WA inshore fishers help AMSA simplify safety management systems

Following representations from the WA Fishing Industry Council and other industry groups around Australia, AMSA commenced a project in 2021 to review the Safety Management Systems (SMS) requirements to make them less onerous for smaller, less complex commercial vessels in the sub-7.5 metre range, covering mainly Class 3 and 4 vessels.

AMSA surveyed all vessel owners in this range in 2022 and received over 900 responses.

Several WA inshore fishing representatives who had responded to the survey met in May 2023 to assist AMSA review proposed simpler SMS requirements for fishing vessels in this category.

Net, abalone, pot/trap and beach-seine fishers met online to review the draft proposals for simpler and easier to manage SMS arrangements for their industries, especially single-handed operations.

The fishers outlined that in the main they were owner-operators and if using any crew, this was usually an immediate family member. It was therefore very important for them to protect themselves and their family both physically, and from a reduced earning potential, if they were injured.

They emphasised they had vast experience and there had been few to no accidents in their industry for many, many years, with some sectors reporting no accidents in 100 years of continuous inter-generational fishing operations.

Fishers were clear that any SMS arrangements needed to be simple to reflect their operations.

The use of risk matrix tables, or other complex assessment tools was a waste of time – a commodity they had very little of given they were running their whole business by themselves.

AMSA outlined that they accepted there was not a one-size-fits-all SMS. There are minimum standards (eg identify and manage risks, maintain vessel, induct crew, emergency procedures, personal safety equipment and communications), but fishers only need to take the various elements of the minimum standard that apply to their specific fishing operation for their SMS.

Fishers were clear that daily pre-sea checks of every detail of their operation was impractical with some explaining they might carry out three separate fishing methods per day, warranting return to shore, retrieval and re-launching their vessels after unload and a change of fishing gear (eg from nets to pots).

There was great interest shown in a mobile phone app SMS being made available, as this was the platform that many fishers used for many aspects of their operation, including weather forecast, emergency communication, navigation, catch statistics, fishing regulations, purchases and marketing.

There was general agreement that the draft SMS and support materials were a good start for developing simpler arrangements for operators of these smaller vessels. The industry representatives agreed to work through the documentation and feedback further suggestions to AMSA.