Communique 23 September 2021 - Meeting 3

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 3:

The Vessel Tracking Working Group (VTWG) met for the third time from 1pm-5.15pm on Thursday, 23 September 2021.

It was noted that there have been three resignations from the VTWG from commercial fishers involved in rocky reef fishery, trawl fishery, reef line fishery. Fisheries Queensland is conducting an Expression of Interest for vacancies with an objective of maintaining a broad range of industry representation on the VTWG.

In relation to the Post Implementation Review being conducted by Price Waterhouse Coopers, it was noted that industry consultation is underway with one-on-one interviews with industry members on the VTWG commenced.

On request of industry members in VTWG discussions Fisheries Queensland is preparing information on complaints processes associated with data management and security concerns to be published to commercial fishers in the near future.

The majority of the September meeting focused on discussion of supplier contracts/arrangements and malfunction of units which were priority items for industry members arising from the August meeting.  The items discussed sought to clarify and consider concerns raised regarding the criteria for vessel tracking suppliers to meet, concerns with supplier arrangements, Fisheries Queensland’s role, compliance, information dissemination to stakeholders, fit for purpose of units, incorrect polling locations, battery life, units not interchangeable, loss of business income from malfunctioning units, and no 24/7 service from provider.

Key issues discussed were:

  • The reasons for vessel tracking in Queensland and other jurisdictions and the legislative requirements.
  • Export approvals and interaction with conservation and threatened species requirements, Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) legislation, State requirements.
  • The importance of Fisheries Queensland and commercial fishers advocating for the industry in Commonwealth government policy forums/discussions.  While commercial fishers can be time poor, Fisheries Queensland encouraged direct submissions and representations to the Commonwealth in addition to Fisheries Queensland where possible.
  • Concerns about potential for escalating costs associated with potential future developments and requirements (such as possible use of cameras in the future).
  • The units selected for vessel tracking in Queensland offer more options than units selected in other states, however offering more choice, may be creating more concerns.
  • Industry members outlined various significant concerns relating to fit for purpose, reliability, costs of various units and that some units do not seem well designed for use on smaller boats/by smaller operators.
  • Further industry members report there is a lack of agents for servicing, repairs and maintenance creating poor service and slow turnarounds for some.
  • These factors are in various ways contributing to higher costs and loss of productivity for fishers, even where some fishers have back up arrangements in place which can help but are not fail safe.
  • Industry members sought to explore the potential for a commercial fishing app to resolve some of the concerns – information will be sought from NSW regarding how this app may work to achieve the objective of vessel tracking and Fisheries Queensland will consider and provide feedback on progress regarding a commercial fishing app for Queensland.
  • The current and potential future role of Fisheries Queensland in the selection and approval of vessel tracking units and providers:
    • It was noted that Fisheries Queensland does not have and has never held contracts with any supplier to supply units or provide services to fishers.
    • All contracts are held with the provider and fishers direct.
    • Fisheries Queensland has approved suppliers based on a set of criteria and trials undertaken at the start of implementing vessel tracking.
    • Fisheries Queensland’s criteria for selecting units currently in use was discussed.  Industry members stated that in practice many units did not meet all criteria, there are ongoing concerns with reliability, power and battery concerns, weather resistance.
    • The opportunity to renegotiate better terms as contracts expire starting later this year was raised.
    • Industry members sought consideration by Fisheries Queensland of greater involvement of Government through it managing and conducting tendering / expression of interest processes with or on behalf of fishers.
    • Fisheries Queensland indicated that it may not be feasible to undertake this role due to conflicts with Government procurement policies relating to contestability and commerciality in the supply of goods and services to Government.  Also, for Fisheries Queensland to operate this way may be seen to reduce market forces and undermine competition.  It may not be an appropriate role.
    • Fisheries Queensland offered a suggestion that it could step back from involvement in identifying suppliers/specific equipment for industry and instead state requirements/criteria that equipment needs to meet (such as polling rate, effective interface with Trackwell etc).
    • This would enable industry to select equipment/providers. Industry members present were not supportive of this seeking ongoing Fisheries Queensland involvement.
    • Alternative costing arrangements were raised by industry members – where Fisheries Queensland may provide services, either equipment and/or polling and industry pay Fisheries Queensland for costs.  This raised concerns by Fisheries Queensland relating to its appropriate role in this circumstance.
    • Fisheries Queensland members undertook to further consider possible future role and improvements considering concerns raised.

In relation to malfunctions of units, industry members are seeking further consideration by Fisheries Queensland regarding relaxations that may assist fishers to continue to work when malfunctions occur while out at sea.  A number of matters were canvassed without resolution.  Fisheries Queensland and industry members will further consider potential changes to procedures and requirements around continuing to fish at sea with units that are not operating effectively, noting there are compliance objectives (both Commonwealth and state fisheries management).

The VTWG will hold its next meeting at the end of October.  Key priority items for discussion at that meeting will be:

  • Information ownership rights (fishers, providers, Government agencies), building on the discussions at the August meeting and informed by legal input which Fisheries Queensland is currently seeking in response to VTWG request for information and discussions at the August meeting.
  • Continuing discussions regarding managing malfunction of units at sea, and supplier/contract arrangements, including feedback on NSW commercial app, potential to scan the market for vessel tracking units that may be available, future role of Fisheries Queensland, potential to vary procedures for managing malfunctions of units when fishers are out at sea to reduce lost productivity.

Additional future agenda items are:

  • Post Implementation Review progress and inputs.
  • Installation Safety Audit.
  • Other actions in response to the Ombudsman’s Observations and Actions.

Feedback from VTWG members about the meeting was: continuing frustrations about the problems being experienced with equipment malfunctions and the need to find options to move forward and improve the situation for commercial fishers; the need to address problems being experienced with the status quo; the need to stick to the agenda and be disciplined with time and inputs (a lot of issues to discuss by the group); may need to agree to disagree on some matters; the need for VTWG to work on problem solving and improvements for the industry; some considered the meeting spent more time seeking solutions compared with previous meetings (although not resolved); a lot is being covered and there may be scope to focus on seeking small improvements which may help.   There was also frustration about the time needed to work through difficult issues, however recognition that it is important to keep talking to seek solutions, taking into account differences.

Industry members reinforced the importance of these meetings being held regularly to canvass issues, progress problem solving and seek out possible improvements.