A Greens-initiated Senate Inquiry into the fisheries quota system has recommended an ACCC inquiry into market concentration and potential abuses of market power in the Australian fisheries and the seafood sector.
Australia’s fisheries management system is set out under the Fisheries Management Act 1991 and the Fisheries Administration Act 1991 and promotes the use of Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQ) which assign access rights and ownership over fishery stocks.
The inquiry held hearings over nearly 18 months and collected information on whether ITQs result in good fishing practices. Of particular focus was how the decades-old ITQ system affects community fishers, whether it disempowers small fishers and benefits large interest groups, and whether the system is ecologically sustainable.
Greens spokesperson for healthy oceans, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said:
“The Greens welcome the release of this important report. This has been one of only two parliamentary inquiries in the last 40 years to scrutinise who actually owns our fishery resources, and if the system is working fairly for the Australian public and fishing communities.
“The evidence clearly shows that many in the fishing industry don't feel the current system is working for them, and the Greens believe this report demonstrates a significant opportunity for reform.
“One of the most damning revelations from this inquiry is that in Australia we do not know who ultimately owns the right to our fishery resources across multiple fisheries - and frankly this is simply not good enough.
“The committee heard evidence that the fisheries management system is stacked in favour of big quota owners and foreign investors who don’t even fish, while hundreds of smaller fishers are struggling to make a living, or even access fishing rights.
“I find it disturbing that there is no real transparency on who these big quota owners are, how much profit they are making from buying and trading our fish stocks, or what economic benefits the Australian public is receiving from the commercial owners of their fish stocks.
“The Senate committee received confidential submissions alleging market power abuses, and has recommended the ACCC conduct a broad inquiry into market concentration and potential abuses of market power across the sector, and I implore the Government to respond to this recommendation with urgency.
“While fisheries quotas were in-part brought in to control overfishing, over half the fishers who made submissions to the inquiry believe the system has had a negative impact on sustainability. Similarly, expert evidence to the Committee revealed more focus was needed on the environmental impacts of fishing and climate change.
“These are all important findings, and the Greens will be working in both federal and state parliaments to see this inquiry's recommendations implemented.
The Greens have made additional comments to the Senate Inquiry report. Our key recommendations include:
- Full transparency on the ultimate beneficial ownership of Commonwealth fisheries quota, so bans or restrictions can be placed on foreign investment in Australian ITQs, as has occurred in New Zealand and other countries. The Greens would also like to see similar restrictions put in place to ban or limit ‘non-fisher’ investment in ITQs (e.g.: by professional investors), such as has happened in countries like Iceland and Canada.
- Make more fishing quota available for smaller and lease fishers, by for example by Governments buying back quota from foreign and other investors, pooling then leasing to local communities at competitive rates, helping maximise economic returns to those communities.
- The Fisheries Managements acts should be amended to give equal weighting to environmental objectives, and safeguarded by having AFMA's processes properly accredited and subjected to performance review by both the fisheries and environment ministers, as recommended by the 2012 Borthwick Review.
- New public reporting requirements for standardised profitability metrics in ITQ fisheries, including effective subsidies or any royalty payments (rents) paid in Commonwealth ITQ fisheries. This would help guide government policy making to achieve maximum economic returns for the Australian people.