Management of specific pressures

All levels of government play a role in managing specific pressures at national, state and territory or local scales.

Climate and climate change

Overall, Australia’s management of climate and climate change in the marine environment is considered to be partially effective and improving (Hobday & Spillman 2021). Currently, most management responses are reactive (after an event) or implemented in real time based on in situ or synoptic information. Proactive management, defined as forward planning ahead of an impact, can be informed by short-term forecasts and/or long-term climate projections (e.g. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports). In terms of climate preparedness and response, the marine sector may be lagging the agricultural sector by 10–20 years (e.g. Marshall 2010).

Both reactive and proactive management in response to climate pressures are influenced by the ‘agility’ and risk appetite of the particular marine sector (Hodgkinson et al. 2014), which are influenced by a range of factors, including:

  • the degree to which system manipulation is possible (e.g. aquaculture vs wild fisheries), which can be related to the lifecycle of the biological components (e.g. short-lived vs long-lived) or accessibility for manipulation (e.g. Alderman & Hobday 2017) and any associated infrastructure (movable, restricted, flexible)
  • the regulatory environment (e.g. how flexible are management rules; Marshall et al. 2013)
  • market forces (e.g. tourism season, consumer preference, competition)
  • value, profitability and relative size of marine industries
  • leadership and key influencer attitudes, including political power and influence
  • social expectations (e.g. for management of coral reefs, World Heritage areas)
  • visibility of impacts from extreme events or long-term change (e.g. De’ath et al. 2012, Babcock et al. 2019).

Marine management examples

Marine management responses have been implemented around Australia on a range of timescales. Most actions are short term (days to months), and only a few currently exist for longer timescales (decades):

  • For fisheries, biological information is generally available to support climate adaptation responses, such as zoning and updating stock assessment model parameters, for the most valuable species, although this varies by region and species (Fogarty et al. 2019). Despite this, climate change is not generally perceived as a priority (Hobday & Cvitanovic 2017); less than one-quarter of all fisheries management documents have content relating to climate (Fogarty et al. 2020). However, long-term adaptation planning in several Commonwealth fisheries has been initiated (Fulton et al. 2021b), based on efforts to model long-term projections for exploited stocks (Fulton et al. 2018, Pethybridge et al. 2020). In the shorter term, a range of reactive regulatory measures have been used in response to extreme events such as marine heatwaves and tropical cyclones, including fishery closures, zoning changes and restocking (e.g. Oliver et al. 2017, Caputi et al. 2019), and changes in harvest rules in reef fisheries (Hodgkinson et al. 2014). Proactive management in response to climate variability has been used in the east coast longline (Hobday 2011) and South Australian (Eveson et al. 2015) tuna fisheries for more than a decade, with improved economic outcomes.
  • For aquaculture, managers have generally been reactionary in the past, as a result of the high level of system manipulation and relative agility of the sector. However, larger commercial companies (e.g. salmon, prawns) are increasingly becoming proactive in their management responses to climate variability, particularly in the use of seasonal forecast tools (e.g. Spillman & Hobday 2014, Spillman et al. 2015, Payne et al. 2017). They respond to predicted environmental risks with changes in stocking rates, harvest schedules, market alerts and husbandry (e.g. feed composition, location changes).
  • In coral reef management, some management agencies have been proactive in their management approaches for both climate variability and climate change. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has developed an early warning system for coral bleaching, comprising real-time monitoring (e.g. Garde et al. (2014) and seasonal prediction tools (e.g. Smith & Spillman 2019)). This information is used to coordinate operational activities, inform scientific advisory groups (activated during mass bleaching events), and brief stakeholders and the general public. In the longer term, management plans have been driven by 2 climate change adaptation plans (2007–12 and 2012–17) and the resilience blueprint for the Great Barrier Reef. There has also been significant investment in developing management decision support for climate change, such as the Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program. In Western Australia, the Resilient Reefs program aims to proactively manage climate change impacts on coral reefs (Parks and Wildlife Service 2021).
  • Energy companies and regulators are increasingly sophisticated users of climate information and forecasts in response to climate-related risks (e.g. Gundlach 2020), and this will grow in future as offshore infrastructure expands (e.g. wind farms).

Management effectiveness of climate change impacts

The research community (e.g. Hobday & Cvitanovic 2017), industry sectors and a range of government agencies continue to call for improved marine management with respect to climate change. Climate-ready marine management for short- and long-term climate impacts on the ocean is an emerging area. Current gaps are in dissemination and user engagement for uptake, including refinement of forecast tools, and the need for more discussion of the costs and benefits of better management and adaptation. Updated information is also needed on projected species responses to change and the implications for future management (Fogarty et al. 2020).

Information on climate risks (historical and forecasted) is increasingly available online for public access but is not necessarily designed for effective stakeholder use. As development of proactive management strategies in the marine sector for climate variability and change is still maturing, long-term effectiveness of different options is yet to be assessed (e.g. forecasts provide information, but responses vary). Improved outreach, stakeholder engagement, and sharing of adaptation successes will advance uptake and effectiveness.

However, increasing frequency and intensity of extreme events (e.g. cyclones and storm surge; marine heatwaves; long-term changes in winds, ocean temperatures and pH) can only be directly managed by global-scale emissions reduction, carbon sequestration and other climate system manipulations (e.g. Brent et al. 2018, McDonald et al. 2019, McDonald et al. 2020).

Commercial fishing

Overall, Australia’s management of its commercial fisheries is considered to be effective and improving (Little & Hill 2021). The partnership approach between managers, commercial fishers, scientists and other stakeholders is recognised globally as a standard for fisheries management (Marchal et al. 2016), and the Australian approach to fisheries management offers important lessons for natural resource management more broadly (Farmery et al. 2021) (see case study: Lessons for marine management derived from fisheries management practices). For Traditional Custodians, it is important to recognise that fish stock distribution does not relate to the boundaries of sea Country. This raises the need for an approach to stock management that accounts for the diversity across multiple Traditional Owner groups. A National Fisheries Plan is currently under development by the Commonwealth in consultation with state and territory fisheries agencies and stakeholders, and is due for release in early 2022. This plan aims to drive sustainable growth by providing a strategic framework for a clear and consistent national approach across jurisdictions, and improved opportunities for all sectors.

