Eastern School Whiting – Commonwealth Trawl Sector – Danish Seine

Assessment Summary

Eastern School Whiting

Unit of Assessment

Product Name: Eastern School Whiting

Species: Sillago flindersi

StockSouth Eastern Australia

Gear type: Danish seine

Fishery: Commonwealth Trawl Sector – Danish Seine

Year of Assessment: 2017

Fishery Overview

This summary has been adapted from Helidoniotis et al (2017a):

The Commonwealth Trawl Sector (CTS) of the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF) stretches from Sydney southwards around Tasmania to Cape Jervis in South Australia.  The CTS and Scalefish Hook Sector (SHS) are major domestic sources of fresh scalefish for the Sydney and Melbourne markets, and there is minimal international export from these fisheries.

The SESSF is a multisector, multigear and multispecies fishery, targeting a variety of fish and shark stocks using different gear types in different areas or depth ranges. Effort in the SESSF is distributed across all fishery areas, but since about 2005 has become increasingly concentrated on the shelf rather than in slope or deeper waters. The CTS predominantly uses otter trawl and Danish-seine methods.

Figure 1: Relative fishing intensity in the CTS Danish Seine fishery in the 2016-17 fishing season. (Source: Helidoniotis et al, 2017a).

Danish seine vessels fish along the seabed using a herding principle to catch fish mainly on the continental shelf. The net is similar to a trawl net but has wings and is attached halfway along a seine rope (AFMA, 2002).

The majority of Danish seiners operate out of Lakes Entrance and nearby ports (Figure 1). These vessels operate on the continental shelf in shallower waters than trawlers and typically target school whiting and flathead over sandy and muddy substrates. Danish-seine effort decreased from 10,876 shots in 2015–16 to 10,034 shots in 2016–17, and the number of vessels remained constant at 16 in 2015–16 and 2016–1.

Figure 2 Trend in total catch

Risk Scores

Performance Indicator

Eastern School Whiting – Danish seine



1A: Stock Status


1B: Harvest Strategy


1C: Information and Assessment




2A: Non-target Species


2B: ETP Species


2C: Habitats


2D: Ecosystems




3A: Governance and Policy


3B: Fishery-specific Management System


Summary of main issues

  • The most recent stock assessment of Eastern School Whiting was completed in 2017 and estimates spawning stock biomass to be 47%BThis is close to the BMEY-based management target of B48, and above the default BMSY level of B40.
  • Substantial catches of Eastern School Whiting are also taken in the NSW Ocean Trawl Fishery (OTF). Although there are no well-defined harvest control rules to reduce exploitation as the point of recruitment impairment is approached in the OTF, State catches are taken into account in the calculation of Commonwealth TACs.  Substantial latent effort also exists in the OTF which is being addressed through the introduction of a combined Eastern School Whiting/Stout Whiting TAC by end 2018.
  • The fishery is relatively well placed against Component 2 and 3 performance indicators.


Eastern School Whiting – Danish Seine

Component Outlook Comments
Target species Improving ↑ In the NSW OTF, the NSW Government is currently implementing a Commercial Fisheries Business Adjustment Program which will include the introduction of a combined total allowable catch (TAC) and individual transferable quotas (ITQs) for Eastern School Whiting and Stout Whiting. The catch quota is expected to commence by end 2018.  The new quota system should offer the opportunity to introduce well-defined harvest control rules (HCRs) which are complementary to the existing SESSF HCR
Environmental impact of fishing Stable No major changes are expected to Component 2 PIs
Management system Stable No major changes are expected to Component 2 PIs

Assessment Results

COMPONENT 1: Target fish stocks

1A: Stock Status

CRITERIA:  (i)The stock is at a level which maintains high productivity and has a low probability of recruitment overfishing.

(a) Stock Status


Eastern School Whiting is endemic to south-eastern Australia and occurs from southern Queensland to western Victoria. It is considered to be a single biological stock for assessment purposes (Andrews et al, 2016), although stock boundaries are not well known and further investigations will be proposed in 2018 (SERAG, 2017a).

Helidoniotis et al (2017a) report that estimates of Eastern School Whiting biomass have varied considerably between successive assessments, largely as a result of the variable and relatively late age of recruitment to the fishery (two to three years) for this short-lived species (with a lifespan of seven years).

The most recent stock assessment of Eastern School Whiting was completed in 2017 (SERAG, 2017a), using Stock Synthesis (SSV3.30).  The base case model estimated spawning stock biomass to be 47%B0, close to the BMEY-based management target of B48 (Figure 2). The BMEY target reference point is higher than the default BMSY reference point of B40 in the SESSF Harvest Strategy Framework (HSF).  The assessment estimated the stock to have dropped below the target reference point from 2009 to approximately 39 per cent, and then increased to 47 per cent at the start of 2018.

Figure 3: Spawning biomass depletion for the base-case analysis of school whiting (SERAG, 2017)

Based on the most recent assessment outputs, it is highly likely the stock is above the point of recruitment impairment (PRI) and fluctuating at or around a level consistent with MSY.


PI SCORE – LOW RISK – Eastern School Whiting

1B: Harvest Strategy

CRITERIA: (i)There is a robust and precautionary harvest strategy in place.

(a) Harvest Strategy


The CTS harvest strategy consists of:

  • Limited entry;
  • Catch controls through TACs and ITQs, set according to well-defined harvest control rules under the SESSF Harvest Strategy Framework (AFMA, 2017a);
  • Gear restrictions;
  • Monitoring through logbooks and catch disposal records (CDRs);
  • Monitoring through VMS;
  • Monitoring through independent observers who provide estimates of discards; and
  • Periodic assessments of stock status.

A harvest strategy framework (HSF) has been in place in the SESSF since 2005. The most recent version of SESSF Harvest Strategy was agreed in 2017 (AFMA, 2017a).  The SESSF HSF is designed to meet the objectives of the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy 2007 (HSP), namely “the sustainable and profitable use of Australia’s Commonwealth fisheries in perpetuity through the implementation of harvest strategies that maintain key commercial stocks at ecologically sustainable levels, and within this context, maximise the economic returns to the Australian community” (DAFF, 2007).  To meet this objective, harvest strategies are designed to pursue an exploitation rate that keeps fish stocks at a level required to produce maximum economic yield (MEY) and ensure stocks remain above a limit biomass level (BLIM) at least 90% of the time. Alternative reference points may be adopted for some stocks to better pursue the objective of maximising economic returns across the fishery as a whole (AFMA, 2017a).

The following summary of the HSF structure and processes is adapted from AFMA (2017a):

The HSF uses a three tier approach designed to apply different types of assessments and cater for different amount of data available for different stocks. Increased levels of precaution are adopted for stocks with increasing levels of uncertainty about status, in order to reduce the level of risk associated with uncertainty.  Tier 1 represents the highest quality of information available (i.e. a robust integrated quantitative stock assessment).

Each Tier has its own harvest control rule (HCR) that is used to determine a recommended biological catch (RBC). The RBCs provide the best scientific advice on what the total fishing mortality (landings from all sectors plus discards) should be for each species/stock. For all Tier levels, once the RBC is determined from the results of the assessment and the application of the relevant HCR, a recommended total allowable catch (TAC) is calculated based on the TAC setting rules.

For Tier 1, the HCR is based on the following reference points:

  • The limit biomass BLIM –The default BLIM proxy is B20 = 20% of the unfished spawning biomass;
  • The BMSY – the default BMSY proxy is B40 = 40% of the unfished spawning biomass;
  • The target biomass BTARG (MEY) – BTARG is generally equal to BMEY, for which the default proxy is approximated by 1.2*BMSY. If the default BMSY proxy is used, this results in B48 = 48% of the unfished spawning biomass.

The Tier 1 harvest control rule applies to species and/or stocks where there is a robust quantitative assessment that provides estimates of current biomass levels, and where estimates or appropriate proxies are available for BLIM, BTARG and FTARG.

Tier 3 and Tier 4 assessments use other indicators (relating to fishing mortality and catch rates respectively) and reference points which are taken as proxies for the biomass reference points for Tier 1.

A Tier 3 stock assessment uses information available on the age structure of annual catches and annual total catch weight, as well as knowledge of basic biological parameters, e.g. natural mortality, length at age, weight at length, the stock recruitment relationship steepness, fecundity at age and selectivity at age. The catch control rule uses the ratio of the target exploitation rate to the actual exploitation rate as a multiplier on the current average catch to determine the RBC.

