Australian Maritime Safety Authority

Pollution from Fishing Vessels

Pollution from fishing vessels

There are laws regarding oil and garbage pollution from fishing vessels and ways to minimise and prevent such pollution.

The Law

The fishing industry plays a key role in Australia's economy.

Fishermen have a responsibility not to pollute the resource which provides their livelihood. Fishing vessels have been significant contributors to pollution incidents around Australia.

To help combat this, the discharge of garbage into the sea from ships is prohibited, except in very limited circumstances.

Pollution of the marine environment by ships, including fishing vessels, is strictly controlled by the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (known as MARPOL).

Australia is a signatory to this convention, which is now enforced in over 150 countries. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) applies the Convention in Australian waters through Commonwealth and State/NT legislation.

Penalties under MARPOL legislation are up to $AUD17 million for the shipowner and $AUD3.4 million for the Master of a fishing vessel discharging in contravention of the MARPOL regulations.

The Australian MARPOL regulations apply to Australian fishing vessels wherever they are operating.

Australian laws can also be applied against foreign fishing vessels operating within Australia's 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

Oil Pollution

The discharge of oily mixtures into the sea is prohibited.

Discharge of oily mixtures is allowed while in transit, provided the fishing vessel has in operation oil filtering/separating equipment that ensures the oil content is less than 15 parts of oil to one million parts of water (15ppm).

All fishing vessels over 400 tons are required to be fitted with this type of equipment, which must also be approved to meet standards set by the International Maritime Organization.

Fishing vessels under 400 tons must comply with the discharge restrictions, but are exempt from any specific ship-board equipment requirements.

In most cases this means that oily mixtures must be stored onboard for disposal at port waste reception facilities.

This includes diesel, hydraulic fluids and bilge water with any concentration of oil.

Reduce the potential of an oil discharge:

  • All leakage of fuel oil, lubricating oil and cooling water should be dealt with as soon as it is detected. If repairs cannot be carried out by the crew at sea, they should be done as soon as the vessel reaches port.
  • A drip tray should be fitted under all engines with suitable drainage to a holding tank or drum for disposal ashore.
  • Ensure that engine rooms and other machinery spaces are fitted with sump plumbing so that any leakage is collected in the sump instead of the bilge.
  • Ensure propeller shaft seal is in good working order.
  • Where the manufacturer’s warranty is not affected, high efficiency bypass oil filters can be installed that extend the life of the engine oil and decrease the need for frequent oil changes.

Garbage Pollution

Discharge of garbage into the sea is prohibited.

Garbage means all kinds of food wastes, domestic wastes and operational wastes including:

  • plastics
  • synthetic ropes
  • fishing gear
  • plastic garbage bags
  • incinerator ashes
  • clinkers
  • cooking oil
  • floating dunnage
  • lining and packing materials
  • paper
  • rags
  • glass
  • metal
  • bottles
  • crockery
  • similar refuse.

There are many types of waste generated on board fishing vessels that are prohibited from discharge at sea including:

  • trawl and fishing nets
  • synthetic rope
  • plastic sheeting
  • "six pack" holders
  • fibreglass
  • strapping bands
  • plastic "ice" bags
  • bait gaskets
  • paints
  • electrical/electronic equipment
  • disposable eating utensils
  • floats

Food wastes, not contaminated by any other garbage type, may be discharged into the sea while the fishing vessel is in transit, provided the waste is discharged as far as practicable from the nearest land, but no less than 3 nautical miles for comminuted or ground food wastes capable of passing through a screen opening of no more than 25mm, and no less than 12 nautical miles for non-comminuted food wastes.

Fresh fish waste, including shellfish, produced during fishing or aquaculture activities are not considered as garbage and may be discharged directly into the sea.

In addition, small quantities of food may be released directly into the sea for the specific purpose of fish feeding in connection with fishing or tourist operations.

However, the Master of the fishing vessel should consider the local laws as permission may be required.

When garbage is mixed with or contaminated by other harmful substances prohibited from discharge or having different discharge requirements, the more stringent requirements apply.

Accidental Loss or Discharge of Fishing Gear

Lost fishing gear may harm the marine environment or create a navigational hazard.

Many marine animals (including target fish species) die as a result of becoming entangled in, or ingesting:

  • discarded plastic packing straps
  • netting of all kinds
  • monofilament line
  • nylon rope
  • plastic and polyweave bags and sheeting
  • bait holders
  • foam items.

Plastics which shatter into smaller fragments are also mistaken for food or ingested accidentally.