All Australian jurisdictions understand the direct pressures that commercial fishing imposes on the marine environment. Almost all management agencies use evidence-based processes, such as harvest strategies for commercially important species, to determine sustainable catch levels. However, implementation of these processes is not uniform, with some stocks having an unknown sustainability status. 

Australian jurisdictions have sought to implement single-jurisdiction stock management where possible (i.e. where a single jurisdiction is responsible for managing each individual stock), rather than having management shared by jurisdictions. Historically, the Offshore Constitutional Settlement has been the primary means to do so. More recently, the emphasis has been to develop common (cross-jurisdictional) stock assessments and harvest strategies for shared stocks.

Spatial management is used widely to reduce conflicts between sectors, and increasingly to reduce the fishing impacts on vulnerable species and habitats. Some closures prohibit specific fishing methods within sensitive habitats. An increasing range of mechanisms and technical tools is being used to reduce interactions with seabirds, marine mammals, reptiles and other vulnerable species. Such bycatch reduction devices include tori lines, sprayers, and seal and turtle excluder devices.

Management across sectors remains a challenge in terms of both accurate data collection and resource sharing. Management agencies rely to varying degrees on co-funding of management costs with industry. Increased use of risk-based intelligence gathering and reporting of fishing activity, and uptake of vessel monitoring systems, is benefiting compliance. Cross-sectoral management with the recreational sector continues to improve, with several jurisdictions committed to regular surveys and rules around catch limits. Traditional fishing is being increasingly recognised, but there remains no common agreement between Traditional Owners and jurisdictions about how to move forward (see also Indigenous commercial fishing).

A range of best-practice guidelines for fisheries management have been developed (Sloane et al. 2014, Penney et al. 2016, Hobday et al. 2019) and are steadily being deployed. Small-scale or data-limited fisheries are prevalent and remain a challenge (N Hill, South Australian Research and Development Institute, pers. comm., 2021; Dowling et al. 2016). Jurisdictions have begun to use a range of processes and decision support tools to better ensure the sustainability of these fisheries. Other outstanding unresolved challenges remain in recognising traditional fisheries, and in managing climate change, shared stocks, interactions with recreational fisheries and cumulative ecosystem effects of fishing, including reporting on discards. 

Case Study Lessons for marine management derived from fisheries management practices

Important lessons from Australian fisheries management are relevant to the management of natural marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments and resources more broadly (Farmery et al. 2021). For example, Australian fisheries management has used innovative approaches to:

  • reduce conflict in decision-making through defined targets and reference points (e.g. as part of harvest strategies)
  • explore consequences of implementing different management decisions in fisheries systems (e.g. management strategy evaluation)
  • apply the precautionary principle (e.g. ecological risk assessments)
  • consider a wider range of impacts and cumulative impacts, including climate change, on marine systems.

The success of the arrangements is due to co-development with expertise-based consultative forums (e.g. resource advisory groups, management advisory committees).

The remit of fisheries management has broadened, and is more encompassing and effective across a range of areas. Approaches that have been successful in fisheries management can be applied to other marine environmental management areas to support development and application of decision frameworks to improve performance. Four examples of approaches in fisheries that could be extended to environmental management in general are discussed here.

Use of reference points and thresholds to reduce conflict in decision-making

Fisheries management has historically been centred on focal fishery species (target species), with increasingly sophisticated management approaches. For example, harvest strategies are being more widely used, along with reference points against which fishery performance is judged (e.g. Figure 30). These approaches have led to clearly defined and agreed decisions ahead of time based on an assessment of the state of the resource (e.g. Smith et al. 2007), which has improved outcomes (Smith et al. 2014).

The equivalent approach could be used for management of coastal areas – for example, to manage development of coastal areas for tourism. The level of visitation to a site (i.e. impact) could be reduced or increased according to reference points and the state of the system. This may provide an incentive for restoration, as the activity in an area could then increase. Other situations where the level of permissible impact could be formally related to environmental status include water extraction for agricultural use, and water clarity (status) and fertiliser use (impact) in catchments (e.g. MacNeil 2013).

Figure 30 Schematic harvest strategy

Note: The level of allowable removal is related to the stock status. When stock status is healthy (green), the removal rate (impact) can be high. In the cautious zone, the level of permissible removal (impact) is reduced. Below a limit reference point, removal is halted in the critical zone.

Use of management strategy evaluation to test alternatives

Management strategy evaluation is a simulation tool that fishery scientists and managers use to simulate the workings of a fisheries system and test whether potential harvest strategies – or management procedures – can achieve pre-agreed management objectives, or identify a ‘best’ management strategy among a set of candidate strategies (Punt et al. 2016). This approach is widely considered to be the most appropriate way to evaluate the trade-offs achieved by alternative management strategies and to assess the consequences of uncertainty for achieving a management goal. It has been used to set management rules that have resulted in stock recovery in Australian fisheries, including the Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery (AFMA 2014, CCSBT 2021). The process involves developing an operating model that describes the system dynamics, and a management strategy, with performance statistics used to evaluate each management option (Figure 31). It is important to define and set parameters for the objectives for the system under management; this has not been widely attempted for marine systems outside fisheries.

Figure 31 Conceptual overview of the management strategy evaluation modelling process

Data-limited methods and guidelines

The precautionary principle has been widely used in fisheries. Capacity to assess and manage the biological and ecological sustainability of Australia’s fisheries has increased as a result of development of data-poor methods and quality assurance standards for fisheries assessment science (Penney et al. 2016); development of best-practice guidelines for fisheries management (Hobday et al. 2018b); and revision of fisheries harvest strategy, bycatch and ecological risk assessment polices and guidelines for Commonwealth-managed fisheries (Rayns 2007, AFMA 2017b, AFMA 2017a, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources 2018b, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources 2018a).

Other marine management areas that are challenged by data limitations (e.g. reef restoration, mariculture expansion, offshore wind farms) can use tools developed in fisheries to assess impacts from marine activities, or to plan interventions to recover degraded systems. Standard procedures, as used in fisheries, can be used to guide decision-makers and investment by marine managers.

