to have more scientists on them and have a different focus. They specifically talk about the science, they give AFMA and the commissioner advice on catch setting—TACS, total allowable catch setting—and total allowable effort settings for some fisheries as well, and a range of other matters that may refer to things like climate change, for example, or other science matters that are going on in particular fisheries.
CHAIR: Just to get the names right: the management—
Dr Rayns : Advisory committees. We call them MACs.
CHAIR: The other one is the resource assessment process.
Dr Rayns : Groups—we call them RAGs. They do not mind, actually; they are quite all right about that.
CHAIR: Regarding the conflicts of interest in that process, how is that managed?
Dr Rayns : For the management advisory committees, there are statutory requirements. They are specified in the act. The management advisory committees are required to follow those requirements of how to handle conflicts of interest. The resource assessment groups are not covered by the act—as I said, they are animals of AFMA—but we do require them to follow a similar path. In both cases, the management advisory committees have a policy that AFMA has had for many years, called Fisheries Management Policy No. 1, which guides the workings of management advisory committees, consistent with the legislation. We also have a Fisheries Management Paper 12, which is a similar document for the resource assessment groups. It covers off their operations and modes of practice.
Mr LYONS: In terms of the assessment subgroup of your organisation, how often are assessments done of capacity—total stocks?
Dr Rayns : That depends on the fishery. We have about 50 to 55 target fish stocks that we manage, along with a number of by-product stocks and also the broader marine environment. For the target fisheries, some stocks are annually assessed while others are done biannually or less frequently. The reason is that sometimes, partly, there is new information—for example, on a fish stock that has come forward; new science has been done and it needs to be built into the assessment process—or the rules within which the fisheries fish stocks are managed may have been breached for some reason. We may have an unusual event in a fishery or there may be a change in the information we have on the stock distribution, for example. So, new information is brought in and that can trigger assessments. Plus we tend to do most assessments every three years or so for our target fish stocks. Leaving them beyond that carries more risk, so we tend to revisit them regularly and, as I said, pick up new science when we do that. Some are done annually because they are important and there is new information every year et cetera, so it does depend, but they are done regularly.
Mr LYONS: There is a controversial thing at the moment. In the media it has been reported that, in that particular fishery, an assessment was done in 2003.
Dr Rayns : Not the assessment—the science was gathered in 2002 to 2004. Assessments have been done subsequent to that, more recently. New science was done in 2011 for one of the contentious stocks and a new assessment was done shortly after that. It does depend. The science is gathered at certain points in time and the assessments are done not necessarily just because there is new science. There can be a need to do it—to update an assessment for other reasons. For example, we often might change the harvest strategy rules for a fishery because we have better practice in place which has come from, perhaps, an international source or another domestic fishery that is doing better than we are. We pick those things up and that may trigger the need for an assessment as well.
Mr LYONS: If you got data back in 2002 to 2004, what is the process for assessing? You do a reassessment in 2011. How do you go about doing that?
Dr Rayns : It is done in the framework of a harvest strategy for the fishery. There are rules in that strategy that talk about how you would undertake that assessment and what levels of risk you are willing to take with your fish stock, given the combination of how strong your science is and the age it is, essentially.
For example, in the small pelagic fishery, which everyone is very interested in at the moment, in 2005, I think it was, the total allowable catch across all species for that fishery was around 58,000 tonnes. There has been a recent assessment done for a number of fish stocks and the allowable catches were quite high. That has basically declined subsequently as that data has aged and we are now down to about 36,000 tonnes as a total allowable catch. If new science were done, that would change and the new science would be brought into play. It may go up to another figure. I cannot speculate on what that might be because it depends on the outcome of the science.
CHAIR: The department's website indicates that it provides policy advice on research priorities for Commonwealth fisheries. How does that fit into the national fishing and aquaculture R&D strategy?
Mr Thompson : There would be strategies envisaged. All stakeholders will have views on what is important. The Commonwealth has various policy priorities or observed gaps in information that it thinks are necessary for fisheries management or policy setting. Within that framework, we provide advice to committees like the Australian Fisheries Management Forum or to FRDC as to where the Commonwealth sees its priorities lying and where we would like to see the research done. Of course those bodies had to take into account other stakeholders' views and mix and match and come up with projects.
CHAIR: So you reach the conclusion of what your priorities are from what? Do you have a formal structure?