Tier 4 assessments are based entirely on catch and CPUE. The Tier 4 analysis determines an RBC by selecting CPUE reference points that are taken as proxies for the estimated BLIM and BTARG. This is done by assuming that the CPUE is proportional to stock abundance, an assumption that is made in most SESSF assessments.

HCRs under each Tier of the HSF have been subject to robust simulation testing (e.g. Wayte, 2009) with results published in peer-reviewed journals (e.g. Little et al, 2011).

The status of fish stocks in the SESSF, and how they are tracking against the HSF, is reported to the South East Resource Assessment Group (SERAG), the South East Management Advisory Committee (SEMAC) and AFMA Commission as part of the yearly TAC setting process.  The data used for input into the stock assessment process are collected by the observer-based Integrated Scientific Monitoring Program (ISMP), AFMA logbooks and Catch Disposal Records (CDRs) and periodic trawl-based Fishery Independent Surveys (FIS). Otoliths from the biological sampling are provided to a private contractor for ageing. All sampling and age data are provided to stock assessment scientists for analysis or reporting. Stock assessment reports are produced by CSIRO or other contracted assessment specialists and discussed by SERAG.  The outcomes of assessments are run against the HCRs in the HSF to produce recommended biological catch (RBC) amounts for each quota species.  Other sources of mortality, including an estimate of future discards, catch taken by other jurisdictions (e.g. State and recreational sectors) and a research catch allowance, are subtracted from the RBC to produce a Commonwealth TAC.

Each stock is assessed under the appropriate Tier level as advised by SERAG. In mid-December, AFMA produces a position paper with recommended TACs for quota species for the upcoming fishing season, based on the stock assessments and SERAG advice. The paper is distributed to interested parties and undergoes a public comment period.

In early February, a SEMAC TAC Setting meeting is held where TAC recommendations are made.  The outcomes of SERAG and SEMAC together with the AFMA position paper and any public comments received, are then sent to the AFMA Commission to determine TACs for the upcoming fishing season in mid-February.

The Eastern School Whiting stock is harvested across multiple jurisdictions. Historically, most of the total catch has come from New South Wales state waters. In recent years, the catch in these waters has decreased from historical levels of approximately 1,000t per year to just over 500t (Figure 3). In 2015, the Commonwealth SESSF accounted for the highest catch at 733t, with the NSW Ocean Trawl Fishery (OTF) and the Victorian Inshore Trawl Fishery (ITF) harvesting 536t and 7t respectively.

Figure 4: Eastern School Whiting catch tends across Commonwealth and State jurisdictions, 1986 to 2016. State catches are not included in landings (CDR) or the the TAC. (SERAG, 2017) 

In the Danish seine sub-fishery of the SESSF, the main harvest strategy arrangements are those described above.  Eastern School Whiting is a Tier 1 species under the HSF, meaning that a robust integrated quantitative stock assessment is available. Catches from all jurisdictions, including the OTF, are included in the assessment of the stock status, although there is uncertainty in some components of NSW data (e.g. CPUE for catches north of Barrenjoey Point; SERAG, 2017).

In the OTF, the main measures in the harvest strategy include:

  • Limited licences;
  • Gear and mesh restrictions;
  • Spatial zoning;
  • Spatial and temporal closures;
  • Daily catch and effort reporting;
  • A Fishery Management System (FMS) that requires a recovery strategy to be implemented if the fishery status is assessed as ‘overfished’ or ‘recruitment overfished’;
  • Periodic weight of evidence based assessments of stock status which largely adopt the Commonwealth status (e.g. Hall, 2015).

Limited entry is implemented through a share management scheme under which access to the fishery is limited to shareholders or their nominated fishers who hold sufficient shares to satisfy the minimum shareholding levels established for each share class in the Fisheries Management (Ocean Trawl Share Management Plan) Regulation 2006 (the OT SMP) (NSW DPI, 2011).

Eastern School Whiting is listed as a primary species under the OTF Share Management Plan (SMP).  Much of the catch comes from licenses operating under the Inshore and Offshore Prawn endorsements and the Ocean Trawl Fishery Fish (northern zone) endorsement which allows for the take of fish using an otter trawl net (fish) or a Danish seine trawl net (fish) from ocean waters north of Barrenjoey Headland (latitude 33°35′ south).  Some catch also comes from vessels operating under the fish trawl (south) endorsement (referred to as the Southern Fish Trawl Restricted Fishery [SFT]) which allows the take of fish (other than prawns) using an otter trawl net (fish) or a Danish seine trawl net (fish) from ocean waters inside 3 nautical miles and south of Barrenjoey Headland. Targeting of whiting in both sectors is allowed only inshore of the 90m depth contour.

There has been evidence of consolidation in the number of shareholders (e.g. NSW DPI, 2011), however Stevens et al (2012) reported considerable levels of excess harvesting capacity in the OTF.  For example, in the fish trawl (north) sector, 16 out of 46 shareholders accounted for 95% of the catch (or 65% latency).

No overall limit on catch currently exists, and there are no well-defined HCRs for the OTF.  Landings in the northern part of the OTF are also confounded with Stout Whiting (Hall, 2015).  To that extent, the NSW component of the overall harvest strategy is not responsive to the status of the stock.

Latency is being addressed through a Commercial Fisheries Business Adjustment Program (the BAP) which aims to link shares to either catch or fishing effort[1].  In the OTF, a combined TAC will be introduced for Eastern School Whiting and Stout Whiting, with ITQs allocated to individual shareholders.  The new catch quotas are expected to commence by end 2018[2].

While it is clear that the Commonwealth management system is responsive to the state of the stock and all elements work together to achieve stock management objectives reflected in criterion 1A(i), this is not the case for the NSW OTF which continues to account for a substantial portion of the overall harvest and for which no catch limit applies.  To that end, it is not clear that the overall harvest strategy is responsive to the state of the stock.  Nevertheless, although the weight of management effort is not equitably shared between the Commonwealth and State, because state catches are taken into account in the setting of Commonwealth TACs, the overall harvest strategy could be expected to achieve the stock management objectives reflected in criterion 1A(i).  Accordingly, we have scored this SI medium risk.

[1] http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fishing/commercial/reform

[2] http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fishing/commercial/reform/decisions/ot-northern

(b) Shark-finning


CRITERIA (ii): There are well defined and effective harvest control rules (HCRs) and tools in place.

(a) HCR Design and application                           MEDIUM RISK

Well-defined HCRs are set out for each Tier 1-4 species covered by the SESSF HSF (AFMA, 2017a).  SESSF HCRs are designed to achieve the objectives set out in the HSF which in turn has been designed to meet the Commonwealth HSP (DAFF, 2007). However, well-designed HCR are not used in the NSW OTF.

Under the HSF, for Tier 1 stocks the target fishing mortality rate FTARG represents the fishing mortality rate that would result in a spawning biomass of BTARG (equal to BMEY). The default value for FTARG is F48, the value of F corresponding to a BTARG of B48. Alternative reference points may be adopted for some stocks to better pursue the objective of maximising economic returns across the fishery as a whole.  The recommended maximum fishing mortality rate for Tiers 3 and 4 is FMSY (the default proxy for which is F40). This represents the fishing mortality rate that would cause the spawning biomass to decline to its maximum sustainable biomass BMSY (the default proxy for which is B40). The breakpoint, or HCR inflection point, in the overfishing line occurs at a biomass corresponding to BMSY. If B<BMSY or F>FMSY, the TACs should be reduced to limit fishing effort and the fishing mortality rate. For Tier 1, the recommended maximum fishing mortality rate and HCR inflection point occurs at a proxy of F35.

Figure 5: Schematic representation of a harvest control rule, showing key reference points (Source: AFMA, 2017a)

Recommended Biological Catch (RBC) is calculated according to the following (AFMA, 2017a):

Tier 1

The formula for calculating FTARG is as follows:

The RBC is calculated by applying FTARG to the current biomass BCUR to calculate the total catch (including discards) in the next year, using the agreed base case assessment model:

At Tier 1, BLIM = B20, the maximum value for FTARG = F48 and the breakpoint in the HCR occurs at B35. Alternative reference points may be adopted for some stocks to better pursue the objective of maximising economic returns across the fishery as a whole.

The HCRs are robust to the main uncertainties (SI(b)) as they have been developed over a period of time involving world leading scientists, underpinned by publications in peer-reviewed journals. There is substantial evidence that the HCRs have been successfully implemented across a diverse range of gear types and species of Commonwealth fisheries (SI(c)). Additional HCRs are also applied for specific fisheries or species where necessary, developed through the Resource Assessment Group, and applied and monitored by AFMA.

