Fisheries management in Australia began well before the nation was created. In the twenty years before federation there was an awakening of public interest in both developing the potential of fisheries resources and the need to conserve them. Reckless harvesting of whales, seals and oysters had already demonstrated the need for governments to regulate the industry. In the 1880s the Government of Tasmania started a formal process of fisheries development and regulation based on good scientific advice. This initiative was picked up by other colonies and a suite of Fisheries Acts provided a legal foundation for conserving marine living resources. The colonies expected the new national parliament to build on their initiatives.

The current state of Australia's fish stocks is the outcome of a century of interaction between government and fishers. Those in the best condition have had the protection of diligent governments primarily devoted to conserving the resources. All Australian governments have been committed to development but none have placed it so high on the fisheries agenda as the Commonwealth Government. Within fisheries agencies there has been conflicting demands of the pro-developers and the conservers for influence and resources. The outcome of that contest determined the degree to which exploited fish stocks were husbanded. If, in future, fish stocks are to managed to provide a higher degree of certainty that development will be ecologically sustainable the nature of that contest in particular and the performance of fisheries departments in general must be examined. In particular the role and function of research as a tool for stimulating development and deriving better management strategies.

In 1991 the Royal Australian Institute of Public Administration published my monograph entitled
The Commonwealth Government in the Administration of Australian Fisheries. The subtitle A sort of mongrel socialism, came from the first debate in the Senate in 1904. A revised version is on this site.