Mr Thompson : We do not provide highly detailed advice on what our priorities are but we identify areas that are emerging from the issues we are handling in fisheries, which might be coming in from other areas, and say, 'These are policy issues that are of interest to the government and some research may need to be done about them.' There are frameworks for discussing those priorities and how they handled. For instance, at the Commonwealth level we have a group of people who are interested in fisheries management who will feed into that. So in a sense we do not try to say what all the research needs are for the industry. The structure we have enables the fishing industry to put in views—AFMA and everyone else. We put them in more from a departmental or portfolio point of view. So of course we would identify something like impacts of climate change or we might come up with pests and diseases because they are the ones we are coming across.
Mr Neil : The bycatch review is going to be focused on establishing priorities because that is an area of great challenge for us. We expect to determine priorities for further work to resolve as best we can a lot of the outstanding issues around bycatch. We want to establish a program of work going out five years or so, so that we can start to really address this. The problem is that they are expensive problems—and the harvest strategy, equally. Both reviews will identify a program of priorities for further research.
CHAIR: Bycatch is the same as the conflict we have with farming where wild animals come in and eat grasses. We call them pests or whatever. We have a conflict on our roads when we run over an animal.
Mr Neil : The problem with wild-capture fisheries operate in the same marine environment with dolphins and sea lions. I should add that ABARES is important in establishing priorities. They will tell us often what is important, where the issues are and where we can most effectively put our resources. So they work with CSIRO and everybody else and they are central to the priority setting process.
CHAIR: And these are nets that let out dolphins and seals, and I think turtles.
Mr Neil : We are funding through Caring for our Country a large project on the issue of nets with seal excluders.
CHAIR: There is some work done in the Maritime College in Hobart, in the big tube of water.
Mr Neil : We cannot call dolphins pests. We share the environment with them.
CHAIR: Different terminology—we do not have a word like 'beef' for cows and cattle.
CHAIR: In regard to this issue about data on the state of fisheries in Australia, people talk about why we do not have a 'state of fisheries' report for Australia done every one, two or three years or whatever. But would I be right in saying it is about the data and the states in this federal constitutional structure that we have in running our nation?
Mr Thompson : It is. It is an expensive business putting together fisheries data, and Dr Stobutzki will go a bit further on this. We provide a regular report on the status of the fisheries and the stock status of all Commonwealth managed fisheries. This year, with FRDC funding, it is the first time that we are doing that in conjunction with the states. So we will have a stock report for all Australian fisheries, and we have found that very useful in talking to environmentalists, helping with management, reporting on performance and looking at policy change. It has also been picked up as evidence for things like Woolies and Coles certification schemes; they take a look at it as well.
CHAIR: They say it is growing processes with certification, which we touched on. People are looking at it. With some of the issues that we run into now with community concerns—dolphins in fishing bycatch—we need to have a state of the nation report, like we do with forests or the environment or whatever. Through a COAG process, one would have thought we could have got there.
Mr Thompson : The national State of the Environment report does report on the marine environment. Again, it is not all that frequent.
CHAIR: It is more on the bio side of things, isn't it?
Mr Thompson : Yes, but in the land space it picks up soils and in the water space it did pick up data out of the stock and status reports. The marine space is a lot more expensive to do, because you have to go to sea to measure it, so that is a place where work is continuing. But, if you look on a lot of the websites, a lot of the data on the timing between those reports is available. Fisheries is a relatively transparent place.
Mr Neil : It is fair to say we are trying to put out something into the community that people can go to as a reliable source of information on the status of all fisheries. We think we have one for our fisheries—Commonwealth fisheries—but a lot of the product in the market is not from the Commonwealth. We are only a small fraction of the total Australian fisheries, so that is the project that Dr Stobutzki is having to research.
Mr Thompson : Every indication we have had from some of our international competitors and from environmental groups is that the Australian fishing industry does not have a lot to fear by reporting on its performance. Compared to the rest of the world, we are way in front.
CHAIR: There are a couple of things I want to say about that. That seems to be the case, but I do not think we are getting that out to the public very well. I do not think that everybody accepts that that is the case and, therefore, you see things in other parts of the world that can automatically become a problem for us. It is just a matter of having the facts, according to the best science that we have and that sort of thing, and then reporting on our stats and our data. I would have thought that if we could do that it would be in the interests of everybody, but we do have the constitutional issue. We look forward to that. Is that going to be a regular report every couple of years?
