Communique 28 October 2021 - Meeting 4

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 4:

The Vessel Tracking Working Group (VTWG) met for the fourth time from 10am-3.20pm on Thursday, 28 October 2021.

The Chair acknowledged correspondence from VTWG members out of session and welcomed that industry members had submitted a consolidated set of concerns/issues ahead of the meeting which industry is seeking be discussed.

The Chair noted that key priority items such as data privacy/ownership, suppliers and units, malfunctioning impacts and procedures, and the PIR process has occupied most discussion at meetings and were being further addressed at the October meeting.  The Chair will reference the consolidated items from industry during meetings to ensure priority items are being worked through.

Industry members clarified they are seeking more action, quicker progress and clearer answers to the issues being raised.  

Fisheries Queensland acknowledged the call for action and quicker progress sought by industry, including committing to move forward on an interim solution regarding keeping fishers fishing during equipment malfunctions.  A proposal has been prepared as a major agenda item. It was also noted that Fisheries Queensland has attempted to be clearer in its positions for the VTWG agenda discussions more generally.

In response to industry questions raised before the meeting about the use of data for purposes beyond compliance, Fisheries Queensland provided input about how modelling uses vessel tracking data, choice of polling frequency feeding into fisheries management considerations, decision making and how the data is used to inform Total Allowable Catch.

Another item raised by Industry members was a request for trial data used to draft the trial summary report.  Fisheries Queensland sought clarification on what industry was asking for and raised concerns about observing data privacy requirements. Industry members clarified that they are seeking de-identified information used to formulate the trial summary report. Industry members expressed concerns that the information in the report is not accurate. Fisheries Queensland confirmed that it sought feedback from trial participants through a survey. Some industry members questioned the results and validity of the trial and also suggested that any future trials should not be done by Fisheries Queensland because it may not be able to undertake a sufficient trial.

In response to industry requests at the October meeting, Fisheries Queensland provided information on the NSW Commercial Fishing App and the upcoming Queensland Commercial Fishing App, key points were:

  • The NSW App has no vessel tracking functionality.
  • The upcoming Queensland App does not provide the functions to replace Vessel Tracking equipment however will assist manual reporting.  The App will link to Trackwell to check the status of units.  However, the App can only send positions when in mobile network coverage.  Vessel tracking units operate on a satellite network and provide positions instantaneously.  Therefore the App will not be an adequate replacement for vessel tracking purposes.
  • The Queensland App is planned for release from January 2022, initial take up will be voluntary.
  • Fishers are being invited to participate in user testing which is currently taking place.

The VTWG noted an update on the Post Implementation Review being undertaken by Price Waterhouse Coopers which is due to be completed in June 2022.  Price Waterhouse Coopers has interviewed VTWG members and is continuing to collect information.  Some industry members noted that Fisheries Queensland’s position for future models of managing vessel tracking were to be cost neutral. Some industry members raised concerns that this position may not honour potential recommendations of the PIR.  Industry queried if the Status Quo for managing vessel tracking was a pre-determined outcome. Fisheries Queensland, in response, said it was committed to following the PIR process.

Industry members requested that port visits be included in the consultation process and has sought a commitment in writing from Fisheries Queensland. Industry members have requested that VMS suppliers be encouraged to attend these meetings. Fisheries Queensland advised it is considering port visits within its industry consultation and engagement processes in general and will advise the VTWG when a decision has been made.  It noted the request regarding port visits in relation to the Post Implementation Review.  It was also noted that Fisheries Queensland has been considering this request since the previous meeting and on being asked for a second time.  Industry is awaiting a response.

There was good progress made on a proposal by Fisheries Queensland regarding an interim solution to keep fishers fishing during equipment malfunctions.  The following are summary key points:

  • Industry members welcomed the commitment of Fisheries Queensland to work with industry to develop a solution to this major concern.
  • The intent of an interim solution is to manage until the Post Implementation Review is undertaken leading to a long-term outcome.  The interim solution is expected to be until June 2022, however Fisheries Queensland committed to extend this timing if necessary, and if the Post Implementation Review had not been completed.
  • It was noted there is no current centrally collected data on the number and types of units which have malfunctioned since vessel tracking began in 2019.   The main way to collect information is via fishers/industry members and providers.   Fisheries Queensland requested that industry members share information they have on the nature, scope and scale of unit malfunctions.
  • It was noted that faults may arise due to provider/network failures and also due to units malfunctioning – information collected should distinguish between these causes.
  • Fisheries Queensland proposed interim procedure was discussed in detail including how to manage various practical issues such as waiting times for receiving replacement/repaired equipment, manual reporting arrangements, recognition of individual circumstances, the need to maintain compliance actions, practices in other jurisdictions.
  • Two key principles were suggested by GBRMPA and Fisheries Queensland:  fishers who are doing the wrong thing should not be supported as a general rule (bad for the whole industry), and there is a need for case-by-case considerations by Fisheries Queensland given different circumstances and variables. While these were acknowledged, not all industry members universally agreed with these Principles.
  • A risk-based approach was generally supported – taking into account case by case considerations against a set of standard procedures.
  • The discussion was highly constructive, and Fisheries Queensland will further develop the proposed interim procedure with the inputs that were received.  It will seek to progress this with VTWG members out of session, with a target to finalise the procedure at the November meeting.