Integrated assessment of system risks and performance

Recent years have seen a broadening of the fisheries management focus to cover other species, as well as economic, governance and social performance of a fishery. The increase in the number of issues to be considered by management can also increase the cost of management, particularly in the case of ecological risks (Dichmont et al. 2017). In addition to these aspects, managers must now also consider climate change, cumulative impacts, market pressures, eco-certification, Indigenous and recreational fishing. There is impetus for future management arrangements to also encompass issues such as the carbon footprint and nutritional contribution of fisheries. Management arrangements in several fisheries have expanded to account for cultural, economic and social sustainability. In some cases, fishing rights have been granted to Traditional Owners (e.g. Kimberley Mud Crab Fishery in Western Australia; DPIRD 2018) and formal allocations have been made that account for recreational fishing exploitation in the total allowable catch (e.g. southern bluefin tuna; AFMA 2019).

System models that account for multiple aspects can be used to examine system risks and cumulative impacts. While fisheries have a formal management mandate, many nonfishery systems take a sector-based management approach, with no mechanism for harmonisation (Stephenson et al. 2019). Marine management can become more holistic, if common objectives and tools can be integrated across disparate sectors.

Indigenous commercial fishing

Indigenous commercial fishing is important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for wellbeing, involvement in cultural practices, economic development and employment. Management of Indigenous commercial fisheries requires regulatory bodies to understand and enable practices for access, inclusion and decision-making by Traditional Owners (Fischer & Hunter 2021b). Management measures need to be consistent with the rights of Indigenous people and avoid unintentionally or unnecessarily impeding economic development for Indigenous communities.

Around Australia, each community experiences its own challenges with securing access to commercial fisheries, being included in the management of commercial fisheries, and having influence and input into management (Schnierer & Egan 2012, Colquhoun 2017, Schnierer et al. 2018, Lee 2019a). Opportunities within commercial fishing enterprises remain inaccessible to most Traditional Owners (see case study: Indigenous commercial fishing in New South Wales).

In Australia, experiences have demonstrated that policy initiatives aimed at creating development and employment opportunities for Indigenous communities often fail because they do not incorporate the broader prerequisites for success. These include closely involving the community in designing and implementing initiatives, as well as investing in education, business training and broader capacity building.

Indigenous involvement in Australian commercial fisheries management

Legislation changes in 2017 mean that the Australian Fisheries Management Authority must consider Indigenous interests in fisheries decision-making processes (Productivity Commission 2016). The Productivity Commission discussed approaches that would bring Indigenous fishers into the commercial fishing framework (Productivity Commission 2016).

Indigenous participation in regulatory bodies such as management advisory committees and resource assessment groups is lacking across most state and Commonwealth fisheries. When the relationship between the government and Traditional Owners is solely for compliance, there is limited scope to use participation and data for positive purposes, such as exploring innovative development programs (Lee 2019a). Consensus-building approaches and stronger collaborations designed to allow learning from each other would help to reduce miscommunications and concerns with the implementation of regulatory frameworks.

The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) Indigenous Reference Group has invested in several research projects to advance Indigenous rights, interests, opportunities and engagement in Australia’s fisheries (Colquhoun 2017, Schnierer et al. 2018, Lee 2019b). However, fisheries management agencies across the jurisdictions appear to have struggled to engage with, or make effective use of, these outputs and to make progress with Indigenous fishing interests. The inclusion of Indigenous communities in fisheries management would involve a substantial investment in capacity-building initiatives (Colquhoun 2017).

Since the 2016 state of the environment report, some additional building blocks have either been established or envisaged across the jurisdictions. Torres Strait leads the way, with a 100% Torres Strait Islander ownership roadmap (Table 8). Expanding opportunities for Traditional Owners to secure a commercial licence to sell their catch, combined with investment in Indigenous enterprises through key organisations (e.g. the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation) and education tailored for business owners, will help to support and accelerate sustainable growth of the Indigenous commercial fishing industry in Australia.

Table 8 Key aspects of Indigenous commercial fisheries in Australia


Current and future opportunities


Release of the Commonwealth fisheries resource-sharing framework


Aboriginal Fishing Trust Fund to develop businesses associated with fisheries resources (see case study: Indigenous commercial fishing in New South Wales)


Aboriginal coastline licence to build economic development via small-scale community fishing business at low start-up costs


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander commercial fishing development policy


Establishment of a respectful and constructive relationship to assist Traditional Owners to secure cultural, social and economic wellbeing


Development of business case exploring the benefits of Indigenous Tasmanian access to wild-caught abalone

Torres Strait Islandsa

Roadmap to 100% ownership of Torres Strait commercial fisheries by Torres Strait communities


Victorian Aboriginal Fishing Strategy aims to facilitate economic opportunities for Aboriginal people through participation in the fishing industry


WA is transitioning Aboriginal commercial fishing arrangements into more secure licensing arrangements that carry a greater level of access right

NSW = New South Wales; NT = Northern Territory; Qld = Queensland; SA = South Australia; Tas = Tasmania; Vic = Victoria; WA = Western Australia

  1. Torres Strait Fisheries are considered Commonwealth fisheries and are managed at the national level.

Effectiveness of management in Indigenous commercial fishing

Indigenous fishing principles were developed by the National Indigenous Fishing Technical Working Group (NIFTWG) in 2004 to encourage the recognition of Indigenous traditional fishing practices, to enhance Indigenous involvement in commercial fisheries–related enterprises (commercial fishing, charter fishing and ecotourism activities) and to encourage greater Indigenous participation in fisheries management. An audit by Schnierer et al. (2018) assessed the frequency of the NIFTWG principles in fisheries-related documents identified using an internet search. The audit reported that all 7 principles occurred in only around 4% of documents, and none of the principles were addressed in 53% of documents. This highlights the ongoing and still incomplete process of legislative reform and transition to best practice of culturally grounded management frameworks.

Culturally grounded methods ensure that aspects such as the recording of catch and mapping of fishing grounds respect the customs, values and stewardship of Traditional Custodians. Since the 2016 state of the environment report, little progress has been made by fisheries managers to recognise, explore and progress the adoption of culturally grounded methods for Indigenous participation. Although some states and territories have started to increase access and licensing options for Traditional Custodians in commercial fisheries, the power and decision-making system often does not take a collaborative approach. Investments in co-design approaches and capacity building will help to build confidence that the consensus building with fisheries decisions is informed, effective and fair.