Garbage such as rope and plastic material can also get caught in propeller shafts or block water intakes causing major damage and expensive repairs.

If it is practicable, fishing gear should have degradable panels of natural material to reduce the potential for entanglement of marine life.

The law states that fishing vessels must make every effort to retrieve all lost or damaged fishing gear.

Fishing vessel operators are also required to record the discharge or loss of fishing gear in the Garbage Record Book or ships log.

Plan to reduce and store your garbage

The best way to avoid the discharge of garbage, and the possibility of fines, is to reduce the amount of potential garbage taken onboard and the amount of garbage generated through the use of packaged items.

Where possible, consider how much waste a product will generate when buying products.

Bulk packaging, reusable and recyclable packaging and avoiding plastic packaging, unless it is reusable or recyclable, are all ways to reduce the amount of waste generated.

Recyclable plastic packaging should only be used where the vessel has the ability to store it for later disposal ashore. Industry is assisting fishermen to reduce waste by designing packaging free of plastic strapping and lining, making a significant step towards onboard garbage management e.g. bait cartons.

If fishing vessels are unable to incinerate their rubbish, they will need sufficient storage space and equipment (e.g. cans, drums, bags or other containers) to retain all plastics for disposal ashore.

Suppliers have a valuable role to play

Suppliers are encouraged to move towards environmentally sustainable practices and to undertake research and technology development that minimises potential garbage.

Recyclable materials and biodegradable products can be used to replace plastic products.

Suppliers can also avoid the use of plastic packaging.

Supplies can be considered in terms of the garbage they will generate. Suppliers are urged to provide options that reduce onboard garbage such as bulk packaging and to diminish the use of disposable cups, utensils, dishes, towels, rags and other convenience items associated with packaged items.

The use of bait cartons that are free of plastic strapping and lining is becoming more widespread, and some Australian jurisdictions have banned the use of plastic strapping.

Plastic-free bait cartons manufactured in Australia are cheaper and easier to use, and their exclusive use is a significant step towards onboard garbage waste management.

Garbage Waste Management Onboard

All fishing vessels of 12 metres or more in length must display placards notifying crew and passengers of the garbage discharge requirements for that vessel under MARPOL.

Every fishing vessel of 100 gross tonnage and above, and every fishing vessel certified to carry 15 or more persons, is also now required to carry a Garbage Management Plan.

The Garbage Management Plan contains procedures for collecting, storing, processing and disposing of garbage, including the use of appropriate garbage handling equipment such as storage containers, compactors or incinerators.

Every fishing vessel of 400 gross tonnage and above, and every fishing vessel certified to carry 15 or more persons engaged in international voyages, are also required to have a Garbage Record Book (Record book) in the form specified in the appendix to Annex V of MARPOL.

The Record book and any receipt for using a waste reception facility in port must be kept for two years and be available for inspection by authorities.

Record books and garbage placards can be obtained from AMSA offices around Australia.

Shore facilities

If shore facilities are not adequate for the disposal of oil or garbage, let the marina owner or port authority know.

State/Territory and local officials should also be notified of the inadequate facilities.

If enough fishermen express concern, upgrading of the facilities is more likely to occur.

Operating in the Great Barrier Reef

The International Maritime Organization has designated the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area.

MARPOL allows some types of waste to be discharged directly into the sea at specific distances from the nearest land. The nearest land boundary of the north eastern coast of Australia extends around the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait as shown in the diagram on this page.

Discharges permitted under MARPOL must be measured seaward of this boundary.

This means that the discharge of garbage and food waste is prohibited within the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait, with the exception of fresh fish waste, including shellfish and small quantities of food used as burley.

Fresh fish waste, including shellfish, produced during fishing activities is not considered as garbage and discharge into the sea is permitted.

In addition, the discharge of small quantities of food intended to attract fish for the purpose of fishing or tourist operations is also permitted in the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait.


Limitations on discharges

Reporting Pollution

Under Australian law, pollution or potential pollution incidents must be reported to the authorities.

For fishing vessels of 400 gross tonnage and above, the reporting requirements will be set out in the vessel’s Shipboard Oil Pollution Emergency Plan.

In circumstances where the loss or discharge of fishing gear poses a significant threat to the marine environment and navigation, the fishing vessel operator is required to report the approximate position and reasons for the loss to the nearest port authority or the Australian Search and Rescue Centre in Canberra.

This allows the notification of other vessels to look out for and retrieve the fishing gear.

Further information

For further information please contact Marine Environment Protection.

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