Australia’s exclusive economic zone – with an area of over 10 million square kilometres – is one of the largest in the world and includes parts of the Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans. While Australia’s waters are relatively low in productivity – contributing only a fraction to global catches in volume – its fisheries are dominated by high-value species such as abalone, prawns, rock lobster and tuna.1 Australia also has a large and engaged recreational fishing sector, with recreational catches exceeding commercial catches in some fisheries.2
Australia has one of the most well-developed governance systems in the world and a very high number of stocks assessed (132 stocks). However, its strong science-based management processes do not extend across all the stocks in its waters: many of Australia’s fish stocks remain overfished, while 60 per cent of the catch comes from unassessed stocks, where there is insufficient data to estimate stock health. The high fish diversity in national waters, contributing to a large number of species caught at low volumes and without stock assessments, represents a challenge for Australia to manage. Australia needs to apply strong management and increase knowledge of fish stocks across all fisheries in its waters to advance towards SDG target 14.4.
Progress towards SDG target 14.4
While Australia performs in the top one-third of countries assessed globally in terms of progress towards achieving SDG target 14.4, it demonstrates limited progress towards ensuring all fish stocks within its waters are sustainably managed.
Australia excels in terms of the number of stocks assessed in the Index, with a total of 132 stocks included. Additionally, two-thirds of these (91 stocks) were evaluated using a recent, official stock assessment published by national or regional authorities.
Despite this, 60 per cent of the fish caught in Australia’s waters, either commercially or recreationally, originates from unassessed stocks. These stocks lack official published assessments or do not have sufficient quantitative data available to estimate stock health using novel approaches. While the catch of other countries in Oceania are dominated (in catch volume) by a small number of species – most notably, tuna species – Australia’s fisheries are very diverse. The lack of stock assessments for this diverse catch composition highlights the considerable challenges that Australia faces in achieving SDG target 14.4.
Ninety-two of the 132 stocks assessed (70 per cent) are estimated to be at sustainable levels of abundance. This includes some of the larger stocks caught in Australian waters by catch volume – such as Australian sardine (Sardinops sagax), western rock lobster (Panulirus cygnus) and jack mackerel (Trachurus declivis). As a result, stocks currently sustainable account for 32 per cent of the total catch in Australia’s national waters. The remaining catch originates from either overfished (eight per cent) or unassessed stocks (60 per cent).
Fisheries in Australia are largely managed by national and state authorities. Thirty-two stock assessments were published by RFMO’s which together account for seven per cent of the country’s total catch.
Globally, Australia has the highest governance capacity of all countries that were assessed. Australia has a well-developed fisheries governance system that, where implemented, provides for sustainable fishing. Minor gaps remain in terms of expanding the use of science-based management across all fisheries and protecting the rights and safety of fishers.
Australia has a solid fisheries policy foundation with clearly stated environmental, economic and livelihood objectives. Encouragingly, Australia’s fisheries subsidies are largely used to support the sustainable management of its resources. Australia invests more than 90 per cent of its fishing subsidies budget – nearly US$338 million in 2018 – into fisheries management and conservation programs.
Australia is party to key international agreements for fisheries management and marine conservation. However, it is yet to ratify agreements for worker rights and safety in fisheries. This includes the Protocol of 2014 to the 1930 Forced Labour Convention (P029), the 2007 ILO Work in Fishing Convention (No. 188) and the 2012 IMO Cape Town Agreement.
There is evidence that Australia has financial and professional capacity to manage its fisheries resources. For example, it collects high-quality fisheries information such as catch, fishing effort and stock status data for key fisheries like the Northern prawn fishery. Furthermore, management decisions in key fisheries are evidence-based and made using harvest control rules – pre-determined rules that guide management action, based on the state of fisheries resources. However, Australia is yet to apply the same standards across all fisheries. Science-based catch and/or effort limits have been established in most, but not all, fisheries in its waters.
Australia has strong controls over access to its fisheries resources. It uses a range of tools to monitor and regulate fishing access, including extensive fishing licence and vessel registration requirements, and the prohibition of foreign fishing access. Positively, a large proportion of Australia’s waters are protected within marine protected areas. While Australia lacks a specific coastal fisheries management zone that prohibits large-scale commercial vessels, some fisheries and marine park management plans set spatial restrictions to exclude certain vessels and fishing types in specific areas.3, 4
Australia is a global leader in fisheries compliance management. The system includes on-water and in-port fisheries inspections, strict graduated sanctions for fisheries violations and a National Plan of Action to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Furthermore, the high perceived integrity of Australia’s enforcement of laws, rules and regulations may further strengthen the effectiveness of the fisheries compliance management system.5
Australia demonstrates strong stakeholder participation in fisheries management processes. Opportunities are provided through the decentralisation of management responsibilities to lower levels of authority – for example, through community-based or customary management arrangements. Furthermore, stakeholder capacity to take advantage of these opportunities is supported by fisher representation groups (such as cooperatives or associations) and transparency in fisheries decision-making processes.