Since 2016, there have been some restructures and transitions within fisheries management frameworks, intended to recognise Indigenous fishing and strengthen engagement with Indigenous fishing stakeholders. The Productivity Commission Review on Marine Fisheries and Aquaculture (Productivity Commission 2016) devoted a chapter to Indigenous fisheries, and made recommendations relating broadly to policy, leadership and consistent approaches. In 2017, changes were made to the Fisheries Management Act 1991 to require the Australian Fisheries Management Authority to ensure that interests of Indigenous fishers are considered in Commonwealth fisheries management decisions. The Commonwealth fisheries resource-sharing framework was released in 2020, along with a call to develop an Indigenous engagement strategy for fishing interests, with a focus on Commonwealth fisheries. The FRDC Indigenous Reference Group has been responsive to regulatory and policy change, as well as supporting priority areas of research to better support the primacy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to be part of commercial fisheries.

However, there are no examples of co-management approaches in commercial fisheries. A study by Plagányi et al. (2020) describes a harvest strategy developed in an Indigenous commercial fishery in Torres Strait, with consultation, that provides a vehicle for traditional knowledge and objectives, but is still constrained within the institutional (top-down) governance and policy obligations. A roadmap is being developed and led by the Torres Strait Regional Authority towards 100% ownership of the commercial fisheries by Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal Traditional Owners in the region.

Indigenous people are increasingly aspiring to grow livelihood and wellbeing benefits from commercial fisheries. Although some progress has been made since 2016, there is still a lack of readiness, capacity and confidence across most Indigenous communities for engaging in rapidly evolving and hierarchical fisheries management environments. The continued failure of governments to adequately acknowledge traditional knowledge and indicators was identified by Traditional Owners as a key barrier (Figure 32). There is a large gap between how Indigenous communities want to use, manage and benefit from their aquatic resources, and what is possible within current state and territory fishing management laws and regulations (Smyth et al. 2018).

Strengthening the cross-cultural knowledge of fishery managers could raise the bar of co-designing in fishery management. A review of Indigenous participation in fisheries management would help to establish the level of Traditional Owner satisfaction with the process for management of commercial fisheries and identify ways to improve involvement.

Figure 32 Traditional Owner views about the proactiveness of government agencies in ensuring that environmental and sustainability reporting is informed by traditional knowledge and cultural indicators of change
Case Study Indigenous commercial fishing in New South Wales

Stephan Schnierer, Chairperson, NSW Aboriginal Land Council, Fishing Fund Advisory Committee

Indigenous people have a long history of fishing in New South Wales aquatic ecosystems, targeting a wide range of fish and invertebrate species for food, trade and barter, and cultural connection to Country (Schnierer 2011, Schnierer & Egan 2015, Schnierer & Egan 2016). Although European colonisation of New South Wales successively disconnected Indigenous people from their traditional lands and waters, some communities maintained their cultural fishing practices, and some people became licensed Indigenous fishers (Schnierer & Egan 2012, Voyer et al. 2016). Until the early 1990s, there were Aboriginal people in the New South Wales commercial fishing sector, although the actual numbers are unknown. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there may have been 100 or more.

In 2012, research on Indigenous commercial fishing participation found 45 people working in the New South Wales commercial wild-catch fishing sector and 2 in the aquaculture sector (Schnierer & Egan 2012). Most of these participants had spent their working lives as professional fishers, fishing mostly on their traditional Country in nearshore coastal fisheries. At that time, Indigenous fishers represented around 2.6% of the approximately 1,000 New South Wales fishing businesses and 3.1% of total fishing shares held in New South Wales (Schnierer & Egan 2012).

Issues of importance

Some key issues of concern for Indigenous commercial fishers in New South Wales include loss of access to fishable waters from their traditional Country through the establishment of marine parks and recreational fishing areas, the distinction drawn between Indigenous cultural fishing and commercial fishing, the management costs associated with remaining in the sector, fisheries management approaches that have been implemented without assessing the impacts on Indigenous commercial fishing, the lack of genuine support from non-Indigenous commercial fishers, and perceived failure of fisheries management to address concerns they have raised on various New South Wales Fisheries advisory committees (see Schnierer & Egan 2012, Voyer et al. 2016, Barclay 2020).

Current state

The New South Wales commercial fishing industry is made up of 10 major wild-harvest fisheries managed under 2 different management regimes: the share management fisheries and the restricted fisheries. There are 7 share management fisheries in New South Wales: the Estuary General Fishery (EGF), the Ocean Hauling Fishery (OHF), the Estuary Prawn Trawl Fishery, the Ocean Trap and Line Fishery, the Ocean Trawl Fishery, the Lobster Fishery and the Abalone Fishery (NSW DPI 2019). To be a commercial fisher in New South Wales requires a commercial fishing licence and a fishing business, or access to a fishing business, with the minimum required number of shares.

Indigenous commercial fishers are found predominantly in the EGF and the OHF (Schnierer & Egan 2012). Aboriginal people in the commercial sector have declined over the past 10 years. In 2012, there were 31 Indigenous fishing businesses; in 2021, that number is 22 (Schnierer & Egan 2012; shareholding information for New South Wales commercial share management fisheries, as at 25 March 2021). The reasons for this decline are not clear but may be related to the recent implementation of structural adjustment reforms in the commercial sector (Barclay 2020).

Significance to community

Indigenous commercial fishing contributes to the health and wellbeing of Indigenous communities in a range of ways, including provision of culturally and materially important food, involvement in cultural practices, and provision of employment opportunities (Schnierer & Egan 2012, Voyer et al. 2016).

Indigenous commercial fishers in the OHF and the EGF often provide some of their catch to their communities, especially during seasonal runs of culturally iconic species such as sea mullet (Mugil cephalus). This sharing of catch can be an important nutritional boost for Aboriginal community members, especially Elders (Schnierer & Egan 2012). During the mullet season, local Indigenous communities will come down to the beach to help their fishers pull the nets and load the fish into boxes. This activity provides opportunities to strengthen social connections and share traditional fishing knowledge within the fishers’ community (Schnierer & Egan 2012, Voyer et al. 2016).


New South Wales fisheries are managed by the NSW Department of Primary Industries under the Fisheries Management Act 1994 and the Marine Estate Management Act 2014, while seeking consistency with Australia’s National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development 1992.

Each fishery has a management strategy and plan in place. As of 2021, the NSW Department of Primary Industries is developing harvest strategies for each fishery.

