Communique 2 December 2021 – Meeting 5

Objectives of the Vessel Tracking Working Group (from Terms of Reference):  

To provide operational advice and recommendations to:

  1. Support the review of the implementation of vessel tracking.
  2. Support the review of the effectiveness of the current administration of vessel tracking.
  3. Provide options and advice to improve the ongoing management and administration of vessel tracking.

Key Feedback from Meeting 5:

The Vessel Tracking Working Group (VTWG) met for the fifth time from 10am-3.20pm on Thursday, 2 December 2021.

The Chair acknowledged two new members of the VTWG.  Dallas D’silva has been permanently appointed as Executive Director, Fisheries, and Gregory Bowness, Manager, Strategic Compliance with Queensland Boating and Fishery Patrol has joined (replacing Warren Egling from QBFP).

The three main agenda items for this meeting were a briefing by Price Waterhouse Coopers in relation to the Post Implementation Review of Vessel Tracking that it is conducting with Fisheries Queensland.  The second main agenda item was discussion of interim procedures for managing requirements to enable fishers to continue to fish when vessel tracking equipment malfunctions occur.  The third main item related to an action arising from the Ombudman’s work to conduct a Safety Installation Audit.  These items are reported on below.

Post Implementation Review (PIR):

The steps involved in undertaking a PIR is set out by the Office for Better Practice Regulation (OBPR).   Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) briefed the VTWG stating that it has completed targeted stakeholder consultations and is preparing a PIR consultation paper.  This paper will be considered by the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries and must be approved by the Minister before it can be released for public consultation.  The expected timeframe for this to occur is by the end of January 2022.

In relation to targeted stakeholder consultations PWC has attended as an observer all VTWG meetings to understand key issues and inputs through that forum, it has individually met with VTWG members (industry members, Fisheries Queensland members, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority member).  Wider stakeholder consultation will occur when the PIR consultation paper is published.

The purpose of the presentation was to update VTWG members, to provide a summary of the key points arising from work done to date and to provide an opportunity for VTWG members to provide additional input.

Key points that were noted in the presentation by PWC were:

  • The main reasons for implementing vessel tracking were firstly for fisheries monitoring and research purposes, and secondly for compliance purposes.
  • PWC has sought to identify both benefits and costs associated with vessel tracking.
  • Benefits reported to PWC by stakeholders in addition to monitoring, research and compliance benefits were identified as: EPBC approvals; data being used by fishers (especially for fishing fleets); and the provision of information by Fisheries Queensland to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority for search and rescue purposes.
  • Costs identified were:  direct and indirect costs to fishers (including equipment costs, polling costs, loss of productivity when units or services fail); management and administration costs to State and Federal Governments; reliability of technology; data privacy concerns; emotional load for fishers; and concerns with competitive concerns (between commercial fishing businesses of different sizes and between service providers).

As noted above, wider consultation will occur once the PIR consultation paper has been published. Industry members of the working group have requested that port visits be included as part of this consultation process. Fisheries Queensland has advised that port visits will be conducted in locations where there are sufficient numbers of fishers interested to participate.  It will work with industry to make these arrangements in the New Year.

Feedback from industry members at the meeting included advice about the need to focus port consultations on the operational and day to day impacts of vessel tracking on fishers and their operations.

Industry members accepted the compliance benefits of vessel tracking arrangements which were discussed at the meeting, however they were not convinced about the value of vessel tracking for scientific (monitoring and research) purposes, for export license purposes, or for safety purposes.

Black market fishing was raised in relation to compliance matters.  The definition of black market fishing was clarified by Fisheries Queensland as being of concern in recreational and commercial fishing sectors. Fisheries Queensland stated that black marketing is a broad term to describe a range of unlawful activities including underreporting quota species and selling of recreationally caught fish. Fisheries Queensland highlighted that vessel tracking is a tool that can be used by compliance officers to assist in the identification and investigation of black marketing in the commercial sector.  

