Oyster Bed branch (1874-1881) Fisheries and Oyster Beds Branch (1881-1911) Fisheries Branch (1911-1976)

State Records Authority of New South Wales
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Government administration of Fisheries commenced with the passage of An Act to protect the Fisheries of New South Wales 1865 (Act 28 Vic. No.10), which appointed Police and Customs officers as "proper officers" with the power to search for people fishing illegally and with the authority to apprehend offenders in any bay, estuary, or other influxion from the sea and rivers in the Colony. (1)

The Oyster-beds Act 1868 (31 Vic. No. 20) encouraged the establishment of oyster fisheries by introducing a licensing system. (2) Oyster bed operations were administered by the Department of Lands firstly by officers within the Department (1868 to 1873), and secondly by the Oyster Beds Branch (1874 to 1880). (3)

A Royal Commission into the Colony’s fisheries was established on 6 January 1880. (4) The Commission resulted in the Fisheries Act 1881 (Act 44 Vic. No.26) which repealed earlier Fisheries Acts (Acts 28 Vic. No.10, 31 Vic. No.10, 31 Vic. No.20) and allowed for the appointment of five Commissioners to supervise the fishing industry.

The duty of protecting, developing, and regulating the public fisheries of New South Wales was vested in the Commissioners of Fisheries from 19 April 1881. (5) The Act established the five Commissioners as a corporate body and the Commissioners were appointed by the Governor for five years and could be reappointed after the expiration of their term.

Ministerial responsibility for fisheries was transferred from the Secretary for Lands to the Chief (Colonial) Secretary on 26 April 1881. (6)

Although the Commissioners were responsible for fisheries’ management, the administrative machinery was provided by the Fisheries Branch of the Chief (Colonial) Secretary’s Department. The Branch was known by various titles throughout its history including: Fisheries and Oyster Beds, 1883-1885; Fisheries Commission, 1886-1888; Department of Fisheries, 1889-1892; Fisheries Branch, 1911 only, part of the Chief Secretary’s Ministerial Office, 1912-1922; State Fisheries Branch, 1923-1946; Fisheries Branch, 1947-1957; and State Fisheries Branch 1958-1976.

Under the Fisheries Act of 1881, a fisheries inspection system was developed and legal procedures covering offences and penalties were defined. A system of licences applied to fishermen, fishing boats, oyster bed dredging, oyster dealing, and fish selling. The Governor could appoint Inspectors of Fisheries on the recommendation of the Commissioners.

The five Commissioners of Fisheries were appointed on 4 August 1882 to be responsible for the New South Wales entry in The Great International Fisheries Exhibition of 1883 in London, (7) although the preparation of the actual exhibit was carried out by the Australian Museum. ( 8)

In 1889 a Select Committee of the Legislative Assembly reported on the working of the Fisheries Act of 1881, finding a range of severe problems. There had been no encouragement of oyster leases, or deep sea trawling, net regulations were implemented haphazardly, while river closures occurred contrary to the advice of local inspectors, Commission meetings disregarded proper procedures, and the Woolloomooloo Fish Market was found to be in an "unsatisfactory state". (9)

Five years later the Royal Commission on Fisheries levelled charges of maladministration against the Fisheries Commissioners. The five key areas of failure were in fisheries development, fisheries inspection, law enforcement, market operations, and fish supply. (10) In 1896 the Royal Commission tabled a supplementary report discussing the potential of deep-sea fishing, well boat fishing, trawling, and whaling. The Colony’s fish stocks, inland fisheries, and market accommodation were also reviewed. (11)

The Fisheries Act 1902 (Act No.119, 1902) remodelled the law relating to the Fisheries of the state by replacing the Commissioners of Fisheries with a Board of Fisheries. (12) This new Board was appointed to supervise the fishing industry by the appointment of inspectors, the issuing of licenses for either fishing or oyster dealing, the enforcement of net dimension rules, and the conservation of fishing areas. The cancellation of an oyster lease could now occur in cases of mismanagement, and also the Act specified the requisite activities for salmon and trout fisheries.