|Progress score||27.8 out of 100|
|Total reconstructed catch in 2018||0.3 million tonnes|
|Total reconstructed catch (1990 to 2018)||10.1 million tonnes|
|Catch from sustainable stocks (1990 to 2018)||32%|
|Catch from overfished stocks (1990 to 2018)||8%|
|Catch from unassessed stocks (1990 to 2018)||60%|
|Governance capacity||High: Level 10 of 12|
Methods and data sources
We consider Christmas Island, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Heard and McDonald Islands, Norfolk Island, Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Coral Sea Islands, Lord Howe Island and Macquarie Island part of Australia for the Global Fishing Index assessment. Australia is also considered part of the Oceania region for comparative purposes. Refer to the Technical Methods for a detailed explanation of the methods used by the Minderoo Foundation to produce the 2021 Global Fishing Index. The Technical Methods should be read in conjunction with the Global Fishing Index Key Insights report, Governance Conceptual Framework and Indicator Codebook.
Australia’s Progress score was informed by 132 assessed fish stocks. Ninety-one stocks had recent published official stock assessments, including 27 assessments from regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs). The remaining 41 stocks were assessed using publicly available data and established data limited methods, CMSY++ or the Bayesian Schaefer Model.6, 7 Catch and stock sustainability estimates were reviewed by four local fisheries experts prior to finalisation.
Australia’s Governance assessment was informed by five questionnaire respondents, three interviews with local experts, and the publicly available literature. Consulted references are listed in the Bibliography below. Our assessment measures country-level fisheries governance, with eight indicators that specifically refer to a country’s most valuable fishery, as identified by assessment respondents. The most valuable fishery identified for Australia was the multispecies Northern prawn fishery.
The following sources informed Australia’s governance assessment:
Australian Explorer (2020). Fishing Licenses and Restrictions. https://www.australianexplorer.com/fishing/fishing_licences.htm [4 August 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2014). Industry association contacts. https://www.afma.gov.au/contact/industry-association-contacts [1 May 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2014). Australia’s science-based fisheries management reaping rewards. https://www.afma.gov.au/australias-science-based-fisheries-management-reaping-rewards [1 May 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2014). Australian Fisheries Management Authority – organisation chart. https://www.afma.gov.au/about/organisation-structure [1 May 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2014). The Annual Operation Plan and Corporate Plan. https://www.afma.gov.au/about/corporate-publications [1 May 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2017). AFMA Strategic Research Plan 2017-2022, Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Canberra, ACT, Australia, pp. 1-38. https://www.afma.gov.au/sites/default/files/uploads/2018/04/Agenda-Item-12-Attachment-A-AFMA-Strategic-Research-Plan-2017-2022.pdf [4 September 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2018). International Compliance. https://www.afma.gov.au/international-compliance [1 May 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2018). Australian Fisheries and Management Authority, Annual Report 2017-18, Australian Fisheries Management Authority. https://www.afma.gov.au/annual-report-2017-18 [1 May 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2018). Operators face increased fines for fisheries offences. https://www.afma.gov.au/operators-face-increased-fines-fisheries-offences [1 May 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2019). Northern Prawn Fishery Directions and Closures 2019, Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Canberra, pp. 1-151. https://afma.govcms.gov.au/sites/default/files/npf_direction_and_closures_book_2019_-_final.pdf [9 April 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2019). Logbooks. https://www.afma.gov.au/fisheries-services/logbooks [1 May 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2019). Australian Government, Australian Fisheries Management Authority. Electronic monitoring program. https://www.afma.gov.au/monitoring-enforcement/electronic-monitoring-program [1 May 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2020). Fisheries. https://www.afma.gov.au/fisheries [9 April 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2020). Annual Operational Plan 2018 – 2019,, Australian Fisheries Management Authority, pp. 1-20. https://www.afma.gov.au/sites/default/files/uploads/2018/06/AFMA-Annual-Operational-Plan-2018-19-FINAL.pdf [4 September 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2020). Commercial fishing licenses for Torres Strait Fisheries. https://www.pzja.gov.au/licences [9 April 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2020). Fisheries concession holders and conditions. https://www.afma.gov.au/fisheries-services/concession-holders-conditions [9 April 