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 have been entered into, which transfer jurisdiction from the Commonwealth to the state or territory.
Fisheries Management Act 1991 (Cwlth) and the AFZ
The Fisheries Management Act 1991 (Cwlth) 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.
Australian Fisheries Management Authority
The Fisheries Administration Act 1991 (Cwlth) establishes the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) and specifies its functions. These 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.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cwlth) replaces the Whale Protection Act 1980 (Cwlth) and the Endangered Species Protection Act 1992 (Cwlth) in providing protection for all cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in Commonwealth waters. The Australian 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.
The Fishing Levy Act 1991 (Cwlth), Foreign Fishing Licences Levy Act 1991 (Cwlth) and Fisheries Agreements (Payments) Act 1991 (Cwlth) 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 (Cwlth) enables a charge to be levied on the grant of new fishing rights.
The Primary Industries and Energy Research and Development Act 1989 (Cwlth) saw the establishment in July 1991 of the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. This body investigates and evaluates the requirements for research and development in relation to the fishing industry; coordinates and funds such research and development activities; and facilitates the dissemination, adoption and commercialisation of results.
The Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 (Cwlth) 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.