Aboriginal interests are represented on the main fisheries advisory bodies, including the Ministerial Fisheries Advisory Council, the Commercial Fishing NSW Advisory Council and the Recreational Fishing NSW Advisory Council. The Aboriginal Fishing Advisory Council advises on a range of fisheries management issues and oversees expenditure from the Aboriginal Fishing Trust Fund.


Continuation of Indigenous participation in New South Wales commercial fisheries will require innovative and supportive polices and strategies that recognise cultural differences between non-Indigenous commercial fishing and Indigenous commercial fishing. Also needed is capacity building that enables Indigenous commercial fishers to keep up with fisheries management changes that impact their ability to stay in the sector (Schnierer et al. 2018).

In recent years, 2 fishing funds have been established in New South Wales. The first is the New South Wales Government’s Aboriginal Fishing Trust Fund, which provides grants and loans to enhance, maintain and protect Aboriginal cultural fishing, and for Aboriginal communities to develop businesses associated with fisheries resources throughout New South Wales. The second is the NSW Aboriginal Land Council Fishing Fund, which is a partnership with the Australian Government’s National Indigenous Australians Agency to support the growth and development of the New South Wales Aboriginal fishing industry to achieve long-term economic and employment opportunities.

Recreational fishing

Overall, Australia’s management of its recreational fisheries is considered to be partially effective and generally improving (Lynch et al. 2021a). Cooperation and coordination across jurisdictions are improving but continues to be a key challenge.

Regulatory responsibilities for Australian fisheries are shared between the Australian Government and the governments of each state and territory. States manage recreational fisheries but are required to adhere to state and Commonwealth regulations as they apply to access and prohibitions, such as ‘no take’ reserves in national parks or sanctuary zones in marine parks.

Most fisheries are regulated through a combination of output and input controls, licensing, and spatial and temporal closures (Lynch et al. 2019). Output controls mainly take the form of possession and size limits to reduce overharvest. Input controls, such as closed seasons, gear restrictions and gear exclusions, are used to limit impacts in sensitive areas, and protect life history stages and seasonal spawners. There are also various types of recreational fishing licensing, from general fishing licences to activity-specific licences that limit access to fisheries.

Data collected through the various recreational fishing surveys carried out in Australia are increasingly being used to determine and monitor resource allocations between fishery sectors. Assessments of recreational fisheries conducted by states and territories include telephone-diary surveys, which provide catch and effort estimates at broad spatial scales (statewide, regional) and temporal scales (annual, seasonal), as well as roving progressive counts and access-point surveys that provide finer-scale information (Smallwood et al. 2012, Wise et al. 2012, Lynch 2014, Ochwada-Doyle et al. 2014, Wood et al. 2016, Lynch et al. 2020). However, conducting such surveys is an expensive undertaking, resulting in gaps between repeat surveys, and a lack of synchrony in surveys between states and territories.

Recreational survey statistics are combined with commercial catch data in some jurisdictions for species-level fisheries stock assessments. For example, this occurred for rock lobster in Tasmania and Western Australia when the recreational catch reached a trigger level of a significant proportion of the commercial catch (Lyle et al. 2005, Crowe et al. 2013).

Several jurisdictions are aiming to incorporate recreational statistics further into assessments and harvest strategies (Ryan et al. 2016). Where quality statistics are available, they contribute to Commonwealth and cross-jurisdictional fisheries assessments (e.g. see FRDC 2021b). A recent example is the inclusion of a recreational allocation in the Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery. This has been set at 5% of Australia’s total allowable catch, based on a national recreational fishing survey (Tracey et al. 2020).

Marine petrochemical and mineral industries

Australia’s management of marine petrochemical and mineral industries is considered to be effective and stable overall (Evans et al. 2021c).

Australia’s approach to management of petrochemical and mineral industries in the marine environment

Management of pressures associated with mineral, oil and gas extraction and production varies across jurisdictions, with a range of legislative processes in place. Most oil and gas exploration and production activity occurs in Commonwealth waters, whereas most mining activities occur in coastal waters under state regulation. Australia is also a member of the International Seabed Authority, which is currently developing international exploration and exploitation regulations.

In Commonwealth waters and coastal waters where regulatory powers and functions have been conferred, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) regulates oil and gas activities and associated pressures on the marine environment. NOPSEMA is now the sole regulator for the offshore oil and gas industry and greenhouse gas storage activities in Commonwealth waters, as well as for offshore renewable energies. This has resulted in a more consistent approach to regulation and management, a significant increase in the number of inspections and improved industry compliance. Although possible, no state or territory has conferred environmental regulation of offshore oil and gas activities to NOPSEMA, although some refer to NOPSEMA to provide consent to operate and use NOPSEMA guidance on environmental plans.

The environmental management authorisation process conducted by NOPSEMA under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 and associated environment regulations is endorsed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). This approach to regulation is considered appropriate to account for all environmental risks and impacts as required under legislation (Finkel 2019). NOPSEMA is subject to an independent operational review of its regulatory performance and review of the EPBC Act streamlining process every 5 years. The most recent operational review, including the EPBC program review, was conducted in 2020 (DISER 2020b).

Current mineral exploration and extraction regulatory arrangements establish 11 separate authorities (1 for each state, the Northern Territory and 4 external territories) to administer offshore mineral titles. Each of the state and Northern Territory regulatory authorities, known as Designated Authorities, is required to apply its own state-based environment, safety and mining regulations to adjacent Commonwealth waters. In Australia’s external territories, regulation is carried out by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.

Across state and territory waters, environmental management of mining, oil and gas is carried out in accordance with state and territory legislation. In some states and territories, specific policies for activities in coastal waters have been developed, whereas, in others, policies developed for activities on land apply to those in coastal waters. The Northern Territory recently reviewed environmental impacts and management of seabed mining (NT EPA 2020) as part of a review of a moratorium on seabed mining established in 2012.

Effectiveness of management of marine petrochemical and mineral industries

Consideration of environmental impacts (and therefore direct management of pressures) by individual proponents is required across all jurisdictions via environment plans submitted to and assessed by the relevant regulator. Guidelines for the development of these plans vary across jurisdictions. Most guidelines require that, in developing environment plans, relevant stakeholders should be consulted, and all risks to the environment should be considered, including those resulting from unplanned events (e.g. uncontrolled release of hydrocarbons as a result of compromised well integrity). Some regulators provide for public comment on environment plans, with comments received taken into account by the proponent in furthering development of the plans. In the case of NOPSEMA, regulatory requirements result in the publication of a statement identifying how the titleholder and the regulator (NOPSEMA) have taken into account any public comment on an environment plan for a seismic or exploration drilling activity.

