The Commonwealth has jurisdiction over waters between three and two hundred nautical miles seaward of the territorial sea baseline of Australia and its external territories. This area, referred to as the AFZ, covers a total of 8.9 million square kilometres. Conversely, the States and the Northern Territory have jurisdiction over inland fisheries and marine waters up to three nautical miles seaward of the territorial sea baseline. To aid the management of Australian fisheries, arrangements known as Offshore Constitutional Settlements (OCS) have been entered into, which transfer jurisdiction from the Commonwealth to the State or Territory.
Fisheries Management Act 1991 and the AFZ
The Commonwealth Fisheries Management Act 1991 is the main fisheries legislation, and applies to commercial fishing for swimming and sedentary species in the AFZ. The establishment of the AFZ in 1979 brought portions of oceanic tuna stocks, and demersal and pelagic fish stocks previously accessed by foreign fishing vessels, under Australian control.
Fishery management plans are central to the Act and contain all essential rules applying to the management of a fishery. A management plan normally operates through a system of statutory fishing rights, which allows long term access to the fishery. The Act also provides for limited term fishing permits, which are primarily designed for the management of fish resources that are not yet under a management plan. Individual transferable quotas (ITQs) are commonly used to achieve a reduction in fishing levels. A particular fishery is assigned a total allowable catch, and the market for ITQs will determine the most efficient allocation of resources.
Australia has an international obligation, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to allow foreign nations access to surplus domestic fish stocks within the AFZ where such access does not conflict with Australian management and development objectives. To facilitate the process, the Act allows Australia to make bilateral agreements or joint venture arrangements with the government or commercial interests of other countries, under which foreign fishing licences will be granted.
In 1995, Australia signed the UN Fish Stocks Agreement to further our national interest in combating the problems of unsustainable fishing practices on the high seas. At present all countries have the right to fish the high seas. However, some fish species spend part of their lives within national fishing boundaries and part in adjacent high seas. The agreement aims for sustainable fishing of these stocks by means of a cooperative treaty. This is important for Australia because some of its significant fish species, such as orange roughy, tuna and billfish, are distributed beyond the limits of the AFZ or migrate through it.
Australia, Japan and New Zealand are parties to the Convention for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT), which came into force in 1994. As part of its conservation management responsibilities for the global southern bluefin tuna industry, the CCSBT Commission annually determines a total allowable catch for the fishery and allocates this between the three CCSBT parties in the form of national quotas.
The total allowable catch of southern bluefin tuna has been set at 11,750 tonnes since 1989, with national allocations for Australia, Japan and New Zealand of 5,265 tonnes, 6,065 tonnes and 420 tonnes respectively. These quotas have remained fixed as the parties have been unable to reach agreement on changes. Japan’s attempts to raise its quota through a unilateral experimental fishing program resulted in Japan catching around 1,460 tonnes and 2,200 tonnes above its quota in 1998 and 1999 respectively. As a result Australia has implemented bans on Japan’s access to the AFZ and Australian ports.
The Treaty on Fisheries between the Governments of Certain Pacific Island States and the Government of the United States (USA) forms the Schedule to the Act. The effect of this is that US tuna boats are given treaty licences in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 replaces the Whale Protection Act 1980 and the Endangered Species Protection Act 1992 in providing protection for all cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in Commonwealth waters. The States and Territories have similar legislation. Australia supports a ban on whaling in international waters and is progressing this through the International Whaling Commission processes.
Australian Fisheries Management Authority
The Fisheries Administration Act 1991 establishes the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) and prescribes its objectives. These are:
- implementing efficient and cost-effective fisheries management on behalf of the Commonwealth;
- ensuring that the use of fisheries resources and any related activities are conducted in a manner consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development, in particular the need to have regard to the impact of fishing activities on non-target species and the marine environment;
- maximising economic efficiency in the utilisation of fisheries resources;
- ensuring accountability to the fishing industry and to the Australian community in AFMA's management of fisheries resources; and
The Act specifies AFMA's functions, which include a duty to engage in appropriate consultation and to devise and implement management plans, adjustment programs and exploratory/feasibility fishing programs. AFMA is also to establish priorities for management-related research and arrange for such research to be undertaken. AFMA's management responsibilities include arrangements with States and Territories. Under the Fisheries Management Act, AFMA is given additional functions in areas such as keeping a register of statutory fishing rights, surveillance and enforcement.
- achieving government targets in relation to the recovery of the cost of AFMA.
The Fishing Levy Act 1991, Foreign Fishing Licences Levy Act 1991 and Fisheries Agreements (Payments) Act 1991 enable the imposition of management levies and access fees payable by Australian and foreign fishermen, foreign governments and foreign commercial interests. The Statutory Fishing Rights Charge Act 1991 enables a charge to be levied on the grant of new fishing rights.
The Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 gives effect in Australian law to the fisheries elements of the Torres Strait Treaty. The Act applies in the area of Australian jurisdiction in the Torres Strait Protected Zone, and in areas outside but near that zone that have been proclaimed in respect of particular fisheries which Australia and Papua New Guinea have agreed to manage jointly under the treaty or which are referred to in the treaty.