Guidelines on a tiered, risk-based approach to bycatch management

Project Number:



Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) - ABARES

Principal Investigator:

Simon Nicol

Project Status:


FRDC Expenditure:



Environment, Industry


Australia’s wild-capture fisheries have led the way in addressing bycatch issues and moving towards ecosystem-based management. However, there remain significant challenges in public perception, maintaining profitable fishing industries, ensuring equitable access to fish resources and meeting market expectations. Bycatch management involves numerous, often data-poor species, covering a wide range of life history strategies and including protected species with special requirements and keystone species with crucial ecosystem roles. Guidelines at this level will be a world-first and contribute to the development of fisheries standards. Bycatch management in Commonwealth fisheries currently involves a risk assessment process (ERA and residual risk assessment) and the associated management response, the ERM (e.g. monitoring, bycatch mitigation and management action). An overarching priority is to build on the ERA–ERM approach and effectively implement a tiered, risk-based framework for bycatch management that is affordable, effective and has transparent performance monitoring and reporting. The framework will integrate current assessment tools (e.g. PSA and SAFE) and associated management responses that relate to the level of interaction, understanding and risk. The proposed project will build on the current ERA–ERM approach and draw together findings from recent research to develop guidelines on a risk-based framework for bycatch management. This will directly contribute to the broader set of guidelines required for the implementation of the Commonwealth Fisheries Bycatch Policy. It will contribute to policy guidelines that provide greater certainty for industry, potential equivalence for third party certification and confidence for consumers and the general public.


1. Develop and test guidelines for a tiered, risk-based framework for bycatch management where bycatch species are assessed and managed according to the level of interaction, the level of understanding and the risk of the impact of the interaction. This framework will be consistent with the Harvest Strategy Policy, be efficient and cost-effective and encompass sub-objectives 2-6 listed below (sub-objectives funded by DA are indicated).

2. Develop and test a system for identifying bycatch species in each fishery, including the reclassification of bycatch as commercial species and vice versa. (DA-funded)

3. Provide guidance on the development of explicit and transparent objectives (DA-funded), appropriate benchmarks and equivalent levels of risk that can be applied on a fishery-by-fishery basis.

4. Provide a continuum of assessment, management response and adaptive management, depending on data availability and risk, that utilises and builds on AFMA’s ERA–ERM approach.

5. Detail a system for performance monitoring, reporting and evaluation, including the assessment of the policy’s overall success. (DA-funded)

6. Trial and evaluate draft guidelines in several Commonwealth fisheries.

Guidelines on a tiered, risk-based approach to bycatch management

Final Report
Author(s):Department of Agriculture and Water Resources 2018
Date Published:November 2018

The 2018 Commonwealth Fisheries Bycatch Policy (Bycatch Policy) establishes the requirement for bycatch management in Commonwealth-managed fisheries. The Guidelines for the Implementation of the Commonwealth Fisheries Bycatch Policy aim to provide assistance to Australian Government entities (principally the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) but also bodies (industry or otherwise) that AFMA outsources to, including industry-based co-management arrangements) in interpreting and implementing the requirements of the Bycatch Policy.

Bycatch is defined as a species that is either incidentally taken in a fishery and returned to the sea, or incidentally killed or injured as a result of interacting with fishing equipment in the fishery, but not taken. The Bycatch Policy distinguishes between two classes of bycatch—general bycatch and Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) listed species. General bycatch are species that are not listed under the EPBC Act. EPBC Act–listed species are managed in parallel and, where feasible, jointly with general bycatch. However, these species are principally managed under Australia’s national environment legislation—the EPBC Act. Specific guidance for managing EPBC Act–listed species is provided separately by the Department  of the Environment and Energy. These guidelines do not aim to alter or influence  that management. These guidelines are for general bycatch species only and not  EPBC Act–listed species.

1.1 Relationship with the Harvest Strategy Policy: These guidelines operate in parallel with the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy (Harvest Strategy Policy) and the Guidelines for Implementation of the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy (Harvest Strategy Policy Guidelines) and support AFMA’s approach to fisheries planning and documentation. AFMA has recently revised its approach to planning and documenting the management of Commonwealth fisheries. AFMA has commenced the development of a Fisheries Management Strategy (FMS) for each of its Commonwealth fisheries to combine management of commercial species (under a harvest strategy), non-commercial species (under a bycatch strategy), habitats and communities, research, and data and monitoring into a single integrated document for each of its fisheries. This single strategy approach aims to provide greater consistency, clarity, transparency and cost efficiency in how AFMA develops, documents and implements its management processes. It also aims to ensure better linkages between these components.

These guidelines are designed to assist AFMA deliver against the requirements of the Bycatch Policy and assist in developing the bycatch chapter of the FMS for each Commonwealth fishery. Where appropriate, examples are provided to illustrate key points that address specific fisheries management challenges.

1.2 Intent of the Bycatch Policy Guidelines: The Bycatch Policy advocates a risk-based approach to assessing and managing general bycatch. These guidelines provide information to assist AFMA in operationalising this approach. They encourage innovation and adoption of global best practice where appropriate. They also promote a balance between the risks to bycatch and the consequences of additional management on the fishery. Where the risks of negative impacts from fishing on bycatch are low, management responses are expected to prioritise innovation to minimise interactions without unnecessary restriction on commercial operations. Conversely, where the risks are high, greater prescription may be required to reduce the risks to bycatch (that is, to medium or low risk through appropriate management responses) in addition to promoting innovative solutions. This approach is consistent with the principles of risk–cost–catch applied to the development of harvest strategies for commercial stocks. The guidelines assist AFMA with recognising information uncertainty and incorporate it into its assessment of risk and application of the precautionary principle.