Australian Fisheries Healthcheck

This CSIRO research was funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) and involved development of a ‘Healthcheck for Australian fisheries’ to better design indicators for social, economic and biological sustainability. The activity ran from 2015 to 2019, in two phases (Project 1 and Project 2) with final reports listed at the end of this page. This summary represents the work completed in both phases.


The Healthcheck comprises a framework, guidance document, and data compilation providing summary data to transparently, independently and comprehensively support reporting on a broad range of sustainability issues relevant to Australian fisheries. These data can be used by a wide range of stakeholders to understand sustainability issues and reuse in other formats.


There is growing appetite for reporting on commercial fishery indicators that are broader than stock status. Australian fisheries consider and respond to a range of issues beyond target species, however, this is not widely recognised. This recognition is important for the seafood industry and for customers nationally and internationally. Consistent comparative treatment of Australia’s national and state fisheries is important, and will also allow comparisons with international fisheries. Without proactive reporting on the health of our fisheries, third party reports will be the only source of information for Australian seafood. These third party reports tend to consider only a limited range of issues, and draw on a range of data that may not be the most up-to-date or representative for a fishery. The main output from the Healthcheck project was a reporting framework across a range of categories, application of the approach to a large number of case studies, and development of a cost-effective and enduring system for regular updating.

Main Result

A structure representing the areas important to understanding sustainability of fisheries was developed in the Healthcheck project. The structure covered four categories, relatively common to sustainability assessments, biological, economic, governance and social and ethical. The framework included a fifth category, as a range of external influences on the fishery can also affect fisheries sustainability (positively and negatively). Each of the five categories contains between 4 and 6 sub-categories, each represented by 2 indicators, for a total of 50 indicators. The indicators are available in the final report. Evolution of the Framework from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of the project showed the structure was flexible to inclusion of additional sub-categories and indicators, including those issues on the horizon.

A set of Guidelines for gathering information for each indicator was developed, and tested on 20 case study fisheries from each jurisdiction in Australia. This revealed that information was not equally available across indicators, or fisheries. Data were available for 81% of all indicators across the 20 fisheries. By category, data were available for 76% of Ecological indicators, 63% of Economic indicators, 98% of Governance indicators, 46% of Social and Ethical indicators, and 91% of External indicators. This pattern of missing information can help prioritise additional data preparation or collection efforts by fisheries and strategic research by agencies and other research providers.

  • Testing the Healthcheck
    • Fisheries from all Australian jurisdictions were included. The 20 fisheries are the Northern Prawn; Heard Island and McDonald Island; ETBF; SESSF Trawl; NSW Spanner Crab; NSW Ocean Haul; NT Mud Crab; NT Offshore Snapper; QLD Coral Reef Finfish; QLD Blue Swimmer Crab; SA Spencer Gulf Prawn; SA Lakes and Coorong – Pipi; SA Lakes and Coorong – Net; SA Turbo; TAS Abalone; TAS Scalefish; VIC Rock Lobster; VIC Scallop; WA Abalone; and WA Southern and West Coast Demersal Gillnet and Longline Fisheries. We examined the availability and quality of data for each of 50 indicators for each fishery. Details are in the final report.

The project reports have additional details.

Project fact sheets

Project updates were prepared and distributed to stakeholders during the course of the research, and represent the activity of the time. While they were available for download, now that the project is complete, we have removed them from the website and they are available in the final report.


Who might use a Healthcheck? As part of the project, we interviewed a wide range of stakeholders (Hobday et al. 2018; Fleming et al. 2019). Example responses from stakeholder interviews are:

  • Fishery participants
    • ‘I believe that, as an Indigenous person working in fisheries, there’s not too many of us in Australia, and so I believe that my perspective is born of working with communities for a very long time, could actually help contribute to populating a healthcheck, to opening up lines of discussion, communication, to helping network and collaborate between Indigenous communities and others, so I would not only see myself as a user, but as an active participant in shaping those key areas out of the healthcheck.’
  • Policy-makers
    • ‘So if a state minister and state department doesn’t have the data but they’re making decisions about fisheries I wouldn’t be the only one who’d use it, I would have thought.
  •  Consumers
    • ‘I’m not really interested in accessing the horrendous complexity of fishery management, and I don’t think most of the other people who want to eat Australian seafood are, either.’
  • Media
    • ‘Just having that really nice little picture of all the bits and pieces about a particular fishery is really useful.’
  • Managers
    • ‘In terms of making assessments …… on how fisheries are travelling and that, the more information I can get the better.’

January 2020

  • Sara Hornborg completed here sabbatical in Hobart, and is now extending these methods in northern Europe (Hornborg et al. 2020).

December 2020.

  • Since the project was completed, the work has been used to help define new fishery standards in a project involving international seafood scientists led by Callum Roberts (UK). Reports from that project will be available soon.

Project team

Project Team: Alistair Hobday, Jason Hartog, Aysha Fleming, Linda Thomas (CSIRO), Emily Ogier (IMAS), Sara Hornborg (Sweden)
Steering Committee: Tony Smith, Nick Rayns, Sevaly Sen, Bryan McDonald, Jo McCrea, Josh Fielding


  • Project reports
    • Hobday, A. J., E. Ogier, A. Fleming, J. Hartog, L. Thomas, I. Stobutzki and M. Finn (2016). Fishery Status Reports: Healthcheck for Australian Fisheries. FRDC Final Report 2014/008. May 2016.
    • Hobday, A. J., J. R. Hartog, E. Ogier, L. Thomas, A. Fleming and S. Hornborg (2019). Healthcheck for Australian Fisheries – Phase 2. FRDC 2016-060, FRDC. Available here
  • Peer-reviewed
    • Fleming, A., E. Ogier, A. J. Hobday, L. Thomas, J. Hartog and B. Haas (2019). Stakeholder trust and holistic fishery sustainability assessments. Marine Policy:
    • Hobday, A. J., A. Fleming, E. Ogier, L. Thomas, J. R. Hartog, S. Hornborg and R. L. Stephenson (2018). Perceptions regarding the need for broad sustainability assessments of Australian fisheries. Fisheries Research 208: 247–257.
    • Hornborg, S., A. J. Hobday, E. Ogier, A. Fleming, L. Thomas and J. Hartog (2020). Challenges and insights from holistic sustainability reporting for shrimp fisheries in different jurisdictions. ICES Journal of Marine Science: doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsaa1048.