Dr Stobutzki : That is the intention. I am sure Patrick can answer on the broader issues, but we are hoping to release the inaugural report at the end of this year, with an initial intention to try to do it every two years. All the jurisdictions have been part of it. FRDC, DAFF and all the jurisdictions have contributed to it, and it is going to be a science based project and a science based report. It will be called theState of Australian Fish Stocks Report. It will be the equivalent of Australia'sState of the Forests report. It is intended to be something that goes longer term and that develops over the longer term as well.
CHAIR: I think it would be great. It would be just terrific for the nation to have this process. Other countries fish in different ways—Nick, you might be the expert in this; you probably get to a conference or two. They have different regulations from us. I just want to get a broader, international view of fishing. Other countries do not always control what fish comes out. They might have a regulation on the gear used, how many nets or boats they are allowed to fish with, the size of the net that they fish with and things like that. Can you give us an outline on some of that.
Dr Rayns : Internationally fisheries management is highly variable, as you say. The Commonwealth jurisdiction is one of the few places where we predominantly manage by output controls—where we have total allowable catches allocated as quotas for individual classes.
CHAIR: What we can take out.
Dr Rayns : That is right. We are somewhat unique in having a predominance of that, probably along with New Zealand which would be the other major country that manages them the same way. Some stocks in North America are also managed in that way, and I think South Africa as well has one or two output-control-managed fish stocks. The majority of fish stocks are managed through input controls where, as you say, we manage the amounts of gear. Overseas countries tend to use that. The number of vessels that can operate in a fishery is another common choice, as is areas of fishing: areas designated for fishing where international fisheries or domestic fisheries can fish. I do not know whether you want me to talk much more about that, other than to say that I am a fairly fervent supporter of output controls because I think they work very well.
CHAIR: I will just come to the state fisheries: as to, say, rock lobster—
Dr Rayns : Yes, and abalone.
CHAIR: Are they still done on numbers?
Dr Rayns : They are mainly on output controls. Rock lobster and abalone are predominantly output-control fisheries. A lot of the finfish in the state fisheries are still under input controls. You tend to find the high-value fisheries have moved to output controls because associated with it is the allocation of clear rights to the fishery, and they often go together.
Mr LYONS: My other question was: we had some evidence in Western Australia about a phone app for recreational fishers. In terms of how you do this report, how do we work getting evidence about that? Is that taken into account? What do we do about it?
Dr Stobutzki : We are providing the science-based report, but FRDC is developing a phone app that will translate that information so that people can readily access it. For example: if you are in Woolies in Queensland, what is the better choice?
Mr LYONS: The evidence we had there was that basically they are giving it to recreational fishers that take a shot which gets sent to a database so they know what they are taking out. If you are going to base it on output—
Dr Stobutzki : Yes.
Mr Thompson : Recreational fishing is all managed essentially on input controls, bag limits and the old licence. The data about how much fish are taken in recreational fishing is limited. It is from surveys of people coming in and those sorts of things, so it is a bit patchy from time to time. Recreational fishing is almost exclusively managed by the states, and there is not a consistent national picture of recreational fishing take. It is probably important, and possibly more important in some fisheries where recreational fishing is a major component of it, so it can be taken into account in terms of tax setting. In a lot of areas, things like involving recreational fishers in surveys and the like are not only good for getting some data but also for actually getting them to understand science-based measurement. If you are a fisherman sitting in one place, the fish are gone if you cannot catch them and they are there if they are there. Understanding that they come and go, and the patterns of the seasons and the water and everything else is probably important. So collecting data and involving the science is really something that is perhaps more in the FRDC's—
Mr LYONS: Yes.
Mr Thompson : research support space, but we do not have a difficulty with that sort of thing.
Mr LYONS: There could be a lot of fish taken, though. Western Australia gave evidence that there were 85,000 recreational fishing boats and 300,000 fishers. So if they catch one or two fish, it is still a fair few fish.
Mr Thompson : It is.
CHAIR: I think a quarter of a million boats are registered in Queensland and there are some pretty big boats going to sea to fish.
Dr Rayns : With lots of good gear to find them.
CHAIR: I guess if we could bring recreational fishing take into our report, that would be a major plus for us as well.
Dr Stobutzki : It would. At the moment, with the report, as Ian said, the data around recreational fishing take is clearly variable and it is a big challenge to get in some areas. The report acknowledges where we know recreational fishing is important for that particular species. I know some of the states do invest a substantial amount in trying to understand their recreational take. WA does and I know Queensland does. They do a lot of state based surveys. It is not a small challenge and it is an expensive challenge as well, but, from a science perspective, trying to understand all the take-up of species is important.
