Allocating fish stocks between commercial and recreational fishers: examples from Australia and overseas

Authors: Kasia Mazur, Andrea Bath, Jacob Savage and Robert Curtotti


The Commonwealth Fisheries Resource Sharing Framework is currently being developed by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. This framework plans to ensure that each sector, commercial, recreational and indigenous, has appropriate access to fish resources and that managers can decide on appropriate sharing between the sectors. To support the development of this framework, this report provides a literature review of methods used for allocating access to resources of fish stocks between commercial and recreational fishers, in Australia and around the world. ABARES examined how all fishery jurisdictions in Australia approach the issue of resource allocation between commercial and recreational fishers and how this differs between states and the Commonwealth.

Management arrangements in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Japan were also examined. Resource allocation between commercial and recreational fishers is also an important policy issue for fisheries management in these jurisdictions. Information on resource allocation for Western Europe was more difficult to identify, because most recreational fishing in Europe is from inland freshwater systems and not the marine commercial sector. Resource allocation approaches from other international fishing jurisdictions were not explored.

The main finding of the literature review is that in Australia, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Japan, resource allocation decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and involve advisory panels of experts and extensive consultations with industry representatives. Policies, guidelines and processes for resource allocation are specified in fisheries management plans and resources or catch allocation policies and frameworks.

The decision-making process in Australia and overseas is based on a range of common principles including:

  • sustainability
  • fairness and equity
  • optimisation of economic and social benefits
  • meeting customary needs
  • management goals
  • transparency
  • compensation
  • practicality.

In Australian states and territories, a range of criteria are used to apply these principles, including:

  • contribution to gross state product
  • contribution to employment
  • maintenance and growth of regional communities
  • sport and recreation opportunities
  • aspirations and needs of each sector
  • cultural significance
  • costs of any structural adjustment assistance
  • costs and benefits (ecological, social and cultural).

Similar principles and criteria are considered in the United States, Canada and New Zealand in order to determine allocations that provide the greatest overall benefit to the country (FOC 2001; USDC 2017).

Australian state and territory jurisdictions occasionally review allocations. In many jurisdictions this involves a full review. A full review assesses current and proposed allocations by analysing the biology of the species involved, current management practices, historical catch data, and social, economic and cultural factors. The process involves stakeholder consultation followed by a report on findings, which is released for public consultation.

In the United States, Canada and New Zealand relevant bodies provide and review catch share permits for certain species (FOC 2001; MAF 2018; USDC 2017). Canada has introduced an experimental market-based approach to allocate the total allowable catch of halibut between recreational and commercial fisheries. This approach allows licence holders from both sectors to trade their allocation (FOC 2019).

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In the absence of management, fisheries resources are common-pool resources (Grafton, Squires & Fox 2000) that can freely be accessed by all. With a number of competing users and without limits being imposed, the resources can potentially be depleted to levels that compromise the biological sustainability of fish stocks and the viability of commercial, Indigenous and recreational fishing. In Australia, government plays a key role in fisheries management to address the economic, social and biological concerns that can arise from open-access fisheries. The Australian Government and state and territory governments are responsible for the management of fisheries within their jurisdictions. However, recreational fishing in Commonwealth waters is managed by the jurisdiction immediately adjacent to those waters.

Australia’s fishery resources are valued by a range of groups for a variety of reasons. About 3.4 million Australians engage in recreational fishing each year, for a range of reasons—including for food, thrill of the catch, health benefits and love of the outdoors (Campbell & Murphy 2005; Henry & Lyle 2003). In the commercial sector around 9,000 people are employed in direct catching and aquaculture activities, providing seafood to both domestic and international consumers (Savage & Hobsbawn 2015). Smyth, Egan & Kennett (2018) highlight the cultural, social and economic values that customary fishing provides to Indigenous communities, including encompassing a deep, multifaceted value to Indigenous people, allowing for the maintenance of connection to country, culture, identity, spirituality and knowledge. Australia’s fishery resources also offer tourism opportunities, for example the Great Barrier Reef Maine Park (Esparon, Stoeckl & Farr 2015), and have a range of non-use economic values (Hassall & Associates 2001).

User groups often highlight the need for access to a fair and equitable share of resources for competing users—commercial, recreational and Indigenous fisheries. However, this can be complex to achieve. The scarcity of catch, social and economic data for the recreational and Indigenous fishing sectors is a key difficulty for policymakers. It can also be difficult to compare different sectors and goods. During the resource allocation process, policymakers must also consider factors such as biomass, the stock structure and the surrounding environment and interactions within the ecosystem.

In Australia, most economic assessments of recreational fisheries use fisher expenditure data to help measure the regional or national benefit of recreational fisheries on income levels, employment and the economy more broadly. However, these measures are known to be incomplete and not comparable with measures of the value of access to other sectors.

To efficiently allocate resources between users, the net benefit of access by each sector needs to be compared. This requires more information than expenditure data. Ideally, the change that occurs in each sector’s net economic value when allocation shares change would guide allocation decisions. For a reallocation to be worthwhile, there needs to be an increase in overall net economic benefit across the sectors.

This report provides a literature review of current approaches for resource allocation in Australia and overseas.