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2007). Australian Pelagic Longline Daily Fishing Log Commonwealth of Australia. https://afma.govcms.gov.au/sites/default/files/uploads/2014/02/al06-Australian-Pelagic-Longline-logbook.pdf?acsf_files_redirect [1 May 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2018). Recent inspections demonstrate good compliance in commercial Torres Strait fisheries. https://www.afma.gov.au/news-media/news/recent-inspections-demonstrate-good-compliance-commercial-torres-strait-fisheries [1 May 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2018). Corporate Plan 2015-2018, Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Australian Government, Australia, pp. 1-20. https://afma.govcms.gov.au/sites/default/files/uploads/2015/07/AFMA-2015-2018-Corporate-Plan.pdf?acsf_files_redirect [1 May 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2019). Multi-agency fisheries and maritime patrol in the Gulf of Carpentaria. https://www.afma.gov.au/news-media/news/multi-agency-fisheries-and-maritime-patrol-gulf-carpentaria [1 May 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2019). National Compliance 2019 -21 Risk Assessment Methodology., Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Australian Government,, Australia, pp. 1-26. https://www.afma.gov.au/sites/default/files/national_compliance_2019-21_risk_assessment_methodology.pdf [1 May 2020]
Australian Government Attorney General's Department (1980). Offshore Constitutional Settlement. https://www.ag.gov.au/Internationalrelations/InternationalLaw/Pages/TheOffshoreConstitutionalSettlement.aspx [1 May 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2017). What to expect during an inspection. https://www.afma.gov.au/what-to-expect-during-an-inspection [1 May 2020]
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (2018). Fisheries Management Paper 1 Management Advisory Committees. https://www.afma.gov.au/sites/default/files/revised_fmp1_to_reflect_legislative_changes_-_october_2018.pdf?acsf_files_redirect
Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, (2005). Australian National Plan of Action To Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Canberra, pp. 1-99. https://www.agriculture.gov.au/sites/default/files/sitecollectiondocuments/fisheries/iuu/npoa_iuu_fishing.pdf [1 May 2020]
Australian Government Federal Register of Legislation, Australia Fisheries Management Act 1991, No.162 1991 (1991).https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2017C00363 [9 April 2020]
BDO EconSearch (2019). Australian Fisheries Aquaculture Industry Economic Contributions 2017_18. https://www.bdo.com.au/en-au/econsearch [1 May 2020]
Brayford, H.G. and Lyon, G.E. (1995). Offshore Constitutional Settlement 1995, Fisheries Department of Western Australia, Perth, Australia, pp. 1-51. http://www.fish.wa.gov.au/Documents/management_papers/fmp077.pdf [5 May 2020]
Bruce, B.D., Bradford, R., Daley, R., Green, M. and Phillips, K. (2002). Targeted Review of Biological and Ecological Information from Fisheries Research in the South East Marine Region, CSIRO Marine Research, Hobart, pp. 1-175. https://parksaustralia.gov.au/marine/pub/scientific-publications/archive/se-fisheries.pdf [1 May 2020]
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (2018). Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy, Framework for applying an evidence-based approach to setting harvest levels in Commonwealth fisheries, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, pp. 1-28. https://www.agriculture.gov.au/fisheries/domestic/harvest_strategy_policy [4 September 2020]
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (2019). International and National Plans of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate, Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. https://www.agriculture.gov.au/fisheries/iuu/plans-of-action/plans [9 April 2020]
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (2020). Commonwealth managed fisheries. https://www.environment.gov.au/marine/fisheries/commonwealth-managed-fisheries [9 April 2020]
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland (2019). Quota-managed fisheries. https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/sustainable/sustainable-fisheries-strategy/quota-managed-fisheries [9 April 2020]
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Q.G. (2019). Quota-managed fisheries. https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/sustainable/sustainable-fisheries-strategy/quota-managed-fisheries [1 May 2020]
Department of Agriculture Water and the Environment (2019). National Fishing Advisory Council. https://www.agriculture.gov.au/fisheries/national-fishing-advisory-council [1 May 2020]
Department of Agriculture Water and the Environment (2019). Employment. https://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/research-topics/fisheries/fisheries-and-aquaculture-statistics/employment-2017 [1 May 2020]
Department of Agriculture Water and the Environment (2019). Customary fishing. https://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/research-topics/fisheries/fisheries-and-aquaculture-statistics/customary-fishing-2017 [1 May 2020]
