Small Pelagics Fishery

Ministerial Decision
Andrew McNee, Delegate of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, 23 February 2006

Mr Tony Rundle
Chairman
Australian Fisheries Management Authority
Box 7051 Canberra Mail Centre
CANBERRA ACT 2610

Dear Mr Rundle

I am writing to you as the Delegate of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage about the Strategic Assessment of the Small Pelagics Fishery (SPF).

As you are aware, the SPF has been operating under a series of short term Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) declarations, due to a number of interactions with dolphins and seals. The short term approvals were intended to allow continuing fishing and export while data was collected on the nature and frequency of interactions and mitigation measures tested as the basis for longer term management arrangements. The latest WTO approval expires on 28 February 2006.

In February 2006, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) submitted a report, stating progress against the SPF WTO conditions for consideration in extending the current WTO declaration. The report, and previous submissions, have been assessed for the purposes of the protected species provisions of Part 13 and the wildlife trade provisions of Part 13A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). As no formal Statement of Management Arrangements was submitted for the SPF, consideration of the accreditation of the management arrangements against Part 10 of the EPBC Act is not possible at this time. This issue will be revisited in mid 2006, when the management arrangements are finalised.

I consider that significant progress has been made in addressing protected species interactions in the SPF. I understand that AFMA continues to be committed to the development of mitigation techniques and that research is still being undertaken to address this issue. I consider that, subject to the implementation of conditions and recommendations set out in Attachment A, the SPF is unlikely to be detrimental to the survival or conservation status of any taxon to which the fishery operation relates, or threaten any relevant ecosystem in the short to medium term. Hence I propose to extend the current short term WTO to the full three year period of the approval, to expire on 6 December 2007. Please note that the declaration is subject to the conditions set out in Attachment A and that if any condition is not met, the Minister is compelled to revoke the WTO declaration.

I propose to continue the inclusion of the SPF on the List of Exempt Native Specimens so that exporters will not require EPBC Act export permits. The fishery would continue to operate as a WTO for the period of the declaration and all WTO conditions would continue to apply.

I am satisfied that the management arrangements for the fishery now require that all reasonable steps are taken to ensure that protected species are not injured or killed and the level of interactions with such species in the fishery is not likely to adversely affect the conservation status of protected species or the survival and recovery of listed threatened species. Hence, the management arrangements for the SPF meet the requirements of Part 13 of the EPBC Act and I propose to continue the previous accreditation of management arrangements for the SPF. Accreditation will ensure that individual fishers operating in accordance with the management arrangements are not required to seek permits in relation to interactions with protected species in Commonwealth waters.

I look forward to being advised by AFMA of the formalisation of management arrangements for the SPF and making decision in regard to Part 10 of the EPBC Act.

I would like to thank you for the constructive way in which your officials have approached this task and commend their strong commitment to the ongoing ecological sustainability of the SPF. I have attached for your information a copy of my advice to Senator the Hon Ian MacDonald (Attachment B).

Yours sincerely

[Signed]

Andrew McNee
Delegate of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage
23 February 2006


Attachment A

Conditions on the Wildlife Trade Operation Declaration for the Small Pelagic Fishery

Conditions

  1. Operation of the Small Pelagic Fishery (SPF) will be carried out in accordance with the Management Policy for the Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery 2002 (SPFMP).
  2. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) will inform the Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH) of any changes to the SPFMP or other significant policy documents.
  3. In relation to the accidental catch of dolphins within the SPF, AFMA will:
    • Continue a observer program with a high level of coverage to determine the frequency of any interactions with cetaceans and the adequacy of mitigation measures.
    • Ensure that all boats operating within the fishery have in place appropriate measures to detect dolphins in the vicinity of operations and implement measures to avoid fishing in areas where dolphins are observed.
    • Ensure that all fishing operators immediately notify AFMA and DEH of any dolphin captures.
    • Ensure that the skippers, crew and observers on all vessels operating in the fishery are thoroughly briefed on the above measures before leaving port.
  4. Operation of mid-water trawlers in the SPF will be carried out in accordance with the agreed strategy requiring operational protocols to be strictly observed by fishers. In the event of fishing operations using gear types other than mid water trawl interacting with protected and/or listed species, AFMA will develop and implement mitigation measures within 6 months.
  5. Reports to be produced and presented to DEH annually, and to include:
    • a summary of all protected species interactions reported in the SPF; and
    • information sufficient to allow assessment of the progress of AFMA in implementing the conditions and recommendations specified for the SPF.

Recommendations

Recommendation 1. AFMA to continue to actively engage with other relevant jurisdictions in pursuit of collaborative or complementary management and research of shared small pelagic stocks.

Recommendation 2. Within 12 months, AFMA to finalise development of a formal data plan which sets out needs, priorities, mechanisms and timeliness for data collection.

Recommendation 3. Within 12 months, AFMA to account for all small pelagic species extractions in setting the TCLs and TACC for the SPF.

Recommendation 4. Within 12 months, AFMA to finalise the development of measures and performance criteria (including reference points) for target species, byproduct and bycatch and measures and performance criteria for protected species interactions and ecological impacts of the fishery. These measures will also be made publicly available within this time.*

Recommendation 5. AFMA to report publicly on the status of the fishery on an annual basis, including a review of each of the performance criteria in the management regime for the SPF.

Recommendation 6. Within 12 months, AFMA to establish a mechanism for collecting reliable information sufficient to identify long term trends in bycatch and interactions with protected species. In the event that bycatch or protected species interaction increase and pose a risk to sustainability, AFMA to investigate suitable bycatch mitigation measures for the fishery.

Recommendation 7. AFMA to implement across the fishery mitigation and/or management measures endorsed as appropriate and acceptable by the Cetacean Mitigation Working Group as a matter of priority.

Recommendation 8. AFMA to identify and implement management strategies to address/mitigate any impacts identified through the Ecological Risk Assessment (ERA) with the timeframe for implementation commensurate with the level of risk identified by the ERA or other relevant research on target, byproduct, bycatch or protected species interactions.

Recommendation 9. In the event of interactions with protected species in the fishery, AFMA, in consultation with DEH, will within 12 months implement long term arrangements to address the interaction of protected species with fishing operations in the whole SPF.