Tier 3

The Tier 3 HCR applies to species and/or stocks that do not have a quantitative stock assessment, but where estimates of fishing mortality and other biological information are available (AFMA, 2017a).  Yield per recruit calculations are used to calculate F values that will reduce the spawning biomass to 20% (F20), 40% (F40) and 48% (F48) of the unexploited level.

Recommended biological catch CRBC is calculated according to the following formula:

where FCUR is the estimated current fishing mortality, and FRBC is the selected F for the recommended biological catch from the control rule. The estimate of fishing mortality is limited to be no less than 0.1 of natural mortality.

Tier 4

The Tier 4 control rule is of the form:

A range of considerations are then taken into account in translating the RBC into a TAC.  For Tier 4 species a ‘discount factor’ of 15% is applied to account for greater levels of uncertainty in these stocks.  Other sources of mortality including state catches, discards and any research catch allowance are then subtracted from the RBC to produce a Commonwealth TAC.

Multi-year TACs are to be applied for all Tier 1 and Tier 4 species where suitable.  Where the RBC is zero, an incidental bycatch TAC may be set after considering a range of circumstances including the impact of incidental catches on rebuilding of the stock.

In the SESSF, Eastern School Whiting is a Tier 1 stock.  Based on the 2017 assessment and after taking into account uncertainty, SERAG recommended a three year RBC of 1,615t commencing in 2018-19 (SERAG, 2017a).   The RBC also includes state catches which, together with discards, are deducted to arrive at a Commonwealth TAC.  SERAG noted the previous long term RBC of 1,660t had resulted in the stock declining below the target reference point, although this was largely due to below-average recruitment during that time and the proposed long-term RBC was appropriate.  Accordingly, in the SESSF well-defined HCRs are in place for Eastern School Whiting that are robust to the main uncertainties, ensure that exploitation is reduced as PRI is approached and are expected to keep the stock fluctuating at or around a target level consistent with MSY (or above).

In the OTF, there are currently no well-defined HCRs which require a reduction in exploitation as PRI is approached. There are some ‘in house’ trigger points used in the annual stock assessment workshops such as presence of a certain number of age classes indicating health of spawning stock or an approximation of recruitment but these are not publicly available.  The FMS sets out a framework of trigger points against prescribed goals and performance indicators, however action to review exploitation of primary species is triggered only after a species is declared ‘overfished’ or ‘recruitment overfished’, rather the before the stock reaches PRI.

While well-defined HCRs and tools are in place in the SESSF which ensure exploitation rate is reduced as PRI is approached and aim to maintain the stock around a target level above MSY, this is not the case for the OTF.  Because catch is effectively unconstrained in NSW and of sufficient magnitude to influence the effective operation of the SESSF HCR, we have scored the overall HCR medium risk.

The overall management of the stock would be strengthened with the introduction of well-defined HCRs to underpin the proposed TAC for the OTF which were complementary to the Commonwealth HCRs.


1C: Information and Assessment

CRITERIA: (i) Relevant information is collected to support the harvest strategy.

(a) Range of information


Comprehensive information for the SESSF on fleet composition, catch and other fishery-wide indicators is collected through the monitoring programs described in AFMA (2017a).  In 2016-17 fishing season, there were 16 active Danish seine vessels in the CTS, undertaking 10,034 shots (Helidoniotis et al, 2017a). Catch data are collected through compulsory logsheets and catch disposal records.

There is good information on the distribution and biology for Eastern School Whiting (e.g. Andrews et al. 2016). Additionally, the fleet composition of the commercial fisheries (OTF, SESSF) is well understood and catch and effort information is provided in the form of compulsory logbooks. A key uncertainty is around stock structure.  Historical stock structure work has showed some evidence for stock discontinuity between Forster and Coffs Harbour, NSW (SERAG, 2017a). However, while the methods used at the time were appropriate, they often lack discriminatory power compared to modern molecular markers and did not provide a clear answer. SERAG (2017a) concluded the species would benefit from an updated study using modern molecular markers, with a larger sample size and more representative sampling.

In northern NSW, Eastern School Whiting was historically reported by fishers as mixed ‘school whiting’ (combined with Stout Whiting) and catches of each species were estimated according to the latitude of capture. Since July 2009, fishers have been required to report the two species separately, but considerable quantities of Stout Whiting are still misreported as Eastern School Whiting in northern zones and recent catches continue to be estimated according to latitude, creating some uncertainty in the catch data (Hall, 2015).

Periodic recreational fishing surveys have also provided information on this sector’s interaction with these species (e.g. West et al, 2016). Compared to the commercial catches the recreational harvest is quite low given the more offshore nature of these species.

While there is clearly some relevant information on stock productivity and fleet composition, stock structure remains uncertain.  The extent to which this might compromise the existing harvest strategy which assumes a single stock is not clear, although the available evidence suggests abundance has remained relatively high under the existing arrangements.  On that basis, we have scored this SI medium risk.

(b) Monitoring and comprehensiveness


In the Commonwealth SESSF, removals are monitored through compulsory catch and effort logbooks and catch disposal records (CDRs), while estimates of discards are provided by observers.  Industry-based fishery-independent resource surveys have also been run since 2008, which provide a timeseries of relative abundance indices for key target species (e.g. Knuckey et al, 2015).  At the Commonwealth level, stock abundance is monitored through periodic stock assessments (e.g. Day, 2010; 2011; 2012; SERAG, 2017a), as well as independent indices such as Danish seine standardised CPUE.

In NSW, removals from the stock by commercial fisheries are monitored through compulsory catch and effort logbooks, while recreational catches are periodically estimated (e.g. West et al, 2016).   Landings in northern NSW reported in commercial logbooks waters are confounded with Stout Whiting because the two species have overlapping distributions (Hall, 2015). In NSW, status is assessed using the Commonwealth assessments, although monitoring of the size and age structure of NSW commercial landings commenced in 2014 through ongoing port monitoring, in response to anecdotal reports that average size has decreased in recent years (Hall, 2015).  SERAG (2017a) report that the recent NSW length, age, catch rate and discard data should be made available for the next Commonwealth Eastern School Whiting assessment.

Given stock abundance is monitored through periodic Tier 1 assessments for Commonwealth fisheries, removals from the stock are well monitored in Commonwealth fisheries and catches in NSW are monitored sufficiently to allow for an estimate of State catches to be deducted from Commonwealth RBCs, we have scored this SI low risk.  Nevertheless, the stock would be better positioned with strengthened data collection on NSW catches.

CRITERIA: (ii) There is an adequate assessment of the stock status.

(a) Stock assessment


A single-sex, statistical age- and length structured model is used to assess the school whiting stock (Day, 2010), with the assessment most recently updated in 2017 (SERAG, 2017a). The population dynamic model incorporates catch and effort information from all commercial fisheries targeting Eastern School Whiting, all length and age frequency data collected by research studies and all relevant biological parameters. This model produces outputs of current biomass against B0.  Assessment outcomes are very sensitive to assumptions about stock structure (SERAG, 2017a). Estimates of Eastern School Whiting biomass have varied considerably between successive assessments, largely as a result of the variable recruitment (Day, 2012) however more recently recruitment has been better estimated (SERAG, 2017b). The 2017 version of the model was undertaken in Stock Synthesis (SSV3.30) and incorporated four growth parameters, whereas the last assessment only fitted three (SERAG, 2017a).  The base case model was accepted by SERAG and was used to provide advice on a three year RBC (SERAG, 2017a).

The outcomes of Commonwealth assessments are adopted in annual NSW weight of evidence based assessments (e.g. Hall, 2015).

Notwithstanding uncertainties around stock structure and limitations in some NSW data, the assessment model used estimates stock status relative to reference points that are appropriate for the stock and can be estimated.

(b) Uncertainty and Peer review


The model takes uncertainty into account by running ‘base case’ and alternative model options to test sensitivity to different inputs.  The 2017 assessment ran sensitivities around alternative spawning periods, improved growth fits and exclusion of catches north of Barrenjoey Head (SERAG, 2017a).  Previous assessments have projected future catches at different levels, with projected biomass plotted over this period and the probability of falling below the target biomass (48% of B0), the breakpoint (35% of B0), and the limit biomass (20% of B0).  At the Commonwealth level, stock assessments are subject to review and judgment (i.e., ability to reject the assessment) through SERAG.


COMPONENT 2: Environmental impact of fishing

2A: Other Species

CRITERIA: (i) The UoA aims to maintain other species above the point where recruitment would be impaired (PRI) and does not hinder recovery of other species if they are below the PRI.

