ENVIRONMENT: AFMA’s performance
AUSTRALIA'S fisheries management performance is clearly not bad when compared to a range of less well-regulated and less economically well-developed countries. Those involved in the business come across as committed to their roles but there are three sad truths that need acknowledging. One, political directions will ultimately override good science. Two, Australia is not necessarily leading the world in fisheries management best practice, despite constant unproven claims that it is. And three, there’s never enough money or staff to do the job properly, to fully operationalise good fisheries management policy and strategy at either the Commonwealth or State and Territory levels.
The June 2021 Australian National Audit Office’s report titled Management of Commonwealth Fisheries ranked AFMA’s overall management of Commonwealth Fisheries as “partly effective”. The audit found AFMA’s compliance and enforcement processes to be largely effective, its governance arrangements to be partly appropriate, and its management of individual fisheries to be partly effective.
If you’re interested in the full findings, the 67-page report is publicly available via the ANAO’s website. It’s Auditor-General Report No 45 2020-21. Some of the findings of interest to rec fishers follow.
The report notes that the relevant Act requires that AFMA must have regard to, through proper conservation and management measures, ensuring that the living resources of the Australian fishing zone are not endangered by over-exploitation, and that the interests of commercial, recreational and Indigenous fishers are taken into account.
The audit found that an ecological assessment framework had been established but re-assessments had not been completed in accordance with the framework; that plans and strategies implemented under Commonwealth policy had not been reviewed in a timely manner; that the plan to implement fisheries management strategies (FMSs), incorporating ecological risk management and subject to five year review, had not been implemented – FMSs for 13 fisheries were due by 2020, but only the one for the Eastern Tuna and Billfish fishery had been completed by June 2021. It also found that stakeholder engagement with recreational and Indigenous fishing stakeholders had been limited.
AFMA agreed with all the audit report’s recommendations to address shortfalls in its performance but noted its need to balance competing needs and availability of limited resources in and across fisheries. Which means, I guess, that with a staff of about 150 and economic return and compliance requirements, a lot of the improvements to fisheries management strategy and engagement activities the audit identified will happen more gradually.