Steps Australia has taken to address illegal fishing

Australia is party to a range of conventions that establish global, regional and subregional management organisations that manage highly migratory, straddling, pelagic and demersal fish stocks. These instruments include the Convention on the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna, which establishes the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna, the Agreement for the Establishment of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, which establishes the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which establishes the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. Australia plays an active role in these organisations. Australia has also signed the Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific.

Many of these organisations are now focusing on the problem of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing as a major threat to the effective management and conservation of regional fish stocks and are consequently seeking to identify vessels engaged in IUU fishing within respective areas of competence in order to effectively combat and eliminate these operations.

In December 2003 the ministerially-led task force on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing on the High Seas was established. Australia has been actively involved in helping the task force achieve its aims of developing initiatives that identify the legal, economic, scientific and enforcement factors that permit IUU fishing.

The task force released its final report on 3 March 2006. The report identifies key measures that task force members will begin to implement immediately to address IUU fishing, whilst seeking to engage a wider group of like-minded countries and organisations. Australia has contributed significant funds to implement these key proposals and will remain a key player in helping to see the initiatives through to implementation and adoption.

Australia continues to seek the strengthening of existing fisheries management and conservation arrangements, to pursue the development and adoption of new measures (where appropriate) to combat IUU fishing and urge other countries not to support IUU fishing operations, and to fully implement key international instruments to ensure that their vessels do not act in contravention of their international obligations. Illegal fishers – particularly those operating in the Southern Ocean - are well organised and sophisticated, and the government is pursuing various avenues to have the maximum impact on the beneficial owners of illegal fleets.

In July 2003, the Australian Government decided on a multi-facetted strategy to combat IUU fishing in Australia’s Southern Ocean territories. The strategy aims to combat IUU fishing through:

  • better coordination and information use in government
  • enhanced on-the-water surveillance and enforcement
  • strong pursuit of international action at bilateral and multilateral levels (including through the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources – CCAMLR) to strengthen existing international instruments and arrangements and where appropriate, develop new ones to combat IUU activities.

International Plan of Action

Australia was a driving force behind the development and implementation of the International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IPOA-IUU), adopted by FAO members in 2001. Australia is committed to continuing its efforts to eliminate IUU fishing, in concert with other concerned members of the international community.
 
At the national management level, Australia already applies a stringent management regime to vessels operating under its flag within the Exclusive Economic Zone and on the high seas. The fishing operations of Australian-flagged vessels within the Australian Fishing Zone (AFZ) are controlled by federal, state and territory fisheries legislation. Fishing operations are authorised through the issue of licences and concessions that are subject to specific management rules that are directed towards ensuring the long-term sustainability of the fisheries resources. Risk-based fisheries monitoring and compliance regimes are developed and implemented by both the federal and state governments to ensure that the integrity of the fisheries management arrangements is maintained. The nature of each compliance program is dependent on the requirements for each fishery and involves a mixture of physical surveillance both on the water and from the air, the monitoring of unloads of catches in port, the auditing of paper trails to determine catch landings and technical applications such as Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS).
 
In December 1999, the Australian Government introduced legislation that requires Australian flagged fishing vessels to be authorised to fish in waters outside the AFZ. Consequently, it is an offence for an Australian flagged fishing vessel to operate on the high seas without the appropriate authorisation. Amongst other things, operators using Australian-flagged vessels on the high seas are required to mark their vessels in accordance with the FAO standard specifications, facilitate the carriage of observers, complete catch and effort logs and operate a VMS which reports to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. In addition, Australian-flagged vessels are required to operate in a manner that does not contravene Australia’s obligations under international agreements and other arrangements to which Australia is a party.

National Plan of Action

Australia has produced a National Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (NPOA-IUU) in line with the IPOA-IUU. The NPOA-IUU was presented at the FAO Ministerial Meeting in Rome on 12 March 2005. Australia already implements many of the measures contained in the NPOA-IUU through its domestic legislative framework, including through provisions in the Fisheries Management Act 1991. The NPOA-IUU reflects Australia’s determined approach to address IUU fishing and the Australian Government and state and territory governments will continue to work together in its implementation.

FAO Agreement on Port State Measures

Australia played a major role in the negotiations on the text of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. The Agreement was negotiated under the auspices of a Technical Consultation convened by the FAO at the request of the FAO’s Committee on Fisheries and was presented to the 36th Conference of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in November 2009, where it was adopted and opened for signature. Australia has since signed the agreement and is in the process of ratifying the agreement.