The Development of Australian Fisheries Management
A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE 1800-1990
A paper written for the Ecologically Sustainable Development Working Group - Fisheries. (Ref Final ReportAGPS Canberra 1991)
1. Evolution of management in Australia 1788-1960
The history of Australian fisheries falls into four phases.
• From 1788 to around 1870 - largely unregulated harvesting of a few species.
• A post colonial phase when the first conservation measures and the first government efforts to force development appeared.
• Between the two world wars strenuous efforts were made to increase the production of fish as food and offset imports.
• A post World War II phase characterised by the development of high value export oriented fisheries utilising the most modern technology. (During much of this period the range of fish caught tended to decline and the push to stem imports was abandoned.)
The current period is dominated by the government concern with conserving stocks and limiting investment in fishing, reversing the prime justification for government, particularly Commonwealth Government, interest in fisheries for the previous 100 years.
In fostering ecologically sustainable development it is essential to understand how the attitudes of both fishing industry and government to fisheries resources have evolved.
1.1 Post Colonial Period
Upon acquiring self government the Australian colonies accepted responsibility for fisheries and their administrations were obviously the offspring of Britain. English trained biologists were recruited like William Saville-Kent who served as Inspector of Fisheries in Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia in the final two decades of the nineteenth century. However the United States may have been the model from which Australia finally patterned its administrative structures in fisheries. There is a marked similarity between the role of the US Fishery Commission and its successor the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries and Commonwealth Fisheries Agency between 1901 and 1970 with concentration on development and research. Changes in Tasmania after the departure of Saville-Kent, and in NSW and Victoria may well have been attempts to create an agencies like the California Fish and Game Commission.
The style and impact of the post colonial phase of Australian fisheries is exemplified by developments in Tasmania and New South Wales. The first fisheries legislation in New South Wales sought to regulate mesh netting in 1865. The law was weakly enforced by the Police and Customs Department but in 1880 the Government of Sir Henry Parkes decided to seriously address the fisheries question. A Royal Commission presided over by William Macleay thoroughly investigated fishing and the industry and recommended a comprehensive Fisheries Act primarily directed at conserving fish stocks. In introducing the Bill Parkes drew attention to the dangers of assuming that
"With an extensive sea-board, an apparently unlimited supply of fish, and a very limited consumption, it might naturally be supposed that for many years to come legislation for the preservation of the fisheries of New South Wales would be premature and unnecessary. Experience tells a different tale"
Unfortunately there were far too many who were prepared to ignore Parkes and after a promising start at meaningful controls the new Fisheries Board was eventually forced to ease the controls.
Five of the Royal Commissioners were appointed Commissioners of Fisheries for New South Wales in 1881, three were members of the Legislative Council and the two others were barristers. Parkes referred to them all as having practical knowledge of fishing but it appears that none knew much about either fisheries science nor commercial fishing. Nevertheless the Board started well employing three regional inspectors and support staff and imported new fishing equipment from England, Europe and America. All boats and fishermen were to be licensed,£1 and 10 shillings a year respectively and closed seasons and areas foreshadowed and provision made for oyster leases and licences. The Australian tradition of fisheries inspectors as combined enforcement/extension officers, imported technology and fisheries licensing with substantial fees began with those actions.
1.2. The Industrial Revolution in Fishing
Between 1875 and 1900 the first industrialisation of fisheries occurred steam replaced sails in the propulsion of vessels, winches replaced men to haul nets and lines, and the two most effective fishing methods yet devised - the otter trawl and the purse seine were invented. In parallel a long list of famous marine laboratories were established as marine biology flourished and a new discipline, fisheries science, evolved. As fishermen warned that stocks were in danger of depletion governments in Scotland, Ireland and the United States established special fisheries agencies to investigate and advise.
The development of otter trawling brought substantial changes to the fishing industry and the management of fisheries in New South Wales. The uneasy administration of the Fishery Board in New South Wales continued after federation until 1902 when further agitation about the cost of fish and the under-development of the fishing industry caused major changes. The government appointed Harald Kristian Dannevig, "the most competent expert available in Europe", as Superintendent of fisheries investigations and fish hatcheries. The Board also appointed David Stead, then 25 years old to assist Dannevig. Although his acclimatisation experiments failed Dannevig was a very practical man "committed to convincing Australians that they had rich fisheries resources as yet untouched", he proposed a Government trawl fleet for New South Wales and encouraged the Commonwealth Government to assume responsibility for fisheries development.
