Fisheries growth and new research priorities

Knowledge, partnerships and research capacity continue to play important roles in sustainable fishing and aquaculture sectors. FRDC reports to Parliament and its stakeholders about its activities over the past financial year.

There was strong financial growth in the Australian fishing industry in 2015-16, with the gross value of production increasing to $2.71 billion.

The increase was driven by solid production for a number of sectors, the value of the Australian dollar, lower fuel prices and expanding markets arising from new free-trade agreements. However, some inshore fisheries continue to operate in a difficult social environment.

Access to marine resources continued to be a major issue, which has led to conflict and changes in policy and management of a number of fisheries around Australia. This trend is likely to continue
in the short term with new marine park boundaries due to be released in the latter half of 2016. In addition, management of oil and gas exploration, in particular seismic testing across Australia and its interaction with the fishing and aquaculture industry, remained a contentious and topical issue.

During the year, FRDC’s ‘New and emerging aquaculture opportunities sub-program’ began to see results, with two new fish farming sites in NSW and Western Australia coming on line. These sites will see significant growth in production volumes and capacity. Other aquaculture sectors, namely prawns, abalone and Barramundi, also started work during the year on increasing capacity and production in 2016-17.

The FRDC has maintained strong partnerships with seafood industry councils, recreational fishing bodies, peak bodies, fisheries managers, science providers and the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) during the year. Work has also been undertaken to improve engagement with Indigenous communities across the country. 

RD&E Plan

The FRDC inaugurated its new RD&E Plan 2015–20 during the year, which signifies a quantum change in how FRDC invests in RD&E and new directions in research priorities. There will be a focus on the fewer key priorities identified by our stakeholders. ‘Lead, collaborate and partner’ are the core principles that will drive how the plan is implemented. Nationally, FRDC will work with lead bodies to deliver three national research priorities:

1. Ensuring that Australian fishing and aquaculture products are sustainable and acknowledged to be so;

2. Improving productivity and profitability of fishing and aquaculture; and

3. Developing new and emerging aquaculture growth opportunities.

The FRDC will encourage its regional and sector partners to collaborate wherever possible. Importantly, FRDC is committed to continuing its support for people development, the Indigenous Reference Group, Recfish Research and key services including the Australian Fish Names Standard and SafeFish.

Two new industry partnership agreements (IPAs) were signed with the Australian Council of Prawn Fisheries and the Australian Abalone Growers Association.

The year also saw the implementation of a new business model with the opening of its first regional office in Adelaide in April 2016. New staff were employed to oversee the delivery of key services including delivery of the Status of Australian Fish Stocks Reports and regional research advisory committees,formerly known as Fisheries Research Advisory Bodies.

Graphic showing RD&E budget expenditure 2015–2-16 RD&E budget expenditure 2015-2016

Community perceptions

Community perceptions of the sustainability of Australia’s fisheries remains an ongoing challenge and a key area of focus for the FRDC. Since 2011, the FRDC has commissioned a biennial survey to gauge community perceptions about the achievements and ongoing investment being made by fishing and aquaculture in achieving long-term sustainability. 

Respondents to the most recent survey (13–19 August, 2015) indicated that the community’s perception of the fishing industry increased slightly. 

However the rating of the commercial fishing sector fell to the lowest level in the five years of perception surveys, with fewer than one in four supporting it. 

Overseeing the management and development of the SAFS Reports is one of the FRDC’s strategies to communicate reliable scientific knowledge to business and the community.  

The FRDC also provided advice and assisted with market research to a DAWR project aimed at improving public understanding of the seafood industry and fisheries management. 

Table 1: Financial indicators of R&D investment
Expenditure 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16
$m $m $m $m $m
 Total Expenditure 29.68 25.69 27.56  28.16 28.33
 Total of R&D projects 25.97  22.14 22.87 24.85 24.58 
 R&D Program 1 [ Environment]  11.80 8.25 10.20  10.44  8.68 
 R&D Program 2 [Industry] 9.47 9.57 8.33 10.09 11.54
 R&D Program 3 [Communities] 0.47 0.74 0.75 0.83 0.86
 R&D Program 4 [ People] 2.12 1.80 1.94 1.49 1.54
 R&D Program 5 [Adoption] 2.12 1.78 1.65 2.00 1.95
 Management and accountability  3.70 3.55 4.69 (1) 3.31 3.76
 Total income 25.42 25.98 26.89 31.75 30.12
 Industry contributions 7.70 7.98 8.46 8.57 8.29
 Total government contributions 16.63 17.23 17.93 18.71 20.05
 Project funds from other parties  0.46 0.48 0.17 4.27 1.48
 Other revenue 0.63 0.29 0.33 0.20 0.30
Maximum matchable (government) contribution (2)  5.56 5.83 5.99 6.25 6.78
 Actual government matching 5.51  5.57 5.96 6.22 6.48

1. In 2013-14, FRDC had a $1.2 million write down of assists which increased the cost of management and accountability. 

2. Government funding and maximum matchable contribution (the maximum amount to which the Australian Government will match industry contributions).


Minister of Finance Senator Mathias Cormann approved a change to the FRDC’s outcome statement on 15 March, 2016, to incorporate changes to the Primary Industries Research and Development Act 1989 (PIRD Act), allowing RDCs to fund marketing activities, as well as placing a greater emphasis on extension and adoption activities. 

‘Rural R&D for Profit’ program

An FRDC-sponsored project was successful in round two of the ‘Rural research & development for profit’ program. On 6 June, 2016, Senator Anne Ruston announced $236,275 to investigate the use and commercialisation of an automated oyster opening system. 

Aquatic biosecurity

Two major disease outbreaks occurred during the year – Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS) in Tasmania, and a disease with similarities to Penaeus Monodon Mortality Syndrome which affected Black Tiger Prawns in Queensland’s Bundaberg region. These led to a reprioritisation of funding and a heightened level of awareness and biosecurity around aquaculture facilities.

Research evaluation

The FRDC has developed a flexible approach to how it funds projects to align with its current RD&E Plan (2015-20) and the principles of ‘lead, collaborate and partner’. Reflecting this new approach, the value or benefit of research is assessed (and presented in the annual report) against two sets of categories: national priorities or infrastructure, collaboration or partnerships (sector or jurisdiction); or FRDC’s five foundation programs (Environment, Industry, Communities, People, Adoption). This change ensures that projects are now assessed not only on the output value from input but also against the outcome or benefits of FRDC research. This demonstrates the fact that a single project can cross a number of fields and identifies where a project sits within the FRDC’s investment framework.

Parliamentary inquiries

The FRDC provided input into the following inquiries:

  • Productivity Commission inquiry into regulation of the Australian marine fisheries and aquaculture sectors;
  • Inquiry into opportunities for expanding the aquaculture industry in northern Australia;
  • Inquiry into large-capacity fishing vessels operating in Australia’s marine jurisdiction; and
  • National Research Infrastructure Capability Issues Paper. 

More information

A complete copy of the FRDC’s Annual Report 2015-16 is available from the FRDC’s website