The numbers of Australian fishing vessels and tonnage of fish landing in Australian ports has dropped, as the cost of doing business for Australian commercial fishers increases.
Australian commercial fishing vessel numbers dropped by a third between 2006 and 2013, according to data released by the OECD.
In other selected OECD countries, the numbers of fishing vessels dropped roughly 11 per cent.
The capacity of Australian vessels has dropped more than a third between 2006 and 2013.
During the same period imports of fish into Australia almost doubled, while exports of fish were relatively flat.
One of the reasons for the decline in fish catches was the general cost of doing business, Commercial Fisheries Association executive officer Renee Vajtauer said.
Expensive licence fees, fuel, regulation and marine sanctuaries were contributing to the decline, she said.
“The cost of them going out [to fish] is really quite high.”
While there were many factors, the bottom line was commercial fishers faced increased hardship to run profitable businesses, Ms Vajtauer said.
She said they were working with the government to reduce “red tape”.
South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association (SETFIA) chief executive Simon Boag said one factor affecting the cost of doing business was the relatively cheap fish imports from New Zealand.
SETFIA represents commercial fishers and other business interests in the South East Trawl Fishery.
That fishery is part of the larger Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF).
The Australian Fisheries and Management Authrity (AFMA) last month increased the sustainable catch limit for the SESSF, and the fish stocks currently targeted in the fishery were sustainable, AFMA said.
AFMA sets sustainable seafood harvest catch limits based on productivity of wild fish stocks.
Simon Boag said it was hard for Australian commercial fishers to be profitable in the face of cheaper imports.
“There is an enormous amount of fish coming in from New Zealand,” Mr Boag said.
The imported fish from New Zealand had a shorter shelf life, but was still cheaper, he said.
The most recent Status of Key Australian Fish Socks Reports 2014 from ABARES says out of 238 fisheries it reviewed, 129 fisheries were sustainable, and 11 were overfished. Others were declining or improving, or unknown.
If Australians import their fish from other countries, aside from New Zealand, they were ultimately supporting fisheries that were not as sustainable as this country’s fisheries, he said.
Australian Marine Conservation Society marine biologist Tooni Mahto agreed cheaper imports from overseas would affect Australian commercial fishers.
She said the commonwealth management of fisheries was on the “right track”, while some states needed to improve.
The effects of marine parks on fishers were overstated, she said.
Ms Mahto said Australian oceans were not particularly productive.
“We’re operating on an unlevel playing field.”