The new Board placed a greater emphasis on scientific research with the recording of fish movements and spawning habits, the appointment of a scientific officer, and the initiation of experiments to introduce European sea fishes to Australian waters. (13) Although the Board of Fisheries was responsible for the management of the state’s fisheries, including staff of the Fisheries Branch, the Chief (Colonial) Secretary’s Department continued to provide the administrative machinery for the Fisheries Branch which remained within the Department. (14)

The Board of Fisheries was dissolved under The Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1910 (Act No.14, 1910) on 1 November 1911. (15) The Board was dissolved due to a number of reasons including dissatisfaction by fishermen and the growing importance of the industry. The Board was criticised because the majority of its members had little knowledge of the industry and it was labelled as cumbersome because it could not deal promptly with matters requiring immediate attention. (16) The Royal Commission into Food Supplies and Prices described the growing importance of the industry and the possibilities which were being exploited were “questions of policy rather than of administration.” (17) As a result, the Board’s powers, duties, and authorities were now vested in the responsible Minister, the Chief (Colonial) Secretary who would remain responsible until 1974.

The 1910 amending legislation provided for the appointment by the Governor of an Advisory Board of Fisheries to advise the Minister on matters relating to sea, coast, and inland fisheries; on the effectual protection and improvement of fisheries; on the determination of seasons for the removal of different fish species; and on any matters under the principal 1902 Act or subsequent amending legislation. (18)

The Advisory Board would consist of a maximum of five persons including one licensed fisherman, one oyster lessee (who is actually engaged in oyster culture), and one person acquainted with the inland fisheries of New South Wales. Board members would serve for three years, after which time they could be reappointed. (19) Despite the provision for this Advisory Board, the Minister did not appoint such a Board, relying instead on the former members of the Fisheries Board to advise him. (20)

In 1911, staff of the Fisheries Branch (termed a Department in the 1911 Annual Report) were transferred from Richmond Terrace to the Head Office of the Chief Secretary’s Department, “so as to be in touch with the Minister administering the Fisheries.” (21)

Under section four of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1910, the Governor could appoint a Chief Inspector of Fisheries, honorary inspectors, and other officers necessary for the management of fisheries. The appointment of a Supervising (Chief) Inspector of Fisheries did not occur until the 1912 financial year. (22)

The Fisheries and Oyster Farms Act 1935 (Act No.58, 1935) repealed the Fisheries Act, 1902, the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1910, and the Net Fishing (Port Hacking) Act, 1901 (Act No.18, 1901) and amended the Sydney Corporation Act. (23) The Act provided for new law enforcement procedures including: greater search and seizure powers for Fisheries Inspectors, the appointment of every member of the Police Force as Fisheries Inspectors, and honorary vigilance committees were to assist the Branch in isolated localities. Conservation of fish stocks was achieved by the permanent prohibition of fishing nets in certain areas, the systematic closure of waters, the banning of the use of dynamite in fishing, and new rules for crayfish harvesting. New fish market control measures covered the selling of fish, while fish for market had to be gutted, and transported in standard containers. The system of granting oyster leases was completely revised. Trout and salmon acclimatisation societies were to be registered, and trout and salmon fishers licensed.

In 1957 the Fisheries Branch of the Chief Secretary’s Department became the custodian of inland fishing through the Fisheries Oyster Farms Amendment Act 1957 (Act No.52, 1957). Before this act the three New South Wales Fisheries built by the Public Works Department were operated by the State’s three major acclimatisation societies: the Central, the New England, and the Monaro. The societies received half of the money paid for trout-fishing licences. The Fisheries Branch supplied advice and certain facilities. Following the 1957 Act, the Fisheries took over the administration of the hatcheries and embarked on a program of scientific research designed to develop fishing resources west of the Great Dividing Range. (24)