The VTWG discussed data ownership, an agenda item which arose from discussions at VTWG meeting 2.  Fisheries Queensland provided information to help to clarify data ownership issues. The main points arising from the discussion were:

  • Fisheries Queensland accesses commercial fishing data legally under its legislation for compliance and fisheries management purposes.
  • Fishers are required to provide vessel tracking data.  Authorisation to share the data appears to be provided by fishers when they complete order forms and/or at time of engaging with a provider.
  • Fisheries Queensland is able to share information with relevant other agencies for purposes which are consistent with the legislation applying to Fisheries Queensland and the other agencies (for example the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority or the Australian Maritime Safety Authority).
  • Fisheries Queensland can provide individual fishers with their individual data in response to specific requests.
  • Fisheries Queensland has operational protocols with Police and search and rescue authorities to provide data for safety reasons.

The VTWG considered alternative options for vessel tracking unit and provider arrangements. This built on discussion at the previous VTWG meeting.  Fisheries Queensland provided potential options for industry members feedback and invited industry members to provide alternative options for consideration. Key discussion points were:

  • Three options were presented which provided varying levels of involvement by Fisheries Queensland in selecting units and providers with no preferred option identified.  Option A was status quo with a review of existing approved unit and provider list; Option B was for Fisheries Queensland to specify minimum requirements for units and providers with fishers able to purchase any unit/engage any provider to meet the requirements; Option C, called an AFMA style model, entailed Fisheries Queensland taking on a larger role in contracting with unit and airtime providers for the industry with costs passed back to industry.
  • In the meeting, industry members indicated a general preference for Fisheries Queensland to take a major future role in unit and provider arrangements because this was seen to provide a more robust approach for fishers, be more supportive and protective of fishers.  The latter was particularly related to industry member perceptions of possible power imbalances in dealings between providers and individual fishers.  Industry members felt that having Fisheries Queensland actively engaged in considering legal arrangements etc. was positive and would potentially offset price gouging concerns by fishers.
  • There was significant discussion regarding costs:  Fishers sought input from Fisheries Queensland about the potential costs of different options (currently not costed out).
  • Fisheries Queensland stated a clear position that it is seeking to consider alternatives within the parameter of having no additional cost to Government associated with the future state operation of any new model.  Industry members shared the concern that without future investment, the program could potentially fall short in terms of safety and reliability, i.e. That if there was a need to use a better quality, more reliable unit than Yb3i or Spot Trace, that might increase the costs to users and that industry did not support there being higher costs for industry.
  • Fisheries Queensland put the position that the ongoing costs associated with vessel tracking should be borne by industry, given the benefits the commercial fishing industry accrue from access to fisheries resources.
  • Industry members expressed significant concerns about this cost position.  The strongest opposition was expressed on the basis that the problems with the current model should be addressed by Fisheries Queensland including the costs involved in rectifying the current problems.  Opposition was expressed on the basis that industry members felt that the problems with the current model were caused by Fisheries Queensland and that industry should not have to pay to rectify the problems with the current model.  Industry members expressed that they felt they had not been listened to when they had raised concerns about the current model.
  • While a range of considerations were canvassed, no conclusions were reached at the meeting.
  • Fisheries Queensland is open to other options, and Industry members undertook to further consider and to work on a potential alternative option, either building from Fisheries Queensland’s options or a new one for further discussion at the November VTWG meeting.
  • Industry members were opposed to manual reporting methods that relied on phone service, or methods that required regular phone reporting (ie. 1 or 4 hourly) as many fishers operate out of phone reception.  One member commented that 4 hourly reporting for inshore fisheries like crab or inshore net would result in so little data that it made it almost pointless, and any more frequent would become inconvenient during operations.

The VTWG noted that an agenda paper and draft survey regarding the vessel tracking installation safety update had been provided.  This item was an action arising from the Ombudsman’s observations. The item was noted to be progressed out of session.  Industry members were invited to provide comments and feedback to Fisheries Queensland before the November meeting.

The VTWG will hold its next meeting at the end of November.  Key priority items will be:

  • An interim solution to keep fishers fishing during equipment malfunctions building on Fisheries Queensland proposal and extensive VTWG discussion and feedback.
  • Further consideration of vessel tracking unit and provider arrangements, including consideration of any alternatives put by industry members.  One industry member requested that future framework options be costed as part of the PIR so that industry would have more information on which to base their submissions during the PIR.

Additional future agenda items are:

  • Post Implementation Review progress.
  • Vessel Tracking Installation Safety Audit.
  • Other actions in response to the Ombudsman’s Observations and Actions.
  • Cross referencing consolidated items identified by industry members.

Feedback from VTWG members about the meeting was: that the nature and style of the discussion was generally constructive, more progress seemed to be made compared with previous meetings, there is continuing industry member frustration at the practical difficulties being experienced and business impacts, however, there seems to be a possibility of finding a solution including addressing fishers concerns about loss of productivity through equipment malfunctions and supplier issues. There was disagreement acknowledged on some matters, such as who should pay for vessel tracking. There was appreciation on the ability to focus more on problem solving, and recognition of work done by industry members since the last meeting to consolidate issues of concern. The clearly articulated and shared industry view assisted in ensuring issues discussed better aligned with fishers’ concerns.