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Independent Review of Commercial Fisheries Policy, Management, Administration in NSW, Australia

Sustainability Economics Politics +2 more

A review into commercial fisheries policy, management and administration in New South Wales, Australia was done by an independent review team comprised of three experienced individuals Richard Stevens, Peter Neville and Ian Cartwright who have extensive expertise and background in both national and international fisheries management.

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The Review Team has focussed on two main areas: firstly, the shortcomings of commercial fisheries policy, management and administration in NSW, and secondly, what needs to be done to fix them. Historical context is clearly relevant, and strong, often irreconcilable views as to the solutions remain within industry, partly as a result of this history.In the Review, we have made reference to the past only where it provides context and is relevant to suggested future actions and recommendations.

We have particularly taken into account the NSW Liberals and Nationals Fisheries Policy Statement Securing Sustainable, Viable and Healthy Fisheries published prior to the State Election held in March 2011. In part, this Policy states that the new Governments aim is to ensure we have a strong and viable commercial fishing industry. This focuses the review entirely on the commercial seafood industry, although some comments and recommendations have application to other sectors.

In the body of this Report, we have gone into some detail to address the terms of reference and each of the actions set out under those terms of reference so as to provide a rationale for the Reviews findings and recommendations.

The Review Team has taken a highly consultative approach to the Review. A Stakeholder Reference Group from a cross section of commercial fishery stakeholders and the post harvest sector assisted deliberations and the recommendations of many previous reviews were also considered.

Submissions were called from the industry at large and five regional meetings (incl. three open forum meetings) were held at ports across the State. Submissions were also received from a variety of other sources, including the recreational fishing sector, the Aboriginal fishing sector, one Government MP, a local council and other interested parties.

The fishing industry is one of NSWs oldest primary industries and with an initial first point of sale value of approx. $80 million for wild caught species, is the fourth most valuable food-based primary industry in this state. Through the catching and marketing sectors, the industry provides fresh seafood to the NSW consumer, and makes a significant contribution to many regional communities along the NSW coastline. Catches by recreational and commercial fishers consist of well over 100 main species taken from fresh water, estuaries, inshore and oceanic waters, using a range of fishing gears over more than 2,100km of coastline.

Fisheries resources are shared by both extractive (recreational, commercial and Aboriginal fishers) and non-extractive (e.g. catch and release recreational fishers and divers) users, and are subject to increasing conservation through the establishment of Marine Parks. Under these complex conditions, provision of affordable and effective fisheries management services to ensure desired biological and economic outcomes presents a significant challenge.

While the exploitation status of around 50 per cent of the key species taken by NSW commercial fishers are considered uncertain or undefined with six species considered biologically overfished, most appear to be sustainable according to scientific reports.However, there are some anecdotal reports of increasing depletions of some species in local areas due to fishing pressure.

There is a clear need to continue with efforts to ensure sustainability of the resource and, as far as possible, ensure an ongoing and consistent supply of quality seafood to the consumer, while catering for the needs of other stakeholders.To achieve this seafood supply requires the existence of well-managed and viable fishing businesses, operating profitably and responsibly, with the certainty necessary to enable sound business investment at all scales of operation. An inflexible and inappropriate management system burdened by an excess allocation of access rights (too many fishers for too few fish) continues to prevent industry self-adjustment. Loss of fishing areas to Marine Parks and Recreational Fishing Havens (RFHs) coupled with a range of unfavourable cost/price factors has further exacerbated the problem, leading to an increasing number of economically non-viable operators.

Previous efforts to correct this situation have not been successful. Complications arising from complex shared fisheries management arrangements with the Commonwealth Government and the failure to resolve Offshore Constitutional Settlement (OCS) arrangements all contribute to the need for reform.

As reported in numerous previous reviews into commercial fisheries in NSW, there remains a lack of confidence, certainty and optimism throughout the commercial fishing industry, reflected in extreme difficulty in getting financial support from the finance sector, little new investment in the industry, an ageing commercial fishing fleet, and a shortage of young people coming through the industry. Industry frustration with the stop/go history of share management and structural adjustment, and constant changes to the reform process, caused by many Government policy reversals over 15 years, has lead to a breakdown in trust, respect and working relations between the industry and government and even within government itself.

There is a sense of desperation in many sectors of the industry, with many commercial fishers feeling that this is the last opportunity for Government to institute changes to management arrangements which will reduce effort, minimise conflict and allow industry internal self-adjustment to achieve a strong and viable commercial fishing industry.

Views on the seriousness of current problems in the commercial sector are mixed, as are the possible solutions to them. NSW fisheries are faced with a form of Gordian knot, that is, an intractable problem that is best solved by a bold stroke in the form of comprehensive restructure of the share management fisheries combined with institutional adjustment.

A recommended approach to dealing with the problems through three key reform activities is outlined below:

  1. A comprehensive structural adjustment program to address the problems of excess and poorly defined fishing rights if the original vision for share managed fisheries is to be realised;
  2. Governance processes be reformed to achieve a proper balance of responsibilities and accountabilities within Government and industry to restore confidence in decision making;
  3. Consultation be reformed to provide for effective processes and structures to facilitate co- ordinated advice, communication and feedback between Government and industry.
June 2012

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.