CHAIR: How does AFMA pay for our commercial fishing industry—our regulations and that? How do we pay for that?
Dr Rayns : The fishing industry pays—
CHAIR: I do know that, of course.
Dr Rayns : I suspected that you might. The fishing industry does pay levies to the government which the authority receives through its appropriation. They constitute about half of the costs of managing domestic fisheries, and currently that is running at about $13 million a year. In terms of research, though, they pay disproportionately. Probably 75 per cent of our research budget is industry funded. That is AFMA's research.
CHAIR: So having a licence gives you some way of generating that sort of money to be able to do the output information. I think the committee has had quite a bit of information and evidence on that.
Mr Thompson : Some states use their fishing licence fees to feed back into fisheries research or fisheries management for recreational fishers.
CHAIR: As to costs in dollar figures: we have had some evidence about how much it costs to have how many of the licences AFMA forces people to have, and state fisheries. Do you have any idea of what that costs to the cross-jurisdiction that we have in Australia? Do you reckon that we could have a figure? Is there any chance of putting a figure on it?
Dr Rayns : I am not sure whether that has been done. One of the issues for AFMA is that our levies do vary from year to year, so that the cost to an individual fisher can rise and fall over time.
CHAIR: That is a sort of market cost, because your costs—
Dr Rayns : No, it is an activity cost.
CHAIR: Sorry, an activity cost. Different term. It is what it costs you to achieve your role.
Dr Rayns : Correct.
Mr Thompson : As to AFMA's costs, which they look at in terms of their cost-recovery impact statement and that sort of thing, that is one side, but the cost of regulating the whole fisheries industry and the interaction between Commonwealth acts, state acts, environment acts and fisheries acts is something that we are actually interested in. The fisheries industry has drawn to our attention that they think those costs are high.
CHAIR: Compliance costs and things like that?
Mr Thompson : And regulatory costs and things where regulations are quite similar: 'Why aren't they the same? They are achieving the same outcome.' They are looking for efficiencies in that because a lot of fishermen operate in Commonwealth and state fisheries.
CHAIR: As an MP with a substantial coastline, with fishing you get this quite often from your constituents. These things come up. We cannot get a cost on it, as such, but you say substantial and inefficient in many ways?
Mr Thompson : I would not say that it is wholly inefficient, but there are significant costs for the commercial fishing sector and AFMA has provided examples of that. The industry have drawn to our attention opportunities for improvements where they see similar activities being regulated under different pieces of legislation that could be more streamlined. The example that people keep giving is: chasing roughly the same species in a Commonwealth and state fishery, we have got slightly different gear requirements or licencing requirements. Is that strictly necessary? Everyone is saying, 'Probably not.'
Mr Neil : You have got a $2 billion industry with seven regulators.
CHAIR: That is right.
Mr Neil : That is sort of the start of the problem. Then, if they are wild capture fisheries, they have got more regulators because they are operating in a marine environment as well as a fishery.
CHAIR: How efficient are our fisheries? Is that a leading question?
Dr Rayns : How efficient is our fisheries management?
CHAIR: No, not management—the fisheries themselves. We know they are pretty efficient. All the evidence we have received—
Dr Rayns : That is a hard one, because efficiency depends on a lot of things in terms of the gear and vessels used and the species being targeted. I think one of the challenges for fisheries regulators is to enable the industry to be efficient. Over the last 20 years, AFMA has grown up with fisheries management, generally in a regional sense. We regulate fisheries in regions by different methods: gillnet, hook and trap, trawler or whatever it might be. I think one of the challenges for regulators out in the industry is to try and find ways to free that up so that industry has more choice about it; it can choose the best method to catch a fish, depending sometimes on the market it is aiming at. We have people who are fishers who are seeking to go into quite specific markets with a very high-quality product, so they are trying to line-fish for those products rather than trawl for them, whereas some of the trawl fishermen have demands on them for supplying certain amounts of fish at certain amounts of time, so they have a different strategy. One of the challenges for regulators of industry is to try and match up some of those things better than we currently do.
CHAIR: Thanks very much; we appreciate your time. We now have a little housekeeping to do, so we will have to ask people to leave as we cannot have people here when we are doing our committee business, under our standing orders. Thank you.