Communique 12-13 October 2017

The crab fishery working group met for the first time in Brisbane on the 12th and 13th of October.

The working group was provided an overview of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy (the Strategy). The members discussed the key policy objectives and how their input will be used to shape the future management of the crab fishery.

Fisheries Queensland provided an outline of the current status of the fishery.  The working group noted that all stocks are currently assessed as sustainable under the Status of Australian Fish Stocks report. The working group discussed the current catch trends and what factors are driving recent trends. It was noted by members that catch information in all sectors requires further validation and assessment.

Fisheries Queensland provided information on the Monitoring and Research Plan, which outlines where the initial investment in monitoring and data under the Strategy will be focused. Working group members suggested that better communication with stakeholders would improve current perceptions around the monitoring programs. It was identified that the future direction of research and monitoring would be guided by the harvest strategies.

The working group discussed the Queensland Harvest Strategy Policy and Guideline. The members noted that a harvest strategy would provide more certainty by outlining predetermined management actions  based on agreed indicators for fishery performance.  Fisheries Queensland will assist the working group with developing the harvest strategies and will undertake consultation with broader fishery stakeholders as development progresses.

The working group members discussed current issues in the crab fisheries.  Members noted the need to manage the transfer and distribution of effort to meet the Wildlife Trade Operations requirements. Other issues that were of concern to the working group included compliance, localised fishing pressures, data quality, excess effort and access.

The working group noted that commercial crab boats would require vessel tracking by the end of 2018 and was shown an example vessel tracking unit. The members identified issues relating to the operationalisation of vessel tracking including the ability to transfer between vessels and the need for manual processes if a device is malfunctioning. Further consultation on business rules will be undertaken with all stakeholders later in 2017.

To start the harvest strategy process, the working group was asked to identify key fishery objectives to set out the direction and aspirations for the fishery. The following draft objectives were recommended by the working group to:

  • ensure that harvest of crab resources is sustainable (sustainability);
  • improve the understanding of crab fishery interactions with non-target species to determine the level of risk (sustainability);
  • maximise profitability of the commercial crab fishery (economic);
  • enhance economic benefits for the broader community (economic);
  • improve and maintain high catch rates for all sectors of the fishery (social);
  • ensure all sectors are satisfied with their share in the resource (social);
  • reduce excess capacity and conflict in the fishery (social); and
  • ensure fisheries management is meeting the expectation of sectors and the community (social).

The working group was then asked to identify management units which will define the scope of the harvest strategy. The working group noted that the Strategy identifies a preference to manage at the stock level. In regard to this, the working group recommended the following draft management units for the crab fishery:

  • Queensland blue swimmer crab
  • Gulf of Carpentaria mud crab
  • East coast mud crab

The members discussed management reform options that would enable the fishery to be managed to achieve these objectives and management units. The working group agreed that the crab fishery was suitable for quota management (with separate quota for mud and blue swimmer crab). The working group also agreed that there was a need to set blue swimmer crab possession limits for recreational fishers. The catch of all sectors would be adjusted up or down depending on the performance of the fishery. The  working group also agreed limits should be maintained on the take of blue swimmer crab in the trawl fishery and adjusted as necessary depending on the performance of the stock. The working group recognised that there are still a number of unresolved questions around quota allocation, effort reduction, timing of reforms and catch limits.

The working group was concluded with a discussion around the next steps that need to be taken for transitioning the crab fishery to a harvest strategy framework (e.g. developing appropriate management units, allocating access and where necessary, implementing structural adjustment).

Future working group meetings are scheduled for December and February to refine the objectives, units and reform options. Fisheries Queensland will be seeking the views of all stakeholders throughout the process.

The Crab Working Group members are: Fisheries Queensland (Chair- Mark Doohan), commercial fishing (Ben Day, Peter Jackson, Anne Tooker and Keith Harris), recreational fishing (David Bateman, George Bennetts, Wayne Bonham, Michael Detenon) and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (James Aumend)