(a) Main other species stock status


The intent of this scoring issue is to examine the impact of the fishery on ‘main’ other species taken while harvesting the target species.  ‘Main’ is defined as any species which comprises >5% of the total catch (retained species + discards) by weight in the UoA, or >2% if it is a ‘less resilient’ species.  The aim is to maintain other species above the point where recruitment would be impaired and ensure that, for species below PRI, there are effective measures in place to ensure the fishery does not hinder recovery and rebuilding.

The primary target species in the Danish seine sector include:

  • Eastern School Whiting ( flindersi) (included in the UoA)
  • Flathead (predominately Tiger Flathead, richardsoni, but managed as a species complex including other flathead species)

These two target species constitute 90% of retained catch for Danish seine fleet of the SESSF (e.g. Wayte et al, 2004). The catches of these two species are inversely related, with whiting more common in waters < 50 m, flathead more common at > 80 m and in waters 50–80 m the catch consists of about 40% of each species and 20% bycatch (including retained byproduct).

In addition to the main target species, ISMP data indicates that Danish seiners directly interact with 218 species (Walker et al., 2006). Danish seine vessels specifically targeting Eastern School Whiting can use a minimum mesh size of 38 mm (compared to 90 mm for otter trawls). This small mesh size can result in a relatively high bycatch of non-commercial species that are discarded.

While more recent ISMP data on total catch composition is not available, Koopman et al (2010) conducted gear selectivity research using 45mm nets commonly used to target Eastern School Whiting.  In this study, Eastern School Whiting comprised 64.9% of the total catch weight, with only Tiger Flathead (5.9%) and Common Stinkfish (Foetorepus calauropomus) (11.2%) comprising >5% of the total catch.  In the absence of recent ISMP data, these two species could be considered the main other species.


The stock assessment used for flathead in the SESSF is based on biological parameters relating to Tiger Flathead, which accounts for about 95 per cent of the flathead catch (Morison et al. 2013).  The Tier 1 assessment for flathead was most recently updated in 2017 (Helidoniotis et al, 2017a).  The final base-case model forecasted the 2017 spawning stock biomass to be 42 per cent of unfished spawning biomass (Day, 2017; in Helidoniotis, et al, 2017a), which is above the target reference point of B40%.

Other species

The risks that the Danish seine sub-fishery of the SESSF poses to non-target species (including Common Stinkfish) have been assessed through the application of a progression of risk assessment methodologies as listed below:

  • an individual ERA completed to Level 2 PSA in June 2007 (Wayte et al., 2004);
  • Level 2 Residual Risk assessment of the Level 2 PSA results (AFMA, 2010);
  • a rapid quantitative risk assessment (Level 3 SAFE methodology) completed for teleosts and chondrichthyans in December 2007 (Zhou et al., 2007); and
  • a residual risk assessment of the Level 2 PSA results, and application of the residual risk guidelines to the Level 3 SAFE methodology completed in August 2009 (Zhou et al. 2009; updated in Zhou et al., 2012).
  • ERA extension to assess cumulative effects of fishing on species (Zhou et al., 2013).

During the ERA analyses no target, bycatch and discard species were identified as high risk (Table 1). The updated Level 3 SAFE (Zhou et al. 2012) evaluated 73 species of fish that may be impacted by the UoA, and confirmed that no species were found to have fishing mortality (including uncertainty) greater than any reference point (either Fmsm or Fcrash including minimum reference points); the estimated fishing mortality rate was low, and this was primarily due to the low overlap between fishing effort and species distribution.

Table 2: ERA outcomes for each level of assessment.

Level of assessment and risk levels attributed Target Byproduct Bycatch ETP
Level 1 SICA Assessment
Consequence score (for each species component) 3 2 2 4
Proceeded to Level 2 PSA Assessment (scores ≥ 3) Y N N Y
Level 2 PSA Assessment
High Risk 0 N/A N/A 1
Medium Risk 1 N/A N/A 121
Low Risk 5 N/A N/A 76
Level 2 PSA Residual Risk Assessment
High Risk 0 N/A N/A 1
Medium Risk 1 N/A N/A 121
Low Risk 5 N/A N/A 76
Level 3 SAFE Assessment
Extreme High Risk 0 0 0 0
Precautionary Extreme High Risk 0 0 0 0
High Risk 0 0 0 0
Precautionary High Risk 0 0 0 0
Medium Risk 0 0 0 0
Precautionary Medium Risk 0 0 0 0
Low Risk 6 0 0 65

Given the results of the ERA analyses, as well as the healthy position of the flathead stock complex, the fishery appears highly unlikely to result in any main other species reaching the point of recruitment impairment.

CRITERIA: (ii) There is a strategy in place that is designed to maintain or to not hinder rebuilding of other species.

(a) Management strategy in place


AFMA has a clear, well-documented strategy for addressing the risks of fishing posed on other species. This includes the application of ecological risk assessments through the ERAEF process described under criterion 2A(i)(a) above, as well as a range of measures to monitor and manage impacts on non-target species including:

  • Limited entry;
  • Catch controls through TACs and ITQs, within the framework of the HSF;
  • Gear restrictions;
  • Bycatch reduction devices (see bycatch & discarding workplan below);
  • Monitoring through logbooks and catch disposal records (CDRs);
  • Monitoring through VMS;
  • Observer coverage; and
  • Spatial closures.

Measures to address impacts on high risk species are set out in the SESSF ERM Strategy (AFMA, 2015a).  In addition, under the SESSF Management Plan 2003, AFMA is required to develop and implement a bycatch action plan (now referred to as a Bycatch and Discarding Workplan) to ensure that information is gathered about the impact of the fishery on bycatch species, that all reasonable steps are taken to avoid incidental interactions with ETP species, and that the ecological impacts of fishing on habitats are minimised. The CTS has a relevant workplan in place (AFMA, 2014).

AFMA has also developed species identification guides and training programs for various bycatch initiatives and rolled these out with industry (e.g. see AFMA, 2017b for summary).

Implementation of bycatch measures is monitored through normal compliance operations as well as onboard observer sampling.  In 2016-17 the observer coverage was 25 fishing days (Helidoniotis et al, 2017a).

These measures constitute at least a partial strategy that is expected to maintain the main other species at levels that are highly likely to be above the PRI.

(b) Management strategy evaluation


The outcomes of the ERA process, particularly the SAFE (Zhou et al. 2012), provide an objective basis for confidence that the measures in place are likely to work.

(c) Shark-finning LOW RISK

Shark-finning is not permitted in the SESSF (further information on the provisions for processing at sea are available in the SESSF Management Arrangement booklet 2017[1]).  Existing levels of observer coverage and compliance monitoring is probably sufficient to verify the absence of shark finning to low risk levels.

[1] http://www.afma.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/SESSF-Management-Arrangement-Booklet-2017.pdf

CRITERIA: (iii) Information on the nature and amount of other species taken is adequate to determine the risk posed by the UoA and the effectiveness of the strategy to manage other species.

(a) Information


The CTS is a multi-species fishery with numerous target species. AFMA’s ERA process, in addition to information provided through daily catch and effort logbooks, catch disposal records, protected species reporting, observer monitoring and VMS monitoring provides sufficient quantitative information to assess the UoA related mortality on other main species, and to support a management strategy.  Observers collect detailed information on boat activity catch composition, as well as collection of data and samples for research programs and monitoring compliance of the boat with its fishing concession.  Observer coverage rates are developed by AFMA in association with the RAGs.

For Tiger Flathead, a Tier 1 stock assessment exists and monitoring consistent with that outlined for Eastern School Whiting above provide sufficient quantitative information to assess the impact of the UoA with respect to status and detect increased risk.

For all other non-target species, including Common Stinkfish, the risks that the Danish seine sub-fishery of the CTS poses to the sustainability have been assessed through the application of a progression of risk assessment methodologies described under Criterion 2A(i) above.  Further information is available in the SESSF ERM Strategy (AFMA, 2015a).

Targeted research has also been undertaken examining gear modifications designed to reduce bycatch (e.g. Koopman et al, 2010).

Collectively, these measures provide quantitative information that has been adequate to assess the impact of the UoA on main other species through the ERA process (and through quantitative stock assessments in the case of flathead), and is sufficient to detect increases in risk.


2B: Endangered Threatened and/or Protected (ETP) Species

CRITERIA: (i) The UoA meets national and international requirements for protection of ETP species.
The UoA does not hinder recovery of ETP species.

