Sector Profile

The commercial fishing sector has a long history in Australia. A need to reduce pressure on some fish stocks and better consolidate entitlements in these fisheries has led to a smaller but more sophisticated and modern industry. This has been combined with improvements in the management of Australian commercial fisheries and has resulted in a balance between long-term environmental sustainability and economic viability.

However, these characteristics do not apply across the entire sector and there are a number of small fisheries that do not necessarily have management practices that best suit the scale of their operations.

The commercial fishing industry is made up of about 15,000 licence holders. A small number of operators take a large portion of the harvest (by value and volume). These are diverse enterprises that may hold multiple licences. They may work in a range of fisheries and, in some instances, are integrated along the supply chain. The remainder of the commercial fishing sector is made up of a large number of small owner-operator businesses. They are vital to sustaining small coastal communities and are passionate about what they do — supplying Australia with seafood.

In recent times the commercial fishing sector has focused on obtaining third-party certification of fishing practices and management to display its sustainability credentials and this will continue. Additionally, sustainability issues arising from external environmental factors (e.g. pollution, climate variability, disease, biosecurity and habitat destruction, including through coastal development), will have to be considered by the sector.

Australia's marine waters are increasingly a multi-user environment, reducing access to areas for all types of fishing and aquaculture production. There are competing claims for these waters, not only between fishing and aquaculture, but from other users such as the oil and gas industry, and from those wanting more areas protected. 

Streamlining governance and regulation is an on-going priority for those involved in commercial fishing. Within this is the desire to continue investigating co-management approaches, to give greater responsibility and stewardship to commercial fishers. 

Economic viability of the sector requires long-term meaningful access to resources, efficient harvesting methods, elimination of unnecessarily complex legislation, better use of underutilised species and opportunities to increase yield.

The Australian commercial fishing industry now competes in a global market with access to quality seafood from a range of countries. There is an ongoing need to differentiate Australian seafood to an increasingly discerning consumer — whether they be in China, Europe, the United States or Australia.

Sector Statistics (2012-13) 

  • Gross Production value of $1.4 billion
  • Gross production volume of 157 252 tonnes
  • Sector accounts for 57% gross fisheries production value
  • Top Species (in order of production value): Rock lobster, prawns, abalone, tuna, crab 
  • Jurisdictions (in order of production value): WA ($331m), Commonwealth ($320m), SA ($198m), QLD ($195m), TAS ($176m), NSW ($76m), VIC ($54m), NT ($34m)   

The commercial wild-catch sector is extremely diverse. Enterprises range from single low technology owner operators for whom the lifestyle is important, to large companies that use technology very efficiently. The sector provides important economic and social benefits within coastal communities. 

The commercial sector of the fishing industry is Australia’s sixth most valuable food based primary industry. In 2012-13 it produced 157 252 tonnes of produce worth $1.4 billion. This accounted for for 57 per cent of the gross value of Australian fisheries and aquaculture production.

The most valuable wild-catch species in 2012-13 was rock lobster, with its value increasing by 14 per cent ($57 million) to $451 million, in line with a 15 per cent (1403 tonnes) increase in its production. In 2012–13 rock lobster accounted for 62 per cent of total wild-caught crustaceans by value and 32 per cent by volume.

Regardless of the size of the operator, the sector produces excellent quality seafood that is highly regarded internationally. Advances and adoption of best-practices have resulted in high-quality live, fresh and frozen Australian seafood reaching markets around the world such as Hong Kong, Japan, USA and China.

For the latest information on fisheries statistics refer to Australian Fisheries Statistics.

Representative Organisation

The FRDC is accountable under the Primary Industries and Energy Research and Development Act (PIERD Act 1989) to representative bodies nominated by the responsible Minister. 

The FRDC has four representative organisations with which it consults. 

  • Australian Recreational and Sport Fishing Industry Confederation Inc. (trading as Recfish Australia)
  • National Aquaculture Council Inc. (NAC).
  • Commonwealth Fisheries Association Inc. (CFA).
  • National Seafood Industry Alliance (NSIA).

On 12 September 2011, the Parliamentary Secretary Dr Mike Kelly approved and gazetted the National Seafood Industry Alliance as the fourth representative organisation for the FRDC.

Information on National Seafood Industry Alliance visit their website at http://www.seafoodforaustralia.com.au/