Vessel Tracking Equipment Malfunctions:

The VTWG is seeking to develop a vessel tracking unit malfunction interim procedure.

Industry has requested to be able to continue to fish when equipment malfunctions occur.  This responds to the many concerns which have been discussed within the VTWG, and which have been acknowledged by Fisheries Queensland, regarding the reliability of equipment and services provided by suppliers.

The interim procedure is expected to be established until June 2022, however Fisheries Queensland committed to extend this timing if necessary and if the post implementation review has not been completed by then.

Following a constructive discussion at the October VTWG meeting both industry members and Fisheries Queensland prepared proposed interim procedures.  However, the VTWG was not able to settle on an outcome as had been hoped for by all parties coming into the meeting.  Discussion in part became heated and dysfunctional demonstrating industry frustrations and differences in emphasis and interests between industry and Fisheries Queensland.

Industry members expressed significant concerns with the interim procedure proposed by Fisheries Queensland, considering it to be too burdensome.  Fisheries Queensland had some concerns with the industry proposal, seeking sufficient compliance safeguards be in place.

While there were a number of matters canvassed in the discussion on this item, the main sticking point appeared to be the frequency, arrangements and conditions under which manual reporting may be able to be carried out in the absence of the automated reporting using functioning vessel tracking equipment.

In relation to manual reporting, Fisheries Queensland stated that the malfunction procedure and associated reporting requirements should provide information which is as close as possible to that provided by usual vessel tracking requirements.  

Fisheries Queensland indicated it agreed with several elements of the industry proposal and on that basis committed to further consider the input from the December meeting and work out of session to finalise the procedure.

It was noted by all VTWG members that having this procedure in place as early as possible would assist the industry through the Christmas/January period which is traditionally very busy.  Fisheries Queensland committed to progressing this to finalise a procedure as quickly as possible.

Vessel Tracking Installation Safety Audit:

Fisheries Queensland has prepared a methodology for undertaking a vessel tracking installation safety audit which was provided for discussion by the VTWG.  This item was an action arising from the Ombudsman’s observations.

The objective of the audit is to understand the installation standards of vessel tracking units, identify any safety risks and opportunities to improve installation safety.

Fisheries Queensland will undertake this work in the New Year.  It will seek to involve fishers who have already raised installation safety issues and it will call for volunteers to take part in the audit. Industry members on the VTWG have been invited to nominate fishers who may also wish to be involved in the audit.

The audit will seek to get a cross section sample (different fisheries, different types of units) to identify what are the problems and what are causing the problems. A standardised approach will be used to gather information and the audit will be conducted by qualified electricians working in the industry at various locations to conduct the required audits and inspections.  The scope of the audit will consider equipment used as well as new or additional power supplies installed (to enable vessel tracking).

Participants will receive a copy of their own audit findings and the consolidated information from the audit will form a vessel tracking installation safety audit report. This report will be published and available to industry once completed.

Next Meeting

The VTWG will hold a special purpose meeting in December.  This meeting will seek to progress deliberations about vessel tracking unit and provider arrangements which have been the subject of previous working group discussions.  This item has been a high priority for both industry members and Fisheries Queensland.

Feedback from VTWG members about the 2 December meeting was: the need for Fisheries Queensland to listen to industry concerns and respond to the issues; frustration from industry that it is taking a long time to get action; industry needs to feel concerns are being taken on board; the critical importance of getting a procedure to apply when units are malfunctioning – a high priority for fishers; the need for all VTWG members to keep persisting in the face of working through some very difficult discussions to make progress; a lot of passion and frustration; the intent of Fisheries Queensland to get input and understand issues so it can develop options and proposals which recognise the needs of fishers;  Fisheries Queensland is working hard to develop workable solutions and requires constructive input to support this; new members brought some new perspectives including some new industry views; the new Executive Director, Fisheries welcomed the opportunity to listen to concerns and reinforced a desire to work constructively with industry; QBFP is seeking to work with fishers to help them through education and support as part of compliance processes; clarity about port meetings being included in PIR consultation was welcomed by industry members.