(a) Effects of the UoA on populations/stocks


At least 198 ETP species are thought to occur in the area of the Danish seine sub-fishery, including: 3 species of sharks/rays, 77 species of seabirds, 49 species of marine mammal, 7 species of marine reptiles, and 62 species of bony fish (including syngnathids) (AFMA, 2010).

Under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, there are requirements to report interactions with ETP species.  Protected species interactions are reported on the AFMA website: http://www.afma.gov.au/managing-our-fisheries/environment-and-sustainability/protected-species/.  In 2016, the Danish seine sub-fishery reported interactions with 11 seals (5 Australian Fur Seals, 6 unidentified), and one shortfin mako shark.  Of the seals, two were released alive, nine were dead.

Syngnathids are also taken as bycatch in the Danish-seine nets but they are generally small and difficult to observe among large catches of fish. Koopman et al. (2010) reported six spiny pipehorse (Solegnathus spinosissimus) caught during gear selectivity trials. The 2004 ERA (Wayte et al., 2004) identified spiny pipehorse as a ‘high risk’ species within the sub-fishery, although more recent and comprehensive ERAs listed this species as low risk as its distribution is larger than the size of the fishery (Wayte et al. 2007).

For all ETP species, the risk posed by the fishery has been assessed through the application of an Ecological Risk Assessment of the Effects of Fishing (ERAEF) process.  In addition to the reports described above, a residual risk assessment for non-teleost and non-chondrichthyan species was undertaken in 2012 (AFMA, 2012).  Of the 198 ETP species, only one species (Australian Fur Seal) was identified as a high-risk species that required specific Ecological Risk Management (ERM) as established under the ERAEF (AFMA, 2012).

Australian Fur Seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus)

Danish Seine operations overlap the foraging areas of the Australian Fur Seal; some of the prey species eaten by fur seals are also of commercial importance, so it is inevitable that the fishery will have interactions with these species (AFMA, 2010).  Fur seal populations have recovered substantially following heavy harvesting in the 18th and 19th centuries (e.g. Kirkwood et al, 2010).  The most recent (2007) estimate of pup numbers was given by Kirkwood et al (2010) placed the total number of Australian Fur-seal pups at 26 000. In 2002, a total of 19 819 pups was estimated for the species, using much the same techniques as those used in 2007.

The Level 2 PSA ERA (Wayte et al. 2007) reports that: “In general, the Danish seine fishery scores as a low risk fishery… Of the TEP species examined, only Australian fur seals were found to be potentially at high risk. The overall population of this species has increased in recent years (Stewardson and Knuckey 2005), so actual risk may not be high for this species.”  More recently, the Level 2 residual risk assessment retained the high risk status “considering the susceptibility of seals to gear and the fact that it is a TEP species”.

To minimise interactions, both industry and AFMA have initiated collaborative projects with researchers to reduce seal bycatch in this fishery, and included the development of the ‘Industry Code of Practice to Minimise Interactions with Seals’ (SETFIA, 2007). The Code sets out measures to avoid the capture of seals in the nets and avoid attracting seals to the fishery grounds by setting out voluntary guidelines and standards of behaviour for responsible fishing practices.

Given potential impacts on ETP species have been comprehensively evaluated and only one species was identified as being potentially at risk and requiring some form of management response, and that the population of that species has recovered substantially following heavy harvesting in the 18th and 19th centuries, the UoA appears highly unlikely to be hindering the recovery of ETP species.

CRITERIA: (ii) The UoA has in place precautionary management strategies designed to:

  • meet national and international requirements; and
  • ensure the UoA does not hinder recovery of ETP species.
(a) Management strategy in place


The SESSF has a comprehensive strategy in place to monitor, assess and manage its impact on ETP species including:

  • Limited entry;
  • Gear modifications such seal excluder devices (SEDs) and bird scaring devices;
  • Extensive spatial closures under fisheries legislation (e.g. deepwater shark closures);
  • Extensive spatial closures to trawling under the South East Marine Protected Area network (388,464 km2 with a depth range of 40m – 4600m);
  • Compulsory reporting of all ETP species interactions in logbooks;
  • Independent observer monitoring of ETP species interactions;
  • Analysis of impacts through ecological risk assessments;
  • The development of Ecological Risk Management documents for priority (high risk) species;
  • Species specific measures under a range of rebuilding and threat abatement plans (e.g. School Shark rebuilding strategy 2015; Eastern Gemfish Rebuilding Strategy 2015).

In addition, industry has developed a species specific Code of Practice for minimising harmful interactions with seals (SETFIA, 2007), and AFMA has established a Marine Mammal Working Group (MMWG) to provide advice on monitoring and management of marine mammal interactions in Commonwealth fisheries.

Given the Danish seine sub-fishery has been assessed as relatively low risk fishery overall (Wayte et al, 2007), and monitoring through fisher logbooks and independent observers is in place to allow which should detect increases in risk, these measures constitute a strategy that is expected to not hinder recovery of ETP species.

(b) Management strategy implementation


The outcomes of the ERA process, together with population estimates for key ETP species (e.g. Australian Fur Seals; Kirkwood et al, 2010) provide an objective basis for confidence that the strategy will work, and compliance and observer information provides evidence that the strategy is being implemented.

CRITERIA: (iii) Relevant information is collected to support the management of UoA impacts on ETP species, including:

  • information for the development of the management strategy;
  • information to assess the effectiveness of the management strategy; and
  • information to determine the outcome status of ETP species.
(a) Information


Operators are also required to report all interactions with ETP species in daily logbooks, and to carry an independent observer upon request by AFMA.  Although the ISMP was not developed to evaluate ETP species interaction, ISMP data has been used to validate logbook data.  Observer coverage rates vary, with 20 and 25 observer sea days undertaken in the Danish seine sub-fishery in 2015-16 and 2016-17 respectively (Helidoniotis et al, 2017a).  Georgeson et al (2016) report that logbook reporting of pinniped interactions in the SESSF CTS has improved markedly over the past three years, although comparison with observer data suggests that there is still some level of under-reporting.

Information required to be reported in fisher logbooks includes:

  • Gear details, location, depth and time of interaction;
  • Details of the species encountered –estimated length, weight, adult/juvenile and gender;
  • Type of interaction (e.g., sighting, death, injury, entanglement, hooked, caught during haul/set/other). If and how, the animal interacted with the catch (e.g., ate fish, took bait), where the animal was hooked or entangled (e.g., flipper, swallowed hook) and which part of the gear the animal encountered (e.g., buoy line, branch line).

Summaries of interactions are available online at: http://www.afma.gov.au/managing-our-fisheries/environment-and-sustainability/protected-species/.

All ETP species occurring in the area of the fishery have been identified and assessed through the ERA process (e.g. Wayte et al, 2004; 2007).  The only species identified as being at high risk through the ERA process (Australian Fur Seal) is subject to regular monitoring and periodic population estimates (e.g. Kirkwood et al, 2010).

To assist fishers accurately identify protected species, AFMA has produced a protected species identification guide and a seabird identification guide.

Accordingly, although some level of under-reporting of ETP species may still exist, the available quantitative information has been sufficient to assess the level of potential risk posed by the fishery and to support a strategy to manage impacts.


2C: Habitats

CRITERIA: (i) The UoA does not cause serious or irreversible harm to habitat structure and function, considered on the basis of the area(s) covered by the governance body(s) responsible for fisheries management

(a) Habitat status


Danish seine vessels operate on the continental shelf (< 600 m depth) and are unable to negotiate rough benthic habitat and as such avoid rocky reef habitats (Wayte et al., 2004).  In assessing the impacts of the Danish seine sub-fishery on habitats in the Level 1 ERA, Wayte et al (2004) reported that “Danish seine fishers deploy the gear over areas of ‘smooth’ sandy seafloor, moving to another area if sponges are encountered in high densities. Hard rocky, high relief seabed is avoided to preserve gear. However, habitat is patchy, and sediment patches which feature erect, rugose, delicate and or, inflexible fauna, will be removed or damaged as gear passes over. Assumptions that ‘pumpkin’ sponges survive when thrown back are unsubstantiated. This habitat type is justified by virtue of reports of Danish Seine activity out to the head of Bass Canyons at 183m.”  Based on the information available, they scored the fishery ‘moderate’ for both intensity and consequence, albeit they noted that data quality was poor.

