The National Religion
Throughout Australia's history, development has been the principal goal of governments. Horne refers to it as "the secular faith of national development" and suggests that this faith is "our national religion". In this regard the fishing industry has been no different from the rest of the economy. The drive to harvest virgin stocks of whales, seals and, later, fish was similar to the impetus behind the clearing of the land for agriculture, harvesting timber and prospecting for minerals. Governments supported development in other industries both directly and indirectly but fisheries were largely left to grow in a free market economy with minimal assistance. Government aid to the industry was in the discovery of new resources. The absence of property rights, the British common law right to fish and the doctrine of "freedom of the seas" may all have played a part, but other countries, including Great Britain, directly assisted the fishing industry. Australian parliaments regularly included farmers and miners but rarely anyone with a background in fisheries. Among those developing public policy and influencing public opinion is a reasonable number of graduates from agricultural colleges and schools of forestry and mines and university departments of agricultural science and geology, but Australia still has no university school of fisheries and the formal education of fishermen and fisheries technicians, notably by the Australian Maritime College, began less than a decade ago. Consequently there is widespread ignorance of the true prospects, and limitations, for developing Australia's fisheries. A major conference in 1981 entitled "Resource Development and the future of Australian Society" arranged by the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies of the Australian National University made no mention of fisheries at all. Whilst many Australians are familiar with fishing as a recreation they are profoundly ignorant of both the principles of fisheries science and the difficulties of fishing as a business. With this lack of understanding, and no effective lobby, Government support for fisheries was bound to be fickle.
The term "fisheries development" may be applied to any positive change in the fishing industry. Development in general has four aspects : human improvement, social progress, technological advance and economic growth. In speaking of "development", Governments often concentrate on economic development and their desire to find strategies to make a positive contribution to gross national (or state) product. Fishermen exclusively concentrate on increased production either through bigger catches or the creation of new fisheries. Some writers argue that governments should not confine their development activities to economic objectives. Taylor urges drawing a clear distinction between "development" and "exploitation", the former leads to an improvement in community well being or quality of life whereas exploitation is often results in a loss of quality of life. Kesteven and Burdon defined development as any "qualitative change in the physical component of an industry, in its operational techniques or its organizational forms or in a combination of any or all of these." They maintain that "such a qualitative change may be, but not necessarily, accompanied by quantitative change" and that the simple expansion of an industry should not be referred to as development but as growth. Their justification for this separation is that growth will normally occur automatically without any qualitative change if the stock of fish is not fully exploited.
Fisheries development in Australia has not been synonymous with increased exploitation although it has been by far the biggest component: the discovery of new fisheries, the extension of existing fisheries, and the introduction of new fishing gear has resulted in increased catches. New practices which have lowered costs and increased the value of fish have increased what Taylor called the "community well being": but most benefit has accrued to fishermen. The Commonwealth and State Governments have sought wider benefits through fisheries development such as improving the balance of payments and the diet of the population. The need to accommodate these varying objectives caused inevitable difficulty in finding a unique definition of "fisheries development" and has led to confused interpretations by the various government agencies involved of the role of they should play in it. This confusion is well exemplified in the changing relationship between CSIRO(Fisheries) and the Commonwealth fisheries agency. As CSIRO policy oscillated between seeking either to include fisheries development in their programme or to avoid it, the CSIRO definition of fisheries development underwent regular revision. During the 20th century the term "fisheries development" has been most commonly used in Australia to describe both the growth in fisheries and the qualitative changes referred to by Burdon and Kesteven and is so used in this paper.
The Fisheries Myth
The "vast potentialities of our seas" is one of the enduring myths of Australia. The utilisation of that potential has been the illusive objective of Government development schemes. Justification for the use of taxpayers funds to kick start the development of a major industry inevitably rested on a foundation of three piers:-
1) the well known "fact" that the coastal seas were teeming with
2) an immense coastline converted observations of schools of
fish into major industries;
3) as imports of fish exceed "£1 million" therefore a market
opportunity existed and the desirability of import replacement
commended the development of the fishing industry.
For at least a century the tripod has been the foundation for - Governments justifying expenditure and oppositions chiding Government for their inaction, developers seeking capital, fishermen's groups demanding Government aid and or preference, and research organisations seeking bigger budgets. Predictable in the euphoria of federation and understandable in wartime when Australia's most important scientist Sir David Rivett made the claim in 1941, but such an extravagant claim is highly questionable today. Yet, on 12th October 1988 Senator Boswell (Qld), voted "Fisherman of the Year" by Queensland commercial fishermen in 1987, began the debate on the recent ASTEC report on Post-harvesting Technologies and Opportunities in the Fishing Industry by referring to the "immense coastline" and untapped resources of fish.
Until 1940 the tripod was unchallenged. Only some scientists and the more conservative of fishermen demanded more proof of the size of the resource and the behaviour of fish as a precursor to a development scheme. A Tariff Board Report in 1941 was the first official recognition that Australia's fish resources may be not be extensive and since then research has shown that phenomena such as large surface schools of jack mackerel off south eastern Australia and the colourful shoals teeming through the Great Barrier Reef are not indicators that a fishing industry of the size of the industries of Japan or Norway, is just waiting to be developed.