From 1907 to just before World War I the Commonwealth Government took an active interest in developing Australia's fishery resources. Dannevig was appointed Commonwealth Director of Fisheries in 1908. During the development of the Australian Constitution fisheries was considered to be a local not a national issue, in this Australia again followed the United States path rather than the Canadian way which gave responsibility for both sea and inland fisheries to the central government. Dannevig's principle contribution was to encourage both State and Commonwealth governments to adopt pro-development policies. His appointment reinforced the administrative model established by Saville-Kent in Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia that ensured State fisheries departments assumed responsibility not only for regulation and conservation and for development and research so far as they were able.
As Commonwealth Director of Fisheries, Dannevig's brief was to provide the industry with the information it needed to develop. Information on the size, distribution and behaviour of the fish stocks was needed. In 1907 the Parliament agreed to follow the lead of South Africa and finance the building of a survey/research vessel.The tragic loss of the "Endeavour" , followed by World War I and then the Great Depression, in combination with the inertia of government, may explain 50 years of disinterest in fisheries by both the Commonwealth and the State Governments other than in New South Wales where Stead initiated a State Trawling Company.
In other Australian States government's attitude to fisheries was somewhat similar for example in Victoria, although the Fisheries Act of 1873 created the position of Inspector of Fisheries and Assistant Inspectors, this did not result in a fisheries administration. Another inquiry in 1909 recommended a separate fisheries organisation headed by a secretary and including a biologist on its staff. This inquiry led to the establishment of a Fisheries and Game Branch within the Department of Agriculture and James M. Semmens was appointed Chief Inspector of Fisheries and Game. Local bodies established to foster recreational fishing in rivers, and largely devoted to trout fishing, were established throughout Victoria and supported by Government grants. It was not until 1941 that the first biologist was appointed for Victoria, when A.D. Butcher accepted the position. Butcher subsequently became the Chief Inspector in 1947 and the position was re-named Director in 1949.
In 1921 the Lyons Government in Tasmania responded to industry pressure and created a Sea Fisheries Board directed towards the management of fisheries rather than development but it was not supported by any funds other than half the revenue from licence fees.
1.3. Between the Wars
Between 1927 and 1941 the States and the Commonwealth discussed the appropriate administrative body to both conduct and coordinate fisheries development and management. The Development and Migration Commission attempted to promote fisheries primarily through the efforts of its Chairman Hubert Gepp and later Stanley Fowler. It arranged a major Conference which convened in 1927 and again two years later. At this time fisheries policy was heavily influenced by academics like T T Flynn in Hobart and W A Haswell and W J Dakin in Sydney. From 1929 to the outbreak of the War CSIR dominated both fisheries research and management, firstly through David Rivett, and later Harold Thompson. Thompson was appointed to head the Fisheries Division in 1935, Fowler was seconded to the Division and Dakin was appointed as a consultant. After 1941 it became apparent that the role of the Commonwealth government in fisheries should continue to be directed at stimulating development but not be confined to research and neither should that role be limited to fisheries biology.
1.4. Post War Reconstruction and Development
The establishment of a fisheries unit in 1946 within the Department of Commerce, later transferred to the Department of Primary Industry divided the Commonwealth Government role in two. The new agency devoted its attention to training, economics and the promotion of whaling and pearling, but both it and CSIRO were primarily committed to development. CSIR's efforts, and later those of Commonwealth Fisheries Office were both directed at increasing production. Direct financial aid for fisheries development was established.
The regulation of fisheries has been a State responsibility for much of Australia's history, the impetus for a Commonwealth Government role in fisheries, prior to 1982 , was clearly the urge to develop.. Most States had comprehensive management strategies for important fisheries employing minimum sizes of fish for landing, mesh sizes, closed areas and seasons, and limits on the amount of gear to be used. Fishermen and boats had to be licensed and some States required catch returns to be submitted. A major conference in 1947 confirmed that the State's would remain responsible for fisheries within three miles and administer and manage fisheries outside that limit on behalf of the Commonwealth. The first Commonwealth Fisheries Act came into force in 1955 and initially provided complementary support to State legislation. Although the States were responsible for most of the work, other than research, they were poorly resourced. Most Fisheries Departments consisted of one or two clerks and a few inspectors. One fisheries inspector, with one boat, was responsible for all of the waters around Tasmania including the whole of Bass Strait until 1950. After 1960 the States expanded their fisheries activities and included scientific research in support of both development and management .