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (2020). Agriculture, fisheries and water fact sheet., https://dfat.gov.au/aid/topics/investment-priorities/agriculture-fisheries-water/Pages/agriculture-fisheries-water.aspx [1 May 2020]
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Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (2020). Fishing licence in Western Australia. https://licence.fish.wa.gov.au/ [1 May 2020]
Department of the Environment and Heritage, Fisheries Assessments (2004).https://www.awe.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/assessments.pdf [1 May 2020]
Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, AUS Fisheries Aquaculture Industry Economic Contributions Summary 2017_18 (2019).https://www.frdc.com.au/Archived-Reports/FRDC%20Projects/2017-210-DLD%20Summary.pdf [1 May 2020]
Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (2019). Australian Fisheries and Aquaculture Industry 2017/18: Economic Contributions Estimates Report, Adelaide, South Australia, pp. 1-119. https://www.frdc.com.au/-/media/fish-frdc/research/australian-fisheries-aquaculture-industry-economic-contributions-2017_18.ashx?la=en [1 May 2020]
FishingWorld.com (2017). Foreign boats set to fish in Australian waters. http://www.fishingworld.com.au/news/foreign-boats-set-to-fish-in-australian-waters
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2003). Fishing country profile: Australia, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. http://www.fao.org/fi/oldsite/FCP/en/aus/profile.htm [1 May 2020]
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2020). National Aquaculture Legislation Overview – Australia. http://www.fao.org/fishery/legalframework/nalo_australia/en [1 May 2020]
Government of Australia (2017). Fishing Permit – Australian Government. https://ablis.business.gov.au/service/ag/fishing-permit/145 [1 May 2020]
Kroger, H. (2019). Commission meeting 67th Australian Fisheries Management Authority. https://www.afma.gov.au/commission-meeting-67th [1 May 2020]
Jamieson, G.S. and Campbell, A. (1998). Proceedings of the North Pacific Symposium on Invertebrate Stock Assessment and Management, NRC Research Press, Nanaimo, BC V9R 5K6, Canada, p. 484. https://books.google.co.id/books?id=WnNVQKNwRsQC&pg=PA367&lpg=PA367&dq=territorial+right+for+fisheries+in+australia&source=bl&ots=wwDPi0H6DV&sig=ACfU3U0OV2EbF4gMyy02cVU0TxBBg4sNdw&hl=id&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiFiNrcsJTnAhURjuYKHaGPCNgQ6AEwC3oECAgQAQ#v=onepage&q=territorial%20right%20&f=false [1 May 2020]
Meany, F. (2001). The introduction of individual transferable quotas into the Australian sector of the southern bluefin tuna fishery. http://www.fao.org/3/y2684e/y2684e20.htm [1 May 2020]
Ministry for Infrastructure and Transport, Australian Government. Shipping Registration Amendment Regulation 2012 (No. 2) (2012).https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2012L01434 [1 May 2020]
NSW Department of Primary Industries (2014). NSW Fishing Cooperative Viability Study Final Report, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Sydney. https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/631726/NSW-Fishing-Cooperatives-Viability-Study.pdf [5 September 2020]
Primary Industries and Regions SA (2017). Primary Industries and Regions SA 2016-17 Annual Report. https://www.pir.sa.gov.au/top_menu/about_us/annual_reports/pirsa_annual_report_2016-17 [4 April 2020]
Queensland Government, Changes to fishing rules in Queensland: September 2019 (2019). pp. 1-3.https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/1454960/fact-sheet-regulation-changes-2019.pdf [1 May 2020]
Ramsden, N. (2015). Australian, Japanese companies in JV to fish unused tuna quota. https://www.undercurrentnews.com/2015/09/01/australian-japanese-companies-in-jv-to-fish-unused-tuna-quota/ [1 May 2020]
Sheppard, C. (2018). World Seas: An Environmental Evaluation: Volume II: The Indian Ocean to the Pacific, Academic Press, pp. 1-934. https://books.google.co.id/books/about/World_Seas_An_Environmental_Evaluation.html?id=VENtDwAAQBAJ&source=kp_book_description&redir_esc=y [9 April 2020]
Smith, A.D.M., Smith, D.C., Haddon, M., Knuckey, I.A., Sainsbury, K.J. and Sloan, S.R. (2013). Implementing harvest strategies in Australia: 5 years on, ICES Journal of Marine Science 71, (2), pp. 195-203, https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/fst158 [1 May 2020]
South Australia Department of Primary Industries and Regions (2018). Fisheries management. https://pir.sa.gov.au/fishing/commercial_fishing/fisheries_management [9 April 2020]
South Australia Department of Primary Industries and Regions (2020). Permitted fishing gear. https://pir.sa.gov.au/fishing/fishing_gear/permitted_devices [1 May 2020]
South Australia Department of Primary Industries and Regions (2020). Fishing closures. https://www.pir.sa.gov.au/fishing/closures_and_aquatic_reserves/fishing_closures [1 May 2020]
Tanimoto, M., Courtney, A.J., O'Neill, M.F. and Leigh, G. (2006). Stock assessment of the Queensland (Australia) east coast banana prawn (Penaeus merguiensis) fishery, Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Southern Fisheries Centre, Queensland. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281716783_Stock_assessment_of_the_Queensland_Australia_east_coast_banana_prawn_Penaeus_merguiensis_fishery [1 May 2020]