Regional Fisheries Issues Affecting Australia

Several fishery resources of commercial importance to Australia can only be managed effectively through cooperative regional action. Accordingly, the Fisheries Branch:

  • provides policy advice and coordination on fisheries issues involving neighbouring countries
  • seeks to secure cooperation from countries with whom we share resources to improve standards of fisheries management in those countries, and
  • seeks to influence the standard of regional fisheries management through participation in relevant regional fisheries management organisations and other bodies, e.g.  (FFA), (CCSBT), (IOTC),  (CCAMLR) and the RPOA-IUU.


Immediately north of Australia our main interest relates to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea (through the Torres Strait Treaty).
The history of fishing between Indonesia and Australia extends over several centuries, well before the European colonisation of either country.

In 1982 Australia and Indonesia  agreed to the introduction in the Timor and Arafura seas of a ‘provisional fisheries surveillance and enforcement line’ (PFSEL) that defined the water column boundary between the two countries.

The treaty implementing the arrangement is before the parliaments of both countries. However the arrangement is complicated by the granting of independence to East Timor and the establishment of an EEZ for that country.

Regional — South East Asia

Fostering improved cooperation in fisheries management and governance in the South East Asia region is the Regional Plan of Action (RPOA) to Promote Responsible Fishing Practices Including Combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing in South East Asia. The RPOA-IUU resulted from a joint Australia-Indonesia initiative and was agreed by fisheries Ministers of eleven countries1 in May 2007. DAFF is the lead Australian agency in RPOA-IUU matters.

The RPOA-IUU is a voluntary instrument and takes its core principles from international agreements and instruments for promoting responsible fishing practices.

The objective of the RPOA-IUU is to enhance and strengthen the overall level of fisheries management in the region and promote adoption of responsible fishing practices. Through regional meetings, workshops and studies, RPOA-IUU actions cover:

sustainable management of fisheries and their environment; managing fishing capacity; and combating IUU fishing.

A Coordination Committee meets annually to provide strategic advice and direction to participating countries on coordination and implementation. At the 2010 meeting, the Coordination Committee agreed on a workplan to further strengthen legal, administrative and policy frameworks, and introduce measures to enhance regional and international cooperation particularly in monitoring, control and surveillance of fisheries operations.

To better identify priorities and opportunities in building greater human and institutional capacity in regional fisheries management, Australia has initiated and funded several consultancies, the two most recent being:

Media release - Parliamentary Secretary for DAFF, The Hon. Dr Mike Kelly

1 Participating countries are: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam.


To the south of Australia, three fisheries bodies dominate our regional interest they are:

  • Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna
  • Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources
  • Eastern Antarctic Coastal States

SBT is a highly migratory species that spawns in the Indian Ocean near Java. It's range extends across the Indian Ocean to southern Africa and the Atlantic Ocean in the west, to New Zealand and the Pacific Ocean in the east. SBT is caught in the EEZs of Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency member countries, South Africa and Indonesia. However, most SBT is caught on the high seas.

Following overfishing in the 1970s and 1980s, the CCSBT was established in 1994 with the signatories (Australia, New Zealand and Japan) agreeing on an annual global total allowable catch and national allocations for SBT. Fishing by countries outside of the CCSBT continues to expand, to the detriment of the stock conservation measures undertaken by CCSBT members.

Japan’s commencement on 10 July 1998 of a unilateral experimental fishing program for additional 1,400 tonnes of its SBT quota, has led Australia to placing bans on Japan’s access to the AFZ and Australian ports. The TAC of SBT has been set since 1989-90 at 11,750 tonnes, with national allocations for Australia, Japan and New Zealand of 5,265 tonnes, 6,065 tonnes and 420 tonnes respectively. These quotas were continued for 1996-97 but no agreement has been reached on quotas for 1997-98.

There has been a major dispute over the conduct by Japan of a unilateral experimental fishing program which is a breach of the Commission for the Conservation of SBT. Following two international court cases, high level negotiations are now underway to resolve this dispute and put the Commission on a firmer footing.