By 1975, the term State Fisheries was used for the administrative and regulatory machinery responsible for managing the state’s fisheries. As a result of the New South Wales Machinery of Government Review the State Fisheries were placed on 1 January 1975 in the newly created Ministry for Lands and Forests. Although State Fisheries virtually operated separately within the new Ministry, the National Parks and Wildlife Service provided accounting, legal, and personnel services for State Fisheries. Also the Director of the National Parks and Wildlife Service exercised a supervisory function over the Director of Fisheries in matters of ministerial correspondence, policy, and public controversy. (25)

On 26 February 1975, a Select Committee upon the Fishing Industry was appointed to report upon “all aspects of the fishing industry, both professional and amateur, including the wholesale and retail selling of fish, any Acts, and the financial involvement of the State Government.” (26) The Committee recommended that a portfolio of Minister of Fisheries be created and that the Director of Fisheries be directly responsible to the Minister in charge of the administration of fisheries. (27)

In May 1976 the Wran Ministry established NSW State Fisheries as a separate department responsible to the Minister for Conservation. (28)

1. Assented to 1 June 1865, New South Wales Government Gazette,  2 June 1865, pp.1199-1200.
2. Assented to 1 February 1868, New South Wales Government Gazette, 4 February 1868, pp.337-339.
3. Blue Books 1868-1880.
4. Fisheries Inquiry Commission, Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, 1879-1880, Vol.3, p.1109.
5. NSW Government Gazette No.162, 20 April 1881, p.2248.
6. Administrative Arrangements, NSW Government Gazette No.172, 26 April 1881, p.2364.
7. NSW Government Gazette No.313, 4 August 1882, p.4023.
8. Report of the Commissioners of Fisheries for the year ended 31 December 1883, Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, 1883-1884, Vol. 1, Appendices A to D. See also the Australian Museum Annual Report for the year ended 31 December 1883 in Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly 1883-84, Vol.7, pp.1231-1245.
9. Report from the Select Committee on the Working of the Fisheries Act, Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, 1889, Vol.6, pp.421-573.
10. Royal Commission to inquire and report upon the best means of the Developing of the Marine and Other Fisheries of New South Wales as to the better regulation of the Fishing Industry by Law, 1894 to 1895, Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, 1894 - 1895, Vol.6, pp.179-450; Maladministration charge p.211.
11. Supplementary Report of the Royal Commission on Fisheries 1894 to 1895, Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, 1896, Vol.4, pp.1-135.
12. Assented to 29 December 1902, New South Wales Government Gazette, 9 January 1903.
13. Board of Fisheries of New South Wales Annual Report (Part 2) for the year ended 31 December 1902 in Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly 1903, Vol.4, pp.27-67, especially in relation to the voyage of the Royal Merchant Ship Oroya.
14. Blue Books.
15. Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1910 (Act No.14, 1910) section 2; The Act also amended the Net Fishing (Port Hacking) Act 1901.
16. Royal Commission of Inquiry as to Food Supplies and Prices, Interim Report on the Supply and Distribution of Fish, Minutes of Evidence, in the Parliamentary Papers 1912, Vol.4, p.686.
17. loc. cit.
18. Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1910 (Act No.14, 1910) section 3; Also see Report on the Fisheries of New South Wales for the Year 1910, Parliamentary Papers, 1914, Vol.2, p.685.
19. Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1910 (Act No.14, 1910) section 3.
20. Report on the Fisheries of New South Wales for the Year 1911, Parliamentary Papers, 1914, Vol.2, p.721.
21. loc. cit.
22. Report on the Fisheries of New South Wales for the Year 1912, Parliamentary Papers, 1914, Vol.2, p.739.
23. Assented to 17 December 1935, New South Wales Government Gazette, 27 December 1935, p.4996.
24. ‘Inland Fisheries’, Progress, Vol. 3, No.4, August 1964, p19.
25. Report from the Select Committee of the Legislative Assembly upon the Fishing Industry, Part 1, Parliamentary Papers 1975-1976, Vol.5, p.449.
26. ibid., p.412.
27. ibid., p.450.
28. Report on the Fisheries in New South Wales for the year ended 30 June 1976, Parliamentary Papers 1976-77-78, Vol.6, p.741.

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