My trip to Australia provided me with a unique opportunity to learn about the tools and institutional support underpinning holistic management in Australia. It also provided valuable international context for my work and re-energized my thinking on a variety of topics that are relevant to fisheries science and management in Canada. Many thanks to the CFRN and NSERC for the opportunity. I've provided a full report below; read on to learn more!


The purpose of this trip was to allow me to work directly with international experts on the development of methods for holistic evaluation of fisheries systems. My research with the Canadian Fisheries Research Network Project 1.1 is aimed at understanding the spectrum of scientific approaches that may allow fisheries science and management to move toward a more holistic and participatory process. I am developing a synthesis paper that evaluates existing tools such as ecosystem modeling and management strategy evaluation (MSE) in terms of their ability to account for social and economic objectives. My initial review indicates that the methods currently being developed in Australia are among the most practical and promising for this work.


I travelled to the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) in Adelaide, Australia on March 21-28 2014 for training/collaboration with Drs. Kate Brooks, Gavin Begg, Sean Sloan, and Tony Smith to learn how ecological, social, and economic objectives are included in Australian fisheries management. I also had the opportunity to attend two workshops that were held at SARDI during my visit. The first focused on Practical Implementation of Social and Economic Elements in ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM). The presentations reflected a diversity of definitions and approaches to including socio-economics in Australia, ranging from access rights and non-market tools for re-allocation of catch shares to inclusion of fishery-specific economic objectives in harvest control rules, and the need to develop and maintain a social license for the fisheries.

The second meeting was a National Fisheries Management Workshop that explored an impressive range of topics such as social objectives, cost-recovery, professionalization of fisheries managers, standards for fisheries science, and development of a national fisheries management standard for Australia that would serve as an alternative to costly certification programs and would help maintain the social license for commercial fishing in Australia.

Observations and lessons:

Fisheries are a multi-billion dollar industry in Australia. The highest value fisheries include: northern prawn, southern bluefin tuna, eastern tuna and billfish, and commonwealth trawl fisheries, and gillnet, hook, and trap sectors of the southern and eastern scalefish and shark fishery. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) manages Commonwealth offshore (deep water) fisheries, while the states and Northern Territory are responsible for recreational, commercial inshore (e.g. abalone and rock lobster) and coastal aquaculture operations.

Some form of risk assessment is used to make most, if not all, management decisions related to fisheries and marine ecosystems in Australia. The requirement for risk-based approaches to prioritizing management activities and avoiding undesirable events emerged with ecologically sustainable development (ESD) initiatives in the 1990s, which require the integration of social, economic, and ecological objectives in the decision-making process. All Australian fisheries agencies and industry groups have committed to implementing the principles of ESD, with the understanding that it will be conducted in a cost-effective manner, and in the absence of perfect information on all aspects of the management system. The National ESD framework for wild capture fisheries and the broader EBFM framework are hierarchical, risk-based assessment processes that were developed to prioritize management actions for high risk activities and species of concern ( The risk assessment moves from qualitative assessments to quantitative assessments, depending on the available data and estimated risk of failing to meet the management objectives.

Australia has developed a comprehensive ESD reporting system that is based on local and national-scale operational objectives related to ecological and human well-being, and the ability of the fishery to contribute to ESD given current governance arrangements and climate impacts. The range of objectives is tailored to address fishery-specific issues prior to each assessment, and reported on separately (e.g. Progress to date has largely been on the ecological assessment and objectives, with an increased focus on economic objectives in recent years. For example, AFMA has specific objectives related to implementing efficient and cost-effective management while ensuring fisheries activities are consistent with the principles of ESD. In addition, the Commonwealth Harvest Strategy Policy (2007) specified maximum economic yield (MEY) as a fishery-level objective that maximizes net returns (profits) for individual operators. Catch levels that achieve MEY are specified for all fisheries managed under AFMA.

Participants including a variety of stakeholders, scientists, and managers in both workshops expressed frustration at the slow pace of implementation with respect to social objectives, given the significant investment in tools and policies to support more holistic management. Progress appears to be slowed primarily by a lack of political will and poorly specified social objectives. However, social science research currently has the highest funding demand at the Fisheries Research Development Corporation (FRDC; The FRDC is a jointly funded partnership between the Australian government and the fishing and aquaculture industries that plans and invests in strategic research, development, and extension activities on behalf of Australian commercial, recreational, and indigenous fisheries. It is an impressive example of industry-led R&D that has helped Australian fisheries to become global leaders in sustainability and management-oriented science. The FRDC Social Sciences Research Co-ordination Program (led by Kate Brooks) recently completed a project that used the ESD framework to specify sector-specific social objectives and indicators and provides guidance on assessment and reporting at the regional, state, and national levels. Because social assessments can increase management costs, there was debate over the roles and responsibilities of government and industry. Patrick Hone, the Executive Director of the FRDC, suggested that economic and social assessments might be the ‘private’ responsibility of industry, with the government assuming responsibility for ecological assessments of the public resource. The issue of cost recovery is likely the next hurdle to implementation.