Development and implementation of environment plans require proponents to demonstrate to the regulator that the environmental impacts and risks of the proposed activities will be reduced to as low as reasonably practicable and any impacts are at an acceptable level. Once approved by the relevant regulator, proponents are required to comply with their environment plans throughout the life of their activity and regularly report their environmental performance to the relevant regulator. Some regulators maintain inspection programs to check industry compliance; NOPSEMA carries out around 60 inspections each year (NOPSEMA 2020a).

High levels of industry compliance are reported by NOPSEMA; the low numbers of environmental incidents reported and the relatively low number of environment-related enforcement actions (NOPSEMA 2020a) suggest that, in general, offshore oil and gas activities are being conducted within acceptable levels of environmental impact and risks, and consistent with environmental performance outcomes.

Plastics and marine debris

Marine debris, often associated with plastic pollution, is identified as a key threatening process to vertebrate marine life under the EPBC Act because of the potential for ‘injury and fatality … caused by ingestion of, or entanglement in, harmful marine debris’.

Australia’s approach to managing plastics and debris in the marine environment

The 2009 Threat abatement plan for the impacts of marine debris on vertebrate marine life (TAP) identified sources and types of harmful marine debris, including land-based waste that leaks to the environment, fishing gear lost from recreational and commercial activities, and vessel-based losses of anthropogenic materials that persist in the marine and coastal environments. Revised in 2018, the updated TAP – Threat abatement plan for the impacts of marine debris on the vertebrate wildlife of Australia’s coasts and oceans (DEE 2018) – incorporated information on knowledge and knowledge gaps, as well as identifying actions needed to abate the potential risks to vertebrate taxa from harmful marine debris. The TAP obliges the Australian Government and its affiliated agencies ‘to respond to the impact of marine debris on vertebrate marine life, and identifies the research, management and other actions needed to reduce the impacts of marine debris on affected species’.

The deliberate discarding or dumping of waste at sea is prohibited by the Environmental Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 (as amended) and the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 (as amended); the latter gives effect to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL convention).

Given the national waste export ban, the Australian Government has recently embarked on a series of activities and investments to manage Australia’s waste domestically (e.g. the 2021 National Plastics Plan (DAWE 2021b), the 2019 National Waste Policy Action Plan (Australian Government et al. 2019)).

The 7 targets set out in the 2019 National Waste Policy Action Plan include banning the export of waste paper, plastic, glass and tyres by the second half of 2021; reducing the total waste generated in Australia by 10% per person by 2030; ensuring 80% resource recovery from all waste streams by 2030; significantly increasing the use of recycled content by governments and industry; phasing out problematic and unnecessary plastics by 2025; halving the amount of organic waste sent to landfill for disposal by 2030; and making comprehensive, economy-wide and timely data publicly available to better support consumer, investment and policy decisions. A circular economy roadmap has been delivered (Schandl et al. 2020), and the Recycling and Waste Reduction Act 2020 has been passed that bans the export of unsorted mixed plastics from 1 July 2021 and unprocessed single polymer or resin plastics from 1 July 2022.

In 2018, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted an Action Plan to Address Marine Plastic Litter from Ships (IMO 2018), aimed at enhancing existing regulations, and introducing 30 new action measures to reduce marine plastic litter and microplastics from all ships. This plan was incorporated into the Australian National Waste Policy Action Plan (Australian Government et al. 2019) under Target 5: ‘Phase out problematic and unnecessary plastics by 2025’. ‘Ghost nets’ have been the focus of considerable ongoing attention, effort and engagement by Indigenous and community groups (see case study: Anindilyakwa Land and Sea Rangers’ management of marine debris); in the 2021 Budget, the Australian Government committed $14.8 million to the Ghost Nets Initiative to address the challenge of ghost nets and plastic litter in the waters and beaches of the Gulf of Carpentaria (Parks Australia 2021).

Effectiveness of management of marine plastics and debris

Although there has been considerable progress in the development and implementation of waste management programs (particularly for land-originated waste) over the past 5 years, efforts to date have not been sufficient to reverse the increasing pressure resulting from plastics and marine debris in the Australian coastal and marine environments.

The role of waste management by local jurisdictions is critical to reduce harm to Australia’s vertebrate coastal and marine fauna. Local, state-based and national activities and legislative levers have been enacted to reduce waste losses to the environment. These include container deposit legislation for beverages, plastic bag bans and levies, bans on single-use plastic items, drink refill stations, and separation of waste at the household level (e.g. Schuyler et al. 2018, Willis et al. 2019). Furthermore, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), the Maritime Border Command and Parks Australia have coordinated efforts for numerous at-sea exercises to remove discarded debris (e.g. see Parks Australia 2021).

Research into sources, movement and distribution of plastic pollution, and its impacts on coastal and marine fauna and ecosystems has increased substantially since 2016 (e.g. Hardesty et al. 2021b, Sustainable Communities and Waste Hub 2021). Outreach, education and media engagement have increased awareness of the issue with the Australian public (e.g. Willis et al. 2018, Willis et al. 2019, Willis et al. 2021). The Australian Government held a national plastics summit in early 2020 (DAWE 2021c) to bring together industry, government, science and community groups. Government resources are targeting infrastructure, and there has been an increase in public–private partnerships targeting upstream changes in processes to both increase the circular (plastics) economy and reduce waste losses to the environment.

Case Study Anindilyakwa Land and Sea Rangers’ management of marine debris

Katie Oxenham, IPA Coordinator

The Anindilyakwa Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) comprises the Groote Eylandt archipelago and surrounding waters in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Although this is a remote and relatively pristine environment, large quantities of marine debris regularly wash up on its shores. The Anindilyakwa Land and Sea Rangers, a department of the Anindilyakwa Land Council, undertakes a range of initiatives to address the debris, to protect the significant cultural and biodiversity values of the IPA’s sea Country.