In the Level 2 ERA, a total of 82 habitat types were considered (Wayte et al. 2007).  Eleven attributes were scored for all habitats. Risk categories have been adjusted following the PSA based on stakeholder feedback and expert opinion. Only habitats of the inner and outer shelf were scored. On the outer shelf, three scored at high risk, 16 at medium and 35 at low risk. No inner shelf habitats were classified as high risk; 4 were scored as medium risk, and 24 as low risk. The high risk outer shelf areas are soft grounds supporting large, erect and fragile epifauna of various types. The Danish seine sub-fishery primarily operates on the shelf, not over the habitat that scored high risk. Wayte et al (2007) reported that relatively few high risk habitats were identified because Danish Seine effort is concentrated in eastern Bass Strait where there are large areas of relatively invulnerable habitat (dynamic, naturally disturbed sediment plains with little emergent fauna) and substantial areas protected by State and Commonwealth MPAs.

Danish seine gear is generally considered to be lower risk to be benthic habitat structure and function than demersal otter trawl gear (e.g. Grieve et al, 2014).  Recent modelling of the spatial extent of demersal trawl effort in the Commonwealth Trawl Sector (CTS) suggests the fishery has a relatively small footprint across the South East Marine Region shelf and slope areas.  Pitcher et al (2015) modelled the effects of fishing for 15 spatially unique species assemblages and 10 habitat forming benthos taxa types that had been predicted and mapped from survey data. They reported that:

  • Simulation of the bottom trawl fishery from ~1985, when consistent logbook records were available, showed that all 10 benthos taxa types declined in abundance in trawled areas until the mid-2000s. At this time fishing effort decreased due to economic pressures and licence buybacks, and large areas were closed to trawling. A complex picture emerged, with patterns and responses varying spatially according to the distribution of benthos taxa types, trawling distribution, and type of management action;
  • The lowest total regional abundance (status) of habitat-forming benthos taxa types across the SEMR was ~80–93% of pre-trawl status, after effort peaked during 2000–2005. Subsequently, all taxa were predicted to recover by varying extents (~1–3%) in the following decade. Had none of the management actions been implemented, benthos status was predicted to stabilise or recover slowly, and with all management actions in place, the rate and magnitude of recovery was greater. Reductions in trawl effort universally improved the status of habitat-forming benthos, with the larger 2006 licence buy-back leading to greater improvements than the 1997 buy-back;
  • In some cases, spatial management that excluded trawling, particularly deepwater fishery closures, led to improved status of some benthos taxa types. Most fishery closures and CMRs had little detectable influence on status. However, there were cases where closures worsened the status of some taxa in some locations, because displaced trawling moved to areas where such taxa were more abundant.

Overall, they reported that around 6% of the shelf and slope area was exposed to trawl effort annually, with around 23% of the SEMR region exposed across the life of the study.   Of the habitat forming tax types, the maximum level of exposure was 9%.

On the basis that Danish seining typically occurs over unconsolidated habitat types, tends to avoid areas of high three dimensional structure, and is likely to have more limited habitat impact than demersal otter trawl sector which recent studies indicate has a relatively small footprint in the South East Marine Region, there is a plausible argument that the UoA is probably highly unlikely to reduce habitat structure and function to the point of serious or irreversible harm.

CRITERIA:  (ii)  There is a strategy in place that is designed to ensure the UoA does not pose a risk of serious or irreversible harm to the habitats.

(a) Management strategy in place


The measures in place to manage impacts of trawling on habitats in the CTS area include:

  • Spatial closures through fisheries and Commonwealth marine parks legislation;
  • Indirect limits on fishing effort through target species TACs;
  • Monitoring of the location and intensity of fishing effort through logbooks and VMS;
  • Assessment and treatment of priority risks through the ERA and ERM process.

Spatial closures

Approximately 86 per cent of trawl grounds have been closed within the CTS, including large areas of Bass Strait and coastal areas in South Australia (Figure 5). Trawling that does occur tends to be over grounds that have been trawled historically, i.e. the trawling footprint is not expanding (AFMA, 2015a).  Closures have been introduced for a range of reasons including the protection of depleted species (see AFMA, 2015a), however all will serve to limit the direct impact of trawling on benthic habitats.

Figure 6: Spatial closures within the Commonwealth Trawl Sector area (AFMA, 2015a)

In addition to closures under fisheries legislation, in 2007 a network of 14 marine protected areas was declared in the South-east marine region (Figure 6). The South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network stretches from the south coast of New South Wales, around Tasmania and Victoria and west to Kangaroo Island off the South Australian Coast. The reserves cover an area of 388,464 km2 with a depth range of 40m – 4600m. The reserves include a range of ecosystems, habitats and biological communities. The zoning within the South-east network does not permit Danish seine fishing. The magnitude and placement of the marine park network does provide some permanent protection to representative samples of marine habitats within the area of the fishery.

Figure 7: Commonwealth south east region marine reserve network[1].


AFMA has undertaken detailed ecological risk assessments (ERAs) for all major Commonwealth managed fisheries as a key part of the implementation of the ecosystem based fisheries management. The fishery has been subjected to Level 1 and Level 2 risk assessments for habitats (Wayte et al. 2007). Hobday et al. (2011) provide a framework to move habitat assessment toward Level 3 assessments, including a Level 2 residual risk assessment, which will move the process from the ERA to the Ecological Risk Management (ERM) framework.

Together, these measures and the ongoing ERA process are likely to be considered at least a partial strategy to ensure the UoA does not cause serious and irreversible harm to habitats.

[1] http://www.environment.gov.au/topics/marine/marine-reserves/south-east

(b) Management strategy implementation


There is a plausible argument that the measures are likely to work given the nature of the gear and the outcomes of the ERA process.  Moreover, recent modelling indicating the demersal otter trawl sector (Pitcher et al, 2015), which is likely to be a higher risk gear type than Danish seine, has had relatively limited impacts on benthic assemblages at the regional scale provides additional evidence that the measures in place for the Danish seine sector are likely to work.  Nevertheless, additional analysis of the spatial extent of the fishery in relation to the main habitats encountered would be required to provide an objective basis for confidence.

CRITERIA: (iii) Information is adequate to determine the risk posed to the habitat by the UoA and the effectiveness of the strategy to manage impacts on the habitat.

(a) Information quality


There are considerable data on the nature, distribution and vulnerability of the main habitats of the CTS. Habitat information in the SESSF has been collected by Bax & Williams (2001) and Williams et al. (2006), the latter report integrating fisher knowledge with scientific data to provide an assessment of 516 “fishing grounds”. The ERA process (Wayte et al. 2007) identified and ranked risks to 156 separate habitats in the fished area.  All trawl tracks are recorded by VMS. More recently, Pitcher et al (2015) examined the spatial extent of the fishery in relation to unique assemblages and habitat forming taxa for the demersal otter trawl sector.  These data are relevant to the scale and intensity of the fishery and as such this criterion is assessed as low risk.

(b) Information and monitoring adequacy


Although we have been unable to find information on the spatial overlap of Danish seine effort on habitats on the outer shelf identified in the Level 2 ERA as high risk, the available information appears adequate to identify the main impacts of the UoA on the main habitats.  Fine scale information is available through VMS on the timing and location of the use of fishing gear. Accordingly, we have scored the SI low risk.  Nevertheless, the fishery would be better positioned against this SI with additional analysis of the spatial extent of overlap with all habitats in the fishery.


2D: Ecosystems

CRITERIA: (i) The UoA does not cause serious or irreversible harm to the key elements of ecosystem structure and function.

(a) Ecosystem Status


Serious or irreversible harm in the ecosystem context should be interpreted in relation to the capacity of the ecosystem to deliver ecosystem services (MSC, 2014). Examples include trophic cascades, severely truncated size composition of the ecological community, gross changes in species diversity of the ecological community, or changes in genetic diversity of species caused by selective fishing.

The risks that the SESSF poses to the sustainability of the marine ecosystems in which it operates have been investigated through the AFMA ERA process involving:

  • Level 1 analysis (SICA – Scale Intensity Consequence Analysis)
  • Level 2 analysis (PSA – Productivity Susceptibility Analysis)
  • Level 2 analysis (Residual risk PSA)
  • Level 3 analysis (SAFE – Sustainability Assessment for Fishing Effects)

In the case of the SESSF, residual risk assessment guidelines have also been applied to the outcomes of the Level 3 SAFE assessment.

In the Level 1 SICA, no community level consequence score was rated moderate or above, and no community level impacts were recommended to be assessed under Level 2 (Wayte et al, 2004).  The highest consequence scores (minor) were given to direct impact of fishing on communities and discarding.  In relation to discarding, the SICA noted “discarding catch could affect functional group composition if, for example, scavengers utilise discarded catch as a food source and increase in numbers => intensity moderate as discarding is common => consequence minor as localised accumulations of waste do not generally occur, so species are unlikely to become habituated to using discards as a food source => confidence low due to lack of data (SESSF Strategic Assessment Report)”.