CCAMLR (which came into effect in 1982), is aimed at the conservation of Antarctic living resources, including fish. Under the Convention, use of fisheries is to occur on a sustainable basis, depleted fish stocks are to be restored to sustainable levels; and the ecological relationship between harvested, dependent and related populations of Antarctic marine living resources maintained.

Australia’s commercial interest in stocks under CCAMLR jurisdiction is increasing, with a substantial toothfish fishery developing at Heard and McDonald Island. Illegal fishing is a major issue in waters under CCAMLR jurisdiction.

In both the CCSBT and CCAMLR, the impact of fishing on non-targeted species of fish and seabirds has become a significant issue, particularly in relation to the levels of by-catch of seabirds (such as species of albatross) by longline fishing boats.

Australia, as a member of EACS (other members include Norway, France, New Zealand and South Africa), met in South Africa in 1998 to develop a range of measures to address the considerable and increasing problem of illegal fishing for Patagonian toothfish in Antarctic waters. These measures have been developed further and were taken forward at CCAMLR 17 (2-7 November 1998, Hobart). In addition to participating in the development of measures to combat illegal fishing for Patagonian toothfish, Australia and France sent a joint demarche to Mauritius concerning their important role as a port state in curbing illegal fishing for this species. Australia is continuing to work with France and South Africa to improve surveillance and enforcement arrangements in this remote and difficult region.


The majority of the Micronesian, Melanesian, Polynesian, and Metropolitan South Pacific states have created regional organisations to promote mutual political, economic, defence, and resource conservation and management aims.

Australia has worked within the South Pacific FFA promoting responsible management of the tuna fisheries in the region. Around 85 per cent of the tuna catch in the surface fishery for skipjack and yellowfin tuna, and about 65 per cent of the tuna catch in the longline fishery for yellowfin, bigeye and albacore tuna, is taken within the EEZs of Pacific Island States, with the remaining catch occurring on the high seas. The FFA acts for member countries in coordinating the management of these highly migratory fish stocks within the South Pacific.

FFA member countries, other coastal States and the distant water fishing nations have recently agreed the text of a multilateral management arrangement for the region, giving effect to the United Nations Agreement on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks. The agreement is now open for signature by member countries and it is hoped an interim Commission will be established in 2001. Australia is necessarily an active participant in these negotiations.


Australia’s regional fisheries interests in the Indian Ocean have traditionally focussed on tuna management and the promotion of responsible fisheries practices within coastal states’ EEZs and on the high seas.

However, the recent discovery of rich Orange Roughy and demersal grounds on the deep water ridges of the South West indian Ocean has led Australia, South Africa and New Zealand to collaborate on a mechanism to try to effectively manage these species.

The management of tuna and billfish fishing in the Indian Ocean has entered a new regime with the establishment of the IOTC. Australia is a member and was founding Chair.

The IOTC’s role is to ensure that the use of tuna and billfish species within the area of the Indian Ocean is undertaken on a sustainable basis. The Commission will also provide a forum for the development of responsible fisheries practices for tuna fishing in the area. It is in its early stages, with most work focused on setting up the administrative machinery for the Commission.

Within the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone (AEEZ)

Under UNCLOS, Australia has declared a 200 nautical mile (nm) EEZ and claims sovereign rights over the fisheries and other resources within that area.

Access for foreign fishing fleets to our EEZ through bilateral access agreements have been negotiated from time to time. These arrangements allowed foreign fleets to access the EEZ to fish for species under-exploited by the Australian domestic fishing fleet. Significant financial and other benefits, including technology transfer and access to catch and effort data, have flowed to Australia from permitting such access. Recent negotiations for bilateral access to the EEZ for Japanese longline fishing vessels targeting SBT and other tuna species has been denied as a result of Japan instituting a unilateral SBT experimental fishing program. The growth in the Australian domestic fleets now means that no future access for foreign vessels to the Australian EEZ is likely to be granted as Australia no longer has excess fish stocks.

Other bilateral access arrangements have been sought by Korea, Poland, and the Russian Federation although no fishing has been granted.