Australians have developed major agriculture and mining industries, why not fisheries? The excuse that Australians are not seafarers or will not work at sea for the long periods seem to be confounded by the rapidity with which Australians readily and ruthlessly exploited the whale stocks of the coastal seas and Southern Ocean. The establishment of seal fisheries and factories on the Bass Strait islands and Macquarie Island was an even more impressive reference to the readiness of Australians to go to sea for personal wealth. The cry that "we don't know enough about the resource to risk investment" seems to be confounded by wildcat investment in mining, speculation in experimental agriculture and the fact that research came after,not before, development of most if not all the world's major fisheries.
The Government Role
Shortly after federation, in 1906, the Commonwealth Government appointed the former Superintendent of Fisheries Investigations in NSW, Dr Harold Christian Dannevig, as Commonwealth Director of Fisheries to provide the industry with the information it needed to develop. Information on the size, distribution and behaviour of the fish stocks was needed and when Dannevig and his research vessel "Endeavour" were lost off Macquarie Island in 1914 a long battle began over the right to conduct the fisheries research necessary to continue to provide the developmental information base successfully begun by Dannevig. After 1941 it became apparent that the role of the Commonwealth government in fisheries should not be confined to research directed at stimulating development and neither should that role be confined to fisheries biology. Between 1927 and 1941 the States and the Commonwealth discussed the appropriate administrative body both to conduct and coordinate fisheries development and management. Under wartime authority the Commonwealth Department of War Organisation of Industry assumed that role and was responsible for all fisheries activities; as World War II was drawing to a close another long battle began to determine where responsibility for this role would rest in post war Australia. This saga has continued without resolution for almost 50 years. As the regulation of fisheries was a State responsibility for much of Australia's history the impetus for a Commonwealth Government role in fisheries, prior to this decade, the saga was the urge to develop.
With very few exceptions Australian governments have not chosen to promote the development of fisheries by owning and operating fishing enterprises. NSW operated a trawling fleet from 1915 to at least 1920 with limited success and the Commonwealth operated a very successful whaling company for some years after World War II. But all the other tools - information, concessional finance, regulation and administration have been used. The "common property" or more properly the "state property" nature of fish resources constrains and sometimes distorts, the actions of government. The government's responsibility to safeguard renewable natural resources can conflict with its desire to foster their exploitation. The introduction of new fishing technology may upset the regulated balance between existing fishing power and the capacity of the stocks to withstand the fishing effort generated by the fleet. The users of the new technology gain a competitive advantage to catch more or to take their "share" more quickly. The users of the old technology seek to protect their position by declaring that the new technology threatens the stocks and calling upon the government as the conservator of the resource to ban or constrain the new technology. Consequently fisheries regulations, particularly those in heavily exploited fisheries, are notorious for inhibiting innovation and promoting inefficiency.
The most valuable indirect assistance government can provide to stimulate development is in the provision of information. In 1928 H W Gepp,Chairman of the Development and Migration Commission, defined the cause of many industrial failures "as merely the result of insufficient data and these defects must be be remedied if we are to bring about the sound development we all desire... what is necessary is that facilities be provided for carrying out a close study of our fish life both from a scientific as well as the practical point of view". Thus fisheries research must provide both information to aid development and an understanding of the nature of the exploited fish stocks that will enable policies to be developed to conserve them. . The collection of information is generally described as research. Kesteven argues that fisheries research is any research carried out on a fisheries object or research carried out at the request of a fisheries authority. That is, any activity that adds to, or seeks to add to, the knowledge of fishery systems, whoever carries it out. Defining fisheries research has posed as many problems for the Commonwealth government agencies as defining fisheries development. CSIRO has chosen to confine their research to scientific investigations and at times have rejected fisheries research projects on the grounds that it was not "proper science". Integrated fisheries authorities, such as the State Fisheries Departments, have taken the wider interpretation of Kesteven and thus have been often seen by the industry and government as more useful. The inherent value of the information to the "knowledge of fisheries systems" being of far more importance than how it was obtained. Criticism of CSIRO as being more concerned with employing good science than serving industry has inevitably followed.
From shortly after federation to the recent decade members of the Commonwealth Parliament have, on the few occasions that fisheries have been considered, concentrated exclusively on development. Until the 1930's Commonwealth officials shared that preoccupation. A national fisheries conference in 1927 established that the Commonwealth role in fisheries was to provide information but revealed twin strands of thought concerning the nature of the information and the priority to be given to its acquisition. The pro-developers demanded concentration on surveys of fishing grounds and exploratory fishing, later adding training of fishermen and development finance. The marine biologists favoured gaining an understanding of the biological, and later the oceanographic, systems on which existing and potential fisheries depended. CSIR, and later CSIRO, have at times tended to favour the extremity of the "marine biological wing" as very few of the fisheries-oriented investigations employed a strict application of the scientific method. At other times they have promoted and carried out large scale exploratory fishing. University marine biologists in the 1920's favoured distinct facilities for their interest linked with those of fisheries departments and funded by the Commonwealth but in recent years university programmes have tended to ignore fisheries research and favour marine biology and ecology.
