Fishing at Flat Rock at Baffle Creek provides a glorious and majestic backdrop for any fishing adventure. Photo Tourism and Events Queensland
Fishing at Flat Rock at Baffle Creek provides a glorious and majestic backdrop for any fishing adventure. Photo Tourism and Events Queensland Murray Waite & Assoc

Commission recommends big changes to fishing in Oz

SLOW adoption of best practice in the management of commercial fisheries, and limited recognition of the impacts and value of recreational fishing, are imposing unnecessary costs, constraining community benefits from fisheries, and putting pressure on some stocks, according to the Productivity Commission.

In a draft report released today, the Commission says management approaches need to better reflect the fact that there are limits to the catch from wild capture fisheries. Therefore, historical attitudes to prefer one group over another will need to change if Australia is to sustain both recreational and commercial fishing into the future.

"Controls over commercial fishing in most fisheries are too prescriptive. We know that tradeable quotas generally work, but we apply them in only one-quarter of fisheries. Conversely, there is an attitude of almost benign neglect toward recreational fishing. This is despite there being millions of recreational fishers in Australia and that, with the help of technology such as relatively cheap locating sonars, recreational catch now rivals or exceeds commercial catch for some species”, Commissioner Melinda Cilento said.

Most commercial fishing is still regulated through controls over fishing methods, such as numbers of allowable fishing days or size of boats. This is discouraging innovation and inhibits fishers from introducing more cost-effective practices.

"Reform across the sector is needed to reinvigorate the commercial fishing industry,” she said.

"The rising sophistication and affordability of scanning technology and vessels has increased recreational fishers' ability to fish further offshore and more intensively. The limited knowledge we do have suggests this is putting pressure on some species. Despite the probability that this will increase in future with population growth and use of new fishing technologies, recreational fishing is sporadically monitored.

"While there are bag limits and other controls on recreational fishing, the nation doesn't have a handle on how overall participation is changing or how the level of catch is changing in most areas,” said Ms Cilento.

"This lack of knowledge makes it difficult to make decisions on how access to fisheries should be shared or what additional services or facilities should be provided for recreational fishers,” she said.

The Commission recommends that state and territory governments license all recreational fishers, with the focus being on a low-cost licence with higher reporting effort by all parties.

"We recognise that recreational fishing is important to many people and coastal communities; sometimes it is more important economically than commercial fishing.”

"We have recommended licensing to ensure recreational fishing is sustainable and better recognised in fishery management decisions as a much-loved pastime for many Australians,” Ms Cilento said.

The Productivity Commission released its draft report on Marine Fisheries and Aquaculture yesterday and will be conducting public hearings around Australia where people can talk about issues raised in the report. To attend a hearing or make a submission for the final report people should go to the website at

Key points:

  • Following past over-fishing, Australian governments have sought to apply policies to reduce catch volumes, and thereby restore and maintain fish stocks. Generally, these have been successful in improving sustainability.
  • A developing issue is weak knowledge of the impact of increasingly successful but unmanaged recreational fishing on some high-value fish stocks.
  • Current policy settings are sometimes overly prescriptive and outdated. In particular:
  • most commercial fisheries are managed primarily though controls over fishing methods, despite long recognition that this is a relatively inefficient way of meeting catch constraints, and inhibits fishers from introducing more cost effective practices
  • recreational and Indigenous customary fishing activity is at best sporadically monitored and impacts on stock sustainability largely uncounted in fishery management regimes. This is despite the fact that recreational fishing is a popular pastime for millions of Australians, and that recreational catch rivals commercial catch for some species, placing pressure on some key stocks
  • governments differ in the extent to which they have adopted best practice fishery management techniques, which is leading to significant costs for fishers operating in some cross-jurisdictional fisheries, and risks to sustainability of stocks.
  • Commercial fisheries should move as a default position to apply transferrable quota systems. This would result in fewer constraints on fishing practice and provide a more efficient and effective means of adhering to harvest limits.
  • Recreational fishing needs greater recognition in fisheries management, and decisions on restrictions and facilities for fishers require development of a sound evidence base.
  • The introduction of licensing for recreational fishers where not presently used, and the better use of licensing systems to manage fishing where they are used, will provide a means for better meeting the needs of both future generations of fishers and environmental outcomes.
  • The value of access to fisheries is multifaceted, incorporating economic, social and cultural benefits. Allocation of access where there is competition for fisheries resources should seek to maximise this value.
  • Indigenous customary fishing is given special recognition consistent with native title rights more generally. However, there is limited clarity about what these rights entail for catch limits, which is an outcome of customary fishing being generally exempted from fishery management regimes. There is relatively poor input from Indigenous people into fishery management. Effective incorporation of customary fishing into management systems would help resolve these issues.
  • Benefits from dissolving boundaries via active cooperation in the management of critical cross-jurisdictional fish stocks are often recognised but only rarely delivered.
  • Other improvements include making regulatory standards for protected species clearer, greater delegation of operational decision making to fishery managers and strengthening cost recovery arrangements.
  • Little change in the regulation of aquaculture over the past 10 years has not impeded the sector's growth. The major producing states already had several best practice regulatory features and other states have faced challenges that are predominantly non-regulatory in nature.