The AFMA's responsibilities, objectives and functions in managing Commonwealth fisheries are defined under the Fisheries Administration Act 1991. AFMA may determine a management plan for a fishery after it has given public notice of its intention, and both invited and considered representations. A plan must set out its objectives and the methods for achieving those goals, and may also include the amount of fish which can be taken, fishing concessions, procedures for selecting persons to whom concessions are to be granted, and the kind and quantity of equipment that may be used.
While responsibility for determining management arrangements lies directly with AFMA, the Fisheries Administration Act 1991 allows the establishment of Management Advisory Committees (MACs) to assist AFMA '... in the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers in relation to a fishery'. AFMA can delegate functions to the MACs, in which case the MACs can hold the same level of power as AFMA. In these circumstances the MAC must act in accordance with policies determined by AFMA and must comply with directions AFMA gives it. Within the MACs, issues relating to a fishery are discussed, problems identified, possible solutions developed and recommendations made to AFMA. MACs provide a forum for AFMA to consult with industry on its management arrangements, for industry to make its views known to AFMA and for consultation between researchers and industry.
The MACs consist of: an independent chairperson, the AFMA officer responsible for the management of the fishery in question, and up to seven members determined by AFMA after consultation with States, industry, interest groups and researchers. In practice, in the latter category the MACs have a number of industry representatives, usually at least one member representing State fisheries organisations and one from the fisheries research community. There is also an increasing trend towards representation of conservation and recreational fishing interests on MACs.
Despite the increased role of industry in management, there is a perception among many operators that AFMA does not consult sufficiently with the MACs, that the MACs are not sufficiently representative and that consultation is often superficial with little real notice being taken of the views of the industry. There has also been some questions regarding the appropriateness of AFMA's objective of maximising economic efficiency in the exploitation of fisheries resources. It has been argued that government management of fisheries should be restricted to ensuring sustainability of the resource, through the setting of biologically safe reference points, and that industry should be responsible for harvesting the resource as they see fit while adhering to such conservation criteria.
The institutional arrangements place AFMA at risk of bias toward the fishing industry at the expense of other community sectors. To counter this perception, AFMA has given effect to its corporate plan intention to broaden membership of the MACs to include members from environmental, recreational and community interests. The concept of greater stakeholder involvement in the direct management of individual fisheries appears to be an inevitable and desirable outcome. Indeed, the provisions relating to MACs (sections 56 to 67 of the Fisheries Administration Act 1991) clearly envisage a gradual devolution of decision-making responsibilities to individual MACs.
DPIE does have a role in monitoring the outcomes of fisheries management and has implemented a program of independent assessment of AFMA's management performance. Economic and sustainability indicators to assess fisheries management (or indeed management of any natural resources) are being developed for this purpose.