The true role of government in fisheries is not limited to promoting development nor to providing information. There is the fundamental need for governments to ensure that fish stocks are optimally exploited. "Optimal" may include the absence of exploitation or fishing for business or pleasure. Whilst this role is generally well accepted by the public and industry, less well recognised in the past was the need to see that growth in fishing power does not overshoot the availability of fish during the development phase. The value of the developmental process is easily lost if excessive capitalisation occurs.
By 1901 evidence was already available that fish stocks were not inexhaustible and the application of technology to fishing could destroy fisheries as productive economic units. The optimal utilization of fish stocks demands the application of harvesting strategies which can regulate fishing; the development and application of such strategies is called fisheries management. The absence of true property rights over fish stocks demands that fisheries management be a government function. Developing management plans requires an understanding of the biology and ecology of the fish stock being exploited, how the industry conducts the harvesting and what will be its response to particular regulations - fisheries research included all the systematic investigations directed to providing that understanding. The new discipline of fisheries science evolved through a series of steps from marine biology as the work of Russell, Graham, Hjort and others including Harold Thompson led to a specialised branch of applied ecology referred to as fisheries biology. After World War II the development of mathematical models of exploited fish populations by Baranov, Ricker, Beverton and Holt expanded the specialisation into mathematics, with the addition of biological oceanography fisheries biology became fisheries science.
Prior to 1955 the Commonwealth had no comprehensive fisheries legislation despite having powers under section 51(x) of the Constitution. The fisheries powers arose from the debates of 1883 that established the Federal Council of Australasia and stemmed from the particular circumstances of that time. The members of the Federal Council and the vast majority of delegates to the Constitutional Convention believed that fisheries was essentially a local issue and best left to the States. Thus for half a century the Commonwealth government continued to leave the management, and much of the development, of fisheries to the States. State governments, having both a development and management role, evolved administrative structures to achieve those dual objectives, integrating investigative machinery with management. The investigations became gradually more scientific but the structures remained the same. Conversely the Commonwealth began its activities in fisheries with an exploratory fishing programme which ended with the tragic loss of the vessel "Endeavour" in 1914. Attempts were made to revive this effort in the late 1920s just at the time that the application of science to industry through CSIR was being recognised. A fisheries component within the research programme was recommended in the 1926 report by Heath on the structure of CSIR and the next year another Commonwealth organisation, the Development and Migration Commission, attempted to revive the Endeavour project. Thus before the Commonwealth government had a practical need of information to support the management of the fishing industry during the latter years of World War II, both exploratory fishing/development and the scientific fisheries research had become quite firmly established amongst its functions. Separate responsibility for developmental programmes and research, the principle tool used to achieve it, can only be justified by adopting a very narrow definition of fisheries research. Attempts at such a separation resulted in the debilitating conflicts played out between CSIR and The Department of Post War Reconstruction in the 1940s prior to the establishment of the Commonwealth Fisheries Office. These diverted attention from the real needs of the fisheries manager and developer and ensured that Australia would never have an integrated national fisheries agency.
Throughout the evolution of the Commonwealth role in fisheries there has been a steady trend towards more independent or semi-independent agencies. Until the beginning of World War II there was still hope that a single integrated agency as seen in many other countries would be achieved. During the War and immediately afterwards it became apparent that CSIRO's fisheries programme would always be separate. Later the CSIRO Division included oceanography as a separate programme. In the 1980's there has been a marked fragmentation of the functions allocated to the Department of Primary Industry after 1954.The present separation by the Commonwealth Government of scientific fisheries research from other analytical research is the latest episode in the saga. The Commonwealth fisheries role now seems permanently fragmented. Apparently under the present Commonwealth arrangements CSIRO conducts scientific fisheries research, the Bureau of Rural Resources (BRR) resource assessment,but not "scientific research", and Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resources Economics fisheries economic research, or accept that the oft denied "duplication of functions" does occur. As the BRR has recently been renamed the Bureau of Rural Science it must be assumed that it is to conduct scientific research and duplicate the function of CSIRO. The role of the Australian Fisheries Service is now the subject of an inquiry and there are industry calls for its replacement by a statutory authority. This call has now been endorsed by the Peat Marwick Report into the Australian Fisheries Service; if their proposal is accepted five agencies would be responsible for the Commonwealth fisheries role.
This paper describes the development of the the Commonwealth government role in fisheries when it became responsible for the practical management of fishing industries and the conservation of fish stocks in extra-territorial waters and the impact of the demand for research to support the role. It is argued that the administrative structures that have evolved were predominantly forced at first by the difficulty getting agreement to a definition of fisheries development and conflict within CSIRO over its role in fostering development and later by the need to conduct research in support of fisheries management.