Examples of resource allocation agreements in Western Australia and Tasmania

Western Australia’s integrated fisheries management policy—Perth metropolitan Roe’s abalone fishery
Figure 1
The Roe’s abalone fishery in Perth is an example of resource allocation managed through integrated fisheries management

Mollusc Science (DPIRD, Western Australia)

The Perth metropolitan Roe’s abalone fishery operates in shallow coastal waters along Western Australia’s coast, from Moore River mouth to Cape Bouvard. The resource allocation process is undertaken using the integrated fisheries management policy (DFWA 2013). The Minister for Fisheries determines the final allocations (likely to be fixed for 5 years) based on the Integrated Fisheries Allocation Advisory Committee’s report. Members of the allocation committee represent government, and the commercial and recreational sectors. If the committee establishes a need for allocation:

  1. The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development prepares a report detailing each sector’s current management arrangements, historical catch, species biological characteristics, allowable harvest and other considerations such as social, lifestyle, regional employment and economic issues. In September 2005 the department completed a report for Roe’s abalone.
  2. The allocation committee conducts investigations through consultation with stakeholder groups. Consultation identifies areas of conflict or agreement between different parties and draws on technical material and data relevant to the fishery. The committee then releases a draft report for public comment (usually for a period of 3 months). The Roe’s abalone report was released for public consultation. The full consultation plan involved a series of public meetings, radio and flyer advertisements, and articles in Western Australian newspapers. Information was also released for recreational abalone fishers of Chinese and Vietnamese descent.

The committee reviewed public comments from February 2007 and published the final report in April 2009. The recreational sector allocation for the Perth metropolitan Roe’s abalone fishery is currently 18.6 tonnes. This represents a significant portion of the total allowable catch. For example, recreational fisher’s landing of Roe’s abalone was around 41 % of the total catch of this species in Western Australia in 2014, with 15-25 tonnes taken in Zone 1, an area including the Perth metropolitan Roe’s abalone fishery, and 14 tonnes in the remainder of the state (Hart, Brown & O’Malley 2015).

Tasmania’s rock lobster fishery
Figure 1
he Tasmanian rock lobster fishery is managed through a resource sharing arrangement between commercial and recreational fishers.

Source: Shutterstock

Revill and Williams (2006) detail the process for developing resource sharing arrangements for the Tasmanian rock lobster fishery. After reaching a 10% of commercial catch trigger point, recreational catch in the fishery was subject to review in 2003 by the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment. Relations between the commercial and recreational sectors had deteriorated prior to this trigger being reached due to concerns about equitable resource sharing. The Department formed a working group in 2003 to develop resource sharing options. These options were put forward to the relevant fishery advisory committee and peak bodies.

A working group was established to develop key principles for a resource sharing arrangement, which received support from the FACs and peak bodies. The Department released an issues paper to promote discussion before a new rock lobster management plan was developed. A total of 394 responses were received from recreational fishers and 125 responses from commercial fishers.

A sharing framework was released for a second phase of public consultation, following the Department’s consideration of feedback from the issues paper and Recreational and Commercial Fishery Advisory Committees. This formed part of the review of the rock lobster management plan. Public meetings were also held across the state. Submissions by commercial fishers were generally supportive of the framework; however, the few submissions from recreational fishers expressed a wide range of views. The proposal eventually went ahead without amendment.

One of the key outcomes was the establishment of a TAC set for the whole fishery, divided into a total allowable commercial catch (TACC) and a total allowable recreational catch (TARC). The TACC is managed within the existing quota management system, while the TARC is set at a percentage of the TACC. The TACC is monitored through surveys of recreational fishers and catch controlled through bag, possession and size limits, gear restrictions and seasonal closures. Individually, recreational fishers are not required to fish under a formal quota management system. However, collectively they are subject to a fishery wide TARC. Initial allocations were based on historical catch levels, with buffers to accommodate the increasing recreational sector. Monitoring of the recreational catch is undertaken through biennial surveys.

Part 2 of the Tasmanian Fisheries (Rock Lobster) Rules 2011 contains the final sharing arrangement.

Example of international resource allocation

Allocation process for Pacific halibut in Canada
Figure 1
Fisheries and Oceans Canada determines access to the Pacific halibut in Canada for commercial, recreational, and food, social, and ceremonial fisheries.

Source: Shutter stock

Halibut is a highly valued species for both commercial and recreational fishing sectors in Canada. Fisheries and Oceans Canada determines access to the Pacific halibut Canadian TAC for commercial, recreational, and food, social, and ceremonial fisheries. The International Pacific Halibut Commission sets TACs for the United States and Canada.

In 2000 Fisheries and Oceans Canada oversaw an allocation agreement between the recreational and commercial sectors that recommended a 9% share for the recreational sector. In 2003 the recreational catch ceiling was raised to 12% to allow for growth in the sports sector (Gislason 2006). A recommendation was then given to all sectors to develop a suitable market-based mechanism for future allocation adjustments. This allowed the recreational sector to trade their surplus to the commercial sector, or to obtain additional quota where the recreational sector sought catches greater than 12% of the TAC. In 2004 and 2005 approximately 320 tonnes was transferred between sectors.

In 2011 Fisheries and Oceans Canada piloted an experimental fishery program where recreational stakeholders could acquire an experimental licence that would allow them to lease quota from commercial harvesters through a market-based transfer mechanism. The experimental licence allows fishers to fish halibut beyond the limits and times of the regular recreational licence. Under the current arrangement between commercial and recreational fisheries, 85% of the resource is allocated to the commercial sector and 15% to the recreational sector. An experimental licence holder can acquire additional halibut quota from the commercial sector. Fisheries and Oceans Canada tracks the transfer of quota through a quota management system (FOC 2019).

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Last reviewed: 26 May 2020
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