Figure 33 (a) Anindilyakwa rangers beach patrol debris collection. (b) Senior Ranger Jocelyn Yantrrnga sorting marine debris. (c) Ute load of ghost nets and other debris with rangers. (d) Maicie Lalara from Anindilyakwa Arts with her monster fish pieces made from ghost nets

Studies have shown that most of the marine debris that washes up in the Gulf of Carpentaria has not been generated locally, but originates from Indonesia, and is transported via the Arafura Sea by prevailing winds and ocean currents.

The Traditional Owners of the Anindilyakwa IPA, the Warnindilyakwa, have close cultural connections to their sea Country, with songlines and totems relating to the coastal and marine environments. It is important to many families to spend time together on sea Country, for traditional knowledge to be passed down, and to participate in fishing and traditional harvest of turtles and other marine resources. As a result, most community members have witnessed firsthand the negative impacts of marine debris.

Management activities by the rangers includes the following:

  • Regular beach patrols to collect marine debris. Beach patrols are time-consuming, labour-intensive and undertaken in difficult conditions, but result in collection of around 94 cubic metres of marine debris each year (enough to fill around 3 shipping containers). Unfortunately, most of this is transported to landfill, but ghost nets and items such as floats and bottle caps are re-used by women from the Anindilyakwa Arts Centre to create ghost net baskets and other artworks.
  • Coordination of an annual Clean Up Groote Eylandt Day event, in collaboration with South32, in which community members are invited to collect marine debris alongside the rangers. Each event has attracted more than 100 participants, and huge volumes of marine debris have been collected, sorted and provided for re-use to the arts centre, where possible.
  • Coordination of a container deposit scheme recycling program, in collaboration with South32, Sea Swift and Envirobank, in which the rangers collect glass and plastic drink bottles from the community of Alyangula. The bottles are transported for free to a recycling facility in Darwin. Many of the drink bottles collected by the rangers during beach patrols are also recycled through this scheme.

Like other coastal ranger groups dealing with marine debris around the Gulf, Anindilyakwa Land and Sea Rangers is a small team responsible for the management of extensive coastline. Unless more is done to address marine debris at its source, it will continue to be a management issue that takes significant time away from the rangers’ other land and sea management activities.

It is hoped that greater pressure can be brought to bear on plastic manufacturers and authorities, not just in Indonesia but globally, to introduce initiatives to reduce the amount of plastic entering the ocean. In the meantime, it is hoped that the rangers’ management can be continued and expanded to better protect the IPA’s incredibly significant sea Country.

Other marine pollution

Australia has legislation at national and state and territory levels that seeks to protect the marine environment from the threats posed by marine pollution, consistent with international law. Overall, Australia’s management of marine pollution is considered to be partially effective and improving (Gagnon et al. 2021).

For the Great Barrier Reef, water quality is managed as a joint commitment between the Australian and Queensland governments under the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan (as part of the overarching Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan). Under this plan, input of sediment, nutrients and pesticides from land-based run-off has been reduced through improved pasture and gully management (DES 2019) (see Queensland Government (2021 for reef regulations recently introduced as a management action for reducing land-based pollution). Dredging spoil has also been substantially reduced. However, the timelag between reduction in land-based run-off and improvements in marine health can be substantial; improvements are yet to be realised; and current initiatives are not considered adequate to meet the water quality targets (Bartley et al. 2017, Schaffelke et al. 2017, Waterhouse et al. 2017).

Oil spills from Australia’s offshore oil and gas industry have the potential to cause adverse impacts on the marine environment. Environmental impacts of the oil and gas industry are understood and well managed (Table 9), with increased levels of preparedness for unplanned events; however, the effects, if an event should occur, could be significant. A regulatory framework is needed to support sustainable development of offshore renewable energies (see Offshore renewable energy generation).

Table 9 Recently introduced Australian Commonwealth regulations to prevent marine pollution




Marine Order 93 (Marine pollution prevention – noxious liquid substances) 2014

13 December 2016

Requirements for preventing any contaminating liquids and chemicals from entering the marine environment for Australian vessels

Marine Order 32 (Cargo handling equipment) 2016

1 January 2017

Certification, and safe operations, of vessels carrying dangerous liquid chemicals and liquefied gases in bulk

Marine Order 54 (Coastal pilotage) 2014

1 January 2018

Requirements for coastal pilotage and pilots

Marine Order 95 (Marine pollution prevention – garbage) 2018

1 March 2018

Management of cargo residues, discharge of animal carcasses and garbage management

Marine Order 91 (Marine pollution prevention – oil) 2014

1 April 2018

Requirements for preventing pollution of the environment by oil for regulated Australian vessels

Marine Order 96 (Marine pollution prevention – sewage) 2018

1 April 2018

Requirements for preventing marine pollution by sewage from ships

Marine Order 97 (Marine pollution prevention – air pollution) 2013

1 March 2020

Requirements for preventing air pollution by vessels

Marine Order 58 (Safe management of vessels) 2020

1 July 2020

Requirements for safe management and operation of vessels, and pollution prevention

Source: Adapted from AMSA (2021)

Marine vessel activity

Overall, Australia’s approach to managing marine vessel activity is considered to be very effective and improving (Smith & Peel 2021). The Australian Government and state and territory governments work together in control, risk reduction and risk response measures. The National Plan for Maritime Environmental Emergencies (AMSA 2020b) sets out the cooperative arrangements to respond to maritime emergencies and incidents affecting the environment.

The IMO is the United Nations agency responsible for safety, security and pollution prevention for international shipping. Australia is a signatory to key IMO conventions relating to maritime safety and environmental protection. AMSA is the Australian Government agency responsible for maritime safety and environmental protection in Australian waters, and works with other countries through the IMO.

Sulfur emissions from shipping contribute to ocean acidification. AMSA implemented the IMO Global Sulfur Cap in 2020, which is expected to result in a reduction in sulfur oxide emissions from ships by 77%. Long-term effects of the change to low-sulfur fuel oil (LSFO) are yet to be assessed, as LSFOs have shown a high degree of persistence on the sea surface, making oil spill responses more challenging.

Ship strike

Interactions between marine fauna and shipping are largely addressed by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment under the EPBC Act. AMSA provides guidance to the shipping industry on practices to avoid interactions between shipping and marine fauna. In 2017, the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy developed the National strategy for reducing vessel strike on cetaceans and other marine megafauna (DEE 2017a) to provide guidance on understanding and reducing the risk of vessel collisions and the impacts they may have on marine megafauna.