Discarding in this sub-fishery is common, and is most likely to affect behaviour /movement of species if scavengers are attracted. Wayte et al (2004) considered Gummy Shark as a likely scavenger on discards. The intensity of such interactions scored as moderate because Gummy Shark is a widespread species, although the consequence scored as minor as impact is likely to be minimal. The overall risk to scavengers was considered low. The 2004 ERA reported also that gear-loss does not occur in this sub-fishery (Wayte et al., 2004).

A number of efforts have been made at assessing fisheries trophic interactions in the south east marine region in which the UoA operates.  Goldsworthy et al. (2006) examined the potential trophic interactions between Australia’s fisheries and marine mammal populations. There is some dietary overlap between seals and the other species taken by the Danish seine sub-fishery, although in general Flathead of Eastern School Whiting are ‘incidental’ dietary items. Seals in southeastern Australia feed on five times more fish per year than is currently caught by commercial fisheries (including the UoA), albeit still considerably less than the number of fish eaten by other fish. Interestingly, the ECOSIM model found that as seal populations increase, whiting numbers are likely to increase due to a reduction in the number of predators (larger fish) feeding on whiting.

An ecosystem model termed “Atlantis” has also been developed for the fishery (Fulton et al. 2007). While the model has been used for MSE evaluations, its capacity to deliver outputs that help to define the status of the ecosystems in South-East Australia is limited (Fulton et al. 2007).

Although neither the ecosystem model nor the ERAEF process provide direct evidence that the fishery is not affecting the ecosystem, the largely positive stock status of the main target species, the relatively limited impact of the gear type on habitats and ETP species, the low consequence scores for community level SICA components and the outcomes of the ERA process for other teleost and chondrichthyan species, provide a plausible argument that the fishery is highly unlikely to disrupt the key elements underlying ecosystem structure and function to a point where there would be a serious or irreversible harm.

CRITERIA: (ii) There are measures in place to ensure the UoA does not pose a risk of serious or irreversible harm to ecosystem structure and function.

(a) Management strategy in place


The fishery has in place measures that can be considered at least a partial strategy to ensure that the fishery does not result in serious and irreversible harm to the ecosystem. The strategy is underpinned by harvest strategies which aim to maintain targeted stocks at levels higher than that consistent with MSY and the ERA framework which assesses all the key elements of the ecosystem as described previously. Key impacts on teleost and chondrichthyan species have been assessed to the Level 3 stage, with outcomes documented through the various risk assessment reports culminating in the SESSF ERM Strategy (AFMA, 2015a), with actions being implemented through the Bycatch and Discard Workplan (AFMA, 2014). Hobday et al. (2011) documented the first Level 2 community assessment for a Commonwealth fishery using the CTS as a case study.

To address risks identified through the ERA process, AFMA and industry have developed various implementation strategies including:

  • Harvest strategy to limit catches of target stocks (and hence total effort);
  • Recovery strategies for overfished stocks;
  • Bycatch Action Plans (target stock and bycatch);
  • Gear modification requirements (to mitigate capture of juvenile target species and bycatch);
  • Use of seal exclusion devices on mid-water trawl nets;
  • Introduction of spatial closures (including Marine Protected Areas);
  • Ongoing monitoring (observer coverage and logbook assessment);
  • Research and modelling into the trophic ecology of south-eastern Australia.
(b) Management strategy implementation


The extensive assessment and treatment of ecological impacts through the ERA/ERM process, stock assessment and modelling results for the main target species which are largely in positive positions against reference points, relatively limited ETP and habitat impacts and preliminary ecosystem modelling showing the harvest from the fishery is small in comparison to other consumers (e.g. fish, seals) provide some objective basis for confidence that the strategy will work.  There is quantitative evidence for some ecosystem components (e.g. target species, ETP species) that the strategy is working, but more limited information for others (e.g. habitats).

CRITERIA: (iii) There is adequate knowledge of the impacts of the UoA on the ecosystem.

(a) Information quality


Australia’s south east marine province has been relatively well-studied and many of the trophic dynamics explored (e.g. see Butler et al, 2001; Hayes et al, 2005; Fulton et al, 2007; and references therein).  The information available is broadly adequate to understand the key elements of the ecosystem.  Information provided by ISMP observers, catch and effort logbooks, VMS, ERAs and stock assessments is adequate to detect any increase in risk from the fishery.

(b) Investigations of UoA impacts


The main impacts of the UoA on the ecosystem are relatively well understood and many of them have been studied in significant detail. Target species are assessed and quotas determined on an annual basis. Impacts on bycatch species have been evaluated through the ERA process utilising data from various studies that provide fishery-dependent and fishery-independent data sources (e.g. Zhou et al, 2012). ETP species have been studied extensively through the ERA process and species specific research programs (e.g. Kirkwoood et al. 2010). Habitats have been examined thoroughly through several studies (e.g. Bax & Williams 2001, Williams et al. 2006, Wayte et al. 2007). Ecosystem impacts have been examined through the Atlantis model, albeit that the interpretation of results was limited to Management Strategy Evaluations (Fulton et al 2007; Condie et al, 2014).


COMPONENT 3: Management system

3A: Governance and Policy

CRITERIA: (i) The management system exists within an appropriate and effective legal and/or customary framework which ensures that it:

  • Is capable of delivering sustainability in the UoA(s); and
  • Observes the legal rights created explicitly or established by custom of people dependent on fishing for food or livelihood.
(a) Compatibility of laws or standards with effective management


Relevant Australian Commonwealth Acts, subsidiary legislation and cooperative instruments, including the EPBC Act 1999, Fisheries Management Act (FMA), Fisheries Administration Act (FAA) provide an effective legal framework for the purposes of delivering management outcomes consistent with Components 1 and 2. The FMA takes account of the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement and FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

(b) Respect for Rights


The management system has a mechanism to formally commit to the legal rights created explicitly or established by custom on people dependent on fishing for food and livelihood. The Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993 formally commits to the rights of indigenous people who can demonstrate their customary rights to fish in a particular area. This legislation provides a mechanism for the making of binding decisions about native title rights to areas of land and water and thereby ensures access to fish resources for people who depend on fishing for their food. AFMA’s jurisdiction typically begins three nautical miles offshore, thus, there is usually no overlap between Commonwealth commercial fishing and customary fishing activity. However, for some fisheries, consideration of customary fishing is largely made through interaction between AFMA’s management and the Native Title Act 1993. Where AFMA modifies an act, a direction or other legislative instrument in a way that may affect native title, that change triggers the ‘future act’ provision of the Native Title Act 1993. In situations where a future act provision could possibly be triggered, AFMA provides the opportunity for relevant native title bodies to be consulted and provide comment.  In addition, Fisheries Legislation Amendment (Representation) Bill 2017 is currently before the Commonwealth parliament. The Bill provides for explicit recognition of recreational and Indigenous fishers in Commonwealth legislation and requires AFMA to have regard to ensuring that the interests of all fisheries users are taken into account in Commonwealth fisheries management decisions[1].

Given the above, the management system has a mechanism to observe the legal rights created explicitly or established by custom of people dependent on fishing for food or livelihood.

[1] http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Bills_Legislation/bd/bd1617a/17bd090

CRITERIA: (ii) The management system has effective consultation processes that are open to interested and affected parties. The roles and responsibilities of organisations and individuals who are involved in the management process are clear and understood by all relevant parties.

(a) Roles and Responsibilities


The roles and responsibilities of the main people (e.g. Fisheries Minister, AFMA Commissioners) and organisations (AFMA) involved in the Australian Commonwealth fisheries management process are well-understood, with relationships and key powers explicitly defined in legislation (e.g. FMA, FAA) or relevant policy statements (e.g. AFMA Fisheries Management Paper 1 – Management Advisory Committees).  The South East Management Advisory Committee (SEMAC) and South East Resource Assessment Group provide advice on the management of the fishery.

(b) Consultation Process


The management system includes consultation processes that regularly seek and accept relevant information, including local knowledge. The management system demonstrates consideration of the information and explains how it is used or not used.