3. Fisheries Management management in Australia from 1960 to 1995
After World War II the Australian fishing industry lost the battle to supply the local market with fish to the cheaper and better quality imported frozen product. Local fishers concentrated on high priced shellfish which could be marketed overseas and fresh fish to the cities. The Government's efforts to stimulate development resulted in a major expansion of the prawn fisheries, tuna fishing, deep-water trawling and aquaculture. The impact of technology on fish stocks encouraged the southern States to maintain a tight rein on the growth in fishing power in the export based fisheries. As fishers concentrated their endeavours on fewer stocks the focus of fisheries research and management was similarly narrowed. Adopting the new techniques in population assessment and the theories of the resource economists Western Australia and Tasmania controlled fishing licences from 1965 and South Australia and Victoria soon followed. Yet the encouragement to develop continued particularly after the declaration of the 200 mile AFZ in 1979 - Commonwealth boat building subsidies and assistance to survey new areas stimulated capital investment.
Australia had accepted MSY as the universal management objective in 1961 but maximum economic yield had gained wider acceptance by 1980. The other mechanisms proposed at this time by the economists to regulate fisheries - particularly royalties and individual quotas, were dismissed as impractical. As limited entry became the most popular form of managing fisheries in Australia during the 1970's instead of being just another management technique it became synonymous with good fisheries management. A Senate Select Committee stated New South Wales had no fisheries management because it had not employed the technique. Despite the rather controversial nature of the technique it was more widely used in Australia than anywhere else, and applied here whilst other countries were still discussing the theory.
The capacity of limited entry licensing to advantage existing fishers insured its widespread adoption as industry bodies lobbied Ministers. Resource rents increased but Governments failed in even weak attempts to collect some rent for community purposes. Despite its initial attraction limited entry licensing proved to ineffective in controlling fishing effort but transformed the financial status of many fishers.However it is important to realise that the early justification came not from attempts to "improve the economic performance of the fisheries" but in the expectation of controlling fishing effort. But the entrants to these fisheries fished harder to recover the rent they had paid in advance to retiring licence holders, fishing mortality rates rose as this incentive combined with new technology forced up fishing effort. Using the technique to maximise the nett economic yield of a fishery stemmed from attempts in South Australia in 1978 to collect a larger share of the resource rent generated by limiting entry. This economic objective created two meanings for the term fishing effort - the original biological definition related to fishing mortality, and a new meaning identified by the IAC in its 1983 fisheries enquiry, viz "a catch all term to cover the various inputs, such as boats equipment and labour." The failure to distinguish between these two meanings contributed to the "failure" of many limited entry schemes "to reduce effort". Some, which had been introduced with the objective of reducing fishing mortality, were condemned for for not controlling all inputs (fishing costs), others designed to lower overall fishing costs were criticised because fishing mortality did not fall and so there was no consequential rise in annual yield. The political consequences of this misunderstanding were significant.
By 1980 Australia's fisheries production had reached a plateau of 65,000 tonnes of shellfish and 50,000 tonnes of fish. The value of this production had increased by 400% in ten years and by 18 times since 1955. Refinement of the limited entry mechanism had reached its limit and both the States and the Commonwealth fisheries agencies began to switch from a pro development policy to sustainability. In the States fisheries economists assumed equal status with biologists during the 1980's in the formulation of policy. Within the Commonwealth they became dominant. Despite signs that many fisheries were nearing maximum exploitation the Senate Standing Committee on Trade and Commerce 1982 report on its inquiry into "the Commonwealth's responsibilities for the development of the Australian fishing industry.." encouraged further investment to exploit offshore resources for import replacement." A major conference in early 1985 "accorded the highest priority to the development of a national fishing policy within which management strategies for individual fisheries would be defined", the new direction and obtained widespread industry support.
The dominance of limited entry as a management technique completely suppressed the use of total catch quotas in Australia. The most common method of managing fisheries overseas was rejected on the grounds of administrative and enforcement difficulty, yet Australia has one of the most regulated and closely monitored fisheries in the world. One suspects that the ease with which fishers could increase their catch under limited entry whilst maintaining a public devotion to this sophisticated means of "controlling effort" had more than a little to do with the rejection of quotas. Neither did Australia seriously consider another popular management objective devised by biologists to address the problem of overshooting MSY. Maximum economic yield can be crudely estimated as the point where the slope of the yield curve against fishing mortality is one tenth of the origin. This F0.1 objective is now used widely in the northern hemisphere. Recent views from Europe urge a return to effort controls. Individual transferable quotas to achieve maximum economic efficiency is now adopted by the Commonwealth Government as the preferred management tool.
Australian fisheries management must live in an environment of inadequate data, prompt decisions based on available data backed up with adequate enforcement would seem to serve fish stocks and future generations of Australians better than and endless search for the last elusive fact or the a new model to explain the behaviour of the fishery. Conservative decisions regulating exploitation must be taken as soon as possible whilst further information is collected that may allow more fishing. Management action will be assisted when new legislation, now in preparation for the Commonwealth and some States, is enacted.