During 2015–19, the National Environmental Science Program’s Marine Biodiversity Hub funded a project to quantify the risk from shipping to marine fauna (Peel et al. 2019), which developed risk profiles to identify when and where prioritised marine fauna and shipping overlap.

Great Barrier Reef shipping

Shipping in the Great Barrier Reef region is well managed by AMSA, Maritime Safety Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and guided by the North-East Shipping Management Plan (NESMP). Management protections and controls in place include the REEFVTS vessel management system and designation of the region as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (GBRMPA 2019).

In August 2019, AMSA added an extension to the Great Barrier Reef 2-way route in the northern portion of the Reef (around Pipon Shoals). This was adopted by the IMO in January 2020, formally coming into effect on 1 June 2021. Two IMO-adopted traffic separation schemes off Australia’s south-west (off Cape Leeuwin and Chatham Island) came into effect on 1 December 2016 (AMSA 2016).

The NESMP was reviewed in 2018–19 (AMSA 2019). The work highlighted several achievements since the plan was established in 2014, aligned the plan’s actions with the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan in 2018 and identified foundational (business as usual) actions. The Queensland Government has banned the practice of transhipping within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Under the NESMP (action NESMP 11), government agencies and industry will evaluate the safety, and environmental risks and benefits of using new vessel arrival systems in the Great Barrier Reef, which could reduce vessel speeds and the number of ships at anchor. This would reduce ship emissions and fuel consumption, as well as cumulative impacts from discharges such as sewage and greywater, and could have application in ports around Australia.

Offshore renewable energy generation

There is no national regulatory framework for offshore clean energy infrastructure. A draft discussion document was released in February 2020, and the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources is working towards preparation of policy. NOPSEMA has been identified as the proposed regulator for offshore clean energy developments.

Existing environmental legislation requires referral to state and territory and national regulators, who then determine the scope of environmental impact assessments. However, states and territories have inconsistent planning processes around renewable energy. Consistent regulatory frameworks across jurisdictions will be needed if the sector is to advance in Australia.

Anthropogenic marine noise

Australia’s management of anthropogenic noise in the marine environment is overall considered to be partially effective and improving (Evans et al. 2021d).

At a national level, the only policy regarding underwater noise relates to seismic activity under the EPBC Act Policy Statement 2.1: ‘Interactions between offshore seismic exploration and whales’ (see Department of the Environment 2008). Many marine noise-generating activities are not regulated, although some states have produced guidelines relating to particular noise sources for informing legislation and policy (e.g. pile-driving activities in South Australia; see DPTI 2012).

Management of other noise sources depends on the source:

  • Shipping. Through the IMO, of which Australia is a member, nonmandatory guidelines for reducing underwater noise from commercial ships have been developed: the Guidelines for the reduction of underwater noise from commercial shipping to address adverse impacts on marine life (IMO 2014). In 2018, the National Environmental Science Program’s Marine Biodiversity Hub initiated a project to better characterise underwater vessel noise in Australia, which was completed in 2021 (Peel et al. 2019). However, this work does not address impacts on marine fauna. Australia does not have any specific shipping noise policies.
  • Oil and gas exploration and production activities. National and state regulation of oil and gas exploration and production includes consideration of impacts associated with noise generation (see Marine petrochemical and mineral industries). Some regulators (e.g. NOPSEMA) publish specific guidance for industry to take into account in managing the impact of underwater noise from oil and gas exploration.
  • Military sonar and exercises. Marine-based military training activities that lead to anthropogenic noise (e.g. active sonar, explosives use) are limited to specially designated areas and take place in accordance with the management principles in the Australian Defence Force Maritime Activities Environmental Management Plan (MA EMP). Activities that cannot be conducted in accordance with the MA EMP must undergo separate environment impact assessment, and activities that require specific regulation under the EPBC Act must meet environmental guidelines.
  • Other noise-generating activities. Other marine noise-generating activities that might have significant impacts on matters of national significance (e.g. dredging, infrastructure development) are required to be assessed under the EPBC Act (see Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999). Management plans must assess potential risks and impacts arising from the activities and demonstrate that all reasonably practicable controls will be implemented to reduce impacts to acceptable levels. Statutory instruments for protected matters under the EPBC Act establish expectations for the management of underwater noise (e.g. Australian Government Department of the Environment 2015); for additional explanation also see NOPSEMA (2020b). Marine noise-generating activities may also be assessed under separate state and territory environmental protection Acts, depending on the location of the activity that generates the noise and the scale of the activity.

Noise impacts are also considered through the adoption of IMO Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas within Australian waters. In Australian waters, Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas are managed by AMSA (see AMSA 2020a).

Effectiveness of management of anthropogenic marine noise

Assessment of activities by NOPSEMA (including necessary enforcement actions) and relevant state and territory agencies, as well as industry environmental performance reporting, allow identification of necessary improvements to the management of underwater noise (NOPSEMA 2020b). Improvements in the offshore oil and gas sector are pursued through promotion of increased industry awareness, collaborative research projects to address gaps in the science, publication of industry guidance and consideration of legislative change. The Australian Defence Force MA EMP includes a continuous improvement process to ensure that the policy and procedure requirements are current and effective in minimising environment impacts. When a new capability system is introduced, the MA EMP is updated to ensure that there are appropriate procedures to address the environmental risk.

The final report of a Senate inquiry on the impact of seismic testing on fisheries and the marine environment was recently released (Environment and Communications References Committee 2021). The top 2 (of 19) recommendations were that the Australian Government support the development and use of lower-impact technologies for all offshore seismic surveying to reduce the potential impacts of seismic testing on marine animals and the marine environment; and significantly fund additional research to study the short-term, long-term and cumulative impacts of seismic testing on marine animals and the marine environment.

Overall assessment processes under the EPBC Act were recently reviewed as part of a wider review of the Act (Samuel 2020). Several recommendations of relevance to assessing noise inputs into the marine environment were made, including setting clear outcomes for the environment; measuring effectiveness; developing and enacting enforceable national environmental standards that contribute to national environmental outcomes, allow for standardised and consistent decision-making, and ensure consistency across jurisdictions; and moving beyond individual project approvals to focus on more integrated environmental outcomes. These recommendations are yet to be acted upon.