Resource Assessment Groups (RAGs) are the bodies responsible for providing scientific advice to the Management Advisory Committees (MACs) and the AFMA Commission on the status of fish stocks, sub-stocks, species (target and non-target), and the impact of fishing on the marine environment. They coordinate, evaluate and regularly undertake fishery assessments, and provide recommendations on issues such as the setting of total allowable catches, stock rebuilding targets, and biological reference points. Membership of the RAGs comprises representatives from the areas of fisheries management, research, industry, fisheries economics and the recreational sector. Invited participants and observers also attend and broaden the range of views considered by the RAG.  The broad membership ensures that, in addition to scientific information on each fish stock, industry knowledge and developments in management strategies, market prices and the costs of harvesting are also taken into account.

MACs are the main advisory bodies to AFMA. They provide advice on a variety of issues including fisheries management arrangements, research, and compliance/management costs.  The MACs also provide a link between AFMA and those with an interest in the fishery, with membership generally comprising members from commercial industry, fisheries management, the scientific community, the environment/conservation sector and, in some instances, the State governments.

Under the FMA, ‘plans of management’, or fisheries management plans (FMPs) as they are known, are the way arrangements are set for each fishery. The FMA requires consultation with the public on draft FMPs and provides for ministerial oversight.  Under the Act AFMA must set out in writing a FMP for each fishery or, likewise in writing, explain why one is not needed and provide draft plans for public display so interested persons can make representations.

CRITERIA: (iii) The management policy has clear long-term objectives to guide decision making that are consistent with the outcomes expressed by Components 1 and 2, and incorporates the precautionary approach.

(a) Objectives


The long term objectives of the management system are specified in the FMA and the EPBC Act, and further defined in the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy and Guidelines. The objectives and policy guidance are consistent with Components 1 and 2 and explicitly require application of the precautionary principle. The fishery is also subject to the Commonwealth EPBC Act which requires periodic assessment against the Guidelines for the Ecologically Sustainable Management of Fisheries. These Guidelines are consistent with the outcomes expressed by Components 1 and 2 and encourage practical application of the ecosystem approach to fisheries management.


3B: Fishery Specific Management System

CRITERIA:  (i)  The fishery specific management system has clear, specific objectives designed to achieve the outcomes expressed by Components 1 and 2.

(a) Objectives


Well defined and measurable short and long term objectives, which are demonstrably consistent with achieving the outcomes expressed by Components 1 and 2, are explicit within the fishery’s management system.  The SESSF Management Plan 2003 (amended in 2009) reinforces the objectives of the FMA as the objectives of the Plan. These are consistent with Australia’s obligations under international arrangements, national legislation and specifically require application of the precautionary principle. Fishery specific objectives can be identified in the Harvest Strategy.

CRITERIA:  (ii) The fishery specific management system includes effective decision making processes that result in measures and strategies to achieve the objectives.

(a) Decision making


Australia’s Commonwealth fisheries decision making process is well established and set out explicitly in relevant legislation (e.g. FMA, FAA) and policy documents (e.g. Looking to the Future, Commonwealth Harvest Strategy Policy).  The decision making processes by AFMA based on advice from SEMAC, working with SESSFRAG, are transparent with feedback provided by the Commission directly to SEMAC and to stakeholders through media such as the regular AFMA Update and through the AFMA annual public meeting.  There are numerous examples in the last decade of the CTS management system responding to serious and other matters (e.g. TACC adjustments based on the harvest strategy, ERM reports based on the outcomes of ERAs, deepwater shark closures etc).

(b) Use of the Precautionary approach LOW RISK

The objectives and policy guidance of the SESSF explicitly require application of the precautionary principle. For example, the HSF explicitly increases the level of precaution as uncertainty increases (e.g. through discount factors in TAC setting for lower Tier stocks) (AFMA, 2017a).  The ERA methodology also accounts for uncertainty by being precautionary (e.g. through the classification of species as ‘precautionary high risk’ where sufficient uncertainty exists).

(c) Accountability and Transparency


The AFMA website contains an extensive list of evaluations, research reports and assessments, and evidence exists within the SEMAC and the RAG that decisions respond to these findings. SEMAC and SERAG meeting minutes are also available online[1]. AFMA provide monthly and annual reports, which outline program outcomes and, provide a means for measuring success.  Explanations for management actions or lack thereof are provided by correspondence directly to license holders, as well as through the MAC and RAG process and public summaries of AFMA Commission meetings[2].

[1] e.g. http://www.afma.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/SEMAC-December-2014-meeting-minutes.pdf

[2] e.g. http://www.afma.gov.au/55th-afma-commission-meeting-chairmans-summary/

CRITERIA: (iii) Monitoring, control and surveillance mechanisms ensure the management measures in the fishery are enforced and complied with.

(a) MCS Implementation


AFMA’s framework for its National (Domestic) Compliance and Enforcement Program is set out in the AFMA National Compliance Operations and Enforcement Policy (AFMA, 2015b).  The policy is compliant with the Australian Fisheries National Compliance Strategy 2010-15 and aims to “effectively deter illegal fishing in Commonwealth fisheries and the Australian Fishing Zone”.  Compliance activities are informed by risk assessments undertaken in accordance with the international standard for risk management (ISO 31000:2009) across all major Commonwealth domestic fisheries (AFMA, 2015b).  Compliance operations are supported through a centralised structure with separate Intelligence, Planning and Operations units.

More specific annual compliance priorities and risk treatments are set out in AFMA’s National Compliance and Enforcement Program 2016 -17 (AFMA, 2015c).  Key priorities for 2016-17 include (i) failure to have a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) or Electronic Monitoring (emonitoring) system operating at all times, (ii) quota evasion and (iii) bycatch mishandling, which has been identified as an emerging risk.   Risks are treated through a program of general deterrence (i.e. inspections and patrols designed to target identified high risk ports, boats and fish receivers), and other targeted measures – e.g. physical and technical surveillance, standard investigative activity, intelligence gathering, and media strategies.  Compliance Risk Management Teams (CRMTs) may be formed to help address priority risks (e.g. VMS/electronic monitoring offences; quota evasion).

These measures constitute a system which has demonstrated an ability to enforce management measures.

(b) Sanctions and Compliance


A framework of sanctions for non-compliance is set out in the FMA, Maritime Powers Act 2013 and Fisheries Management Regulations 1992. These include powers to issue warnings, cautions, directions, Observer Compliance Notices, Commonwealth Fisheries Infringement Notices (CFINs), amend fishing concession conditions, suspend or cancel fishing concessions and prosecute offenders through the courts (AFMA, 2015b).  Some evidence exists that fishers comply with the management system including providing information of importance to the effective management of the fishery.  Across all years between 2011-12 and 2015-16, no action was required in >90% of boat inspections in Commonwealth fisheries (total inspections 879) (AFMA, 2015c).

CRITERIA: (iv) There is a system for monitoring and evaluating the performance of the fishery specific management system against its objectives.
There is effective and timely review of the fishery specific management system.

(a) Evaluation coverage


Performance of all stocks against the SESSF Harvest Strategy are assessed annually through the RAG and MAC process.  TACs are adjusted annually based on updated stock assessments and RAG/MAC/AFMA advice. Periodic updates of ERAs evaluate performance against environmental objectives and guide management priorities. Fishery Status Reports produced annually by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) provide an independent evaluation of key parts of the management system (e.g. stock status, overfishing status).   In addition, two Australian National Audit Office reviews have been undertaken into the domestic compliance program (2009, 2013).  Accordingly, the fishery has measures in place to evaluate key parts of the management system.

(b) Internal and/or external review


The fishery-specific management system is subject to regular internal review through the SEMAC process, which tracks performance of the fishery against the objectives in the Management Plan.  AFMA is also required to report in its Annual Report on overall performance against the legislative objectives, statutory requirements and financial reporting, the effectiveness of internal controls and adequacy of the Authority’s risk management processes.

The fishery is subject to regular external assessment through the ongoing assessment for export approval under the EPBC Act against the Guidelines for the Ecologically Sustainable Management of Fisheries.  Moreover, ABARES reports on the ecological and economic sustainability of fisheries managed by AFMA and the Australian National Audit Office undertakes periodic reviews of aspects of AFMA’s performance (e.g. ANAO, 2013).



T​his seafood risk assessment procedure was originally developed for Coles Supermarkets Australia by MRAG Asia Pacific. FRDC is grateful for Coles’ permission to use its Responsibly Sourced Seafood Framework.

​It uses elements from the GSSI benchmarked MSC Fishery Standard version 2.0, but is neither a duplicate of it nor a substitute for it. The methodology used to apply the framework differs substantially from an MSC Certification.  Consequently, any claim about the rating of the fishery based on this assessment should not make any reference to the MSC.