Communique 12-13 September 2018

The fifth meeting of the crab working group was held in Brisbane over 12 and 13 Sept 2018. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the feedback from the Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel on the package of reform options and to consider quota allocation principles and models for the allocation of Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ).

Working group members were provided a general update on key sustainable fisheries strategy actions, policy development and implementation progress. It was outlined that the review of the Fisheries Act is progressing with a Bill being introduced to the Parliament last week. It was also noted that the vessel tracking rebate scheme was released to provide support to fishers for the cost of units and installation. Members sought clarification on the rebate and how it relates to different devices. It was noted some units had been nominated for specific fisheries and that rebates vary depending on the unit purchased units, which has been outlined in the information recently provided to fishers.

Expert Panel feedback

Associate Prof. Ian Tibbets, Chair of the Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel attended part of the working group meeting to gain a deeper understanding of the issues facing the crab fishery and to provide feedback from the Expert Panel’s perspective. Largely, as noted in their communique, the Expert Panel supported the proposed reforms recommended by the crab fishery working group and noted that they were consistent with addressing the objectives of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy.  Members agreed that they were currently focused on the reform issues, and that specific harvest strategy mechanisms to address other issues (such as localised excessive effort) are yet to be considered in detail. The working group felt that total allowable commercial catch (TACC) setting decision rules and harvest strategy references and trigger points would be better considered once the effect of the initial reforms was understood.

Setting quota

The working group heard from Animal Science of Agri Science Queensland (DAF) scientists on the methods available to establish appropriate TAC limits for each of the East Coast, Gulf of Carpentaria mud crab fisheries and the blue swimmer crab fishery. In the absence of formal stock assessments, or sufficient data to run more complex stock models, an initial nominal TACC could be based on a 7 year reported catch average. Further analysis and assumptions would need to be applied to account for a total allowable catch (TAC) of all sectors’ harvest.

A maximum economic yield (MEY) estimate was presented for blue swimmer crab using the 2014 stock assessment model. It was noted that a standardised catch rate is currently being developed for mud crab that may allow for a baseline mud crab MSY estimates in the near future. Advice on potential TAC and TACC for all sectors will be presented to the working group at its next meeting.

NT crab fishery

The working group heard a presentation from Northern Territory Department of Primary Industries and Resources on their mud crab fishery research and management. The NT fishery currently has a harvest strategy in place that aims to maintain catch rates at sustainable levels. The working group noted that work is currently underway to better incorporate environmental parameters into decision making, as these have significantly influenced catchability of crabs in the Gulf of Carpentaria in recent years. The working group hoped to be able to also include environmental parameters in Queensland crab fisheries’ harvest strategies going forward.

Bycatch reduction device trials in NT showed that there was a significant reduction in bycatch, catch of juvenile mud crabs, cannibalism and post-harvest mortality in pots with these devices. They also noted escape vents can increase the catch of legal size crabs by 10-30%. The working group supported the introduction of such devices in all sectors’ pots, noting a transition period would need to apply to allow the retrofitting of existing apparatus and to provide time for manufacturers to build and supply compliant pots.

ITQ Allocation

The working group noted that in order to operationalise an ITQ system, a quota allocation policy was currently being drafted for industry consultation.

The working group discussed a number of quota allocation principles and models. A number of aspects were considered critical to the success of any system, including:

  • A C1 symbol attached to a commercial fishing boat licence is necessary to be eligible for an allocation.
  • Only annual mud crab catch history up to a maximum of 6 tonnes (1 x C1) or 12 tonnes (2 x C1) should be taken into account for any allocation process, as these represent an estimated physical limit of how much crab can feasibly be caught in a year per symbol, which will help to address possible over-reporting.
  • The seven financial year period from 2010/11 to 2016/17 is an appropriate period to establish fishers relative economic position for the purposes of allocation.
  • The following allocation scenarios should be investigated further and figures provided to fishers on what they would mean for them:
    • - average catch over the 7 years,
    • - average catch weighted 60% before the investment warning and 40% after,
    • - average catch weighted 40% before the investment warning and 60% after,
    • - other options such as average of best 6 years from 7 years
  • No quota eligibility criteria should be used to reduce the number of fishers initially eligible for an allocation – fishers would receive whatever level the final quota allocation formula calculates.
  • A base equal allocation is not considered necessary as a C1 symbol will continue to provide a 50 pot fishing entitlement.
  • Minimum unit holdings after the initial allocation could be used to facilitate consolidation of quota and to ensure autonomous restructuring occurs to improve economic viability and achieve the targets in the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy.

The working group wanted to ensure that catch allocations were as equitable and fair as possible, noting that fishers who had more years of participation should be appropriately recognised in the allocation formula. Working group members noted that a draft allocation policy and indicative allocation figures for individual licence holders under the different models would be released for consultation in coming months.

Ghost pot clean up

The working group had previously considered and supported in principle the concept of a closure to enable abandoned or lost pots to be removed. Further consideration of the details of this concept have identified some issues, including the absence of a period of time that would suit a blanket ‘no pots in water’ rule due to differences in seasonality of mud and blue swimmer crabs. The financial impost of a closure and the logistical difficulties in removing up to 100 pots on the commercial sector outweighs the benefits of a closure period, when there may be alternative ways to achieve the same outcomes. The working group agreed that any approach be consistent for commercial and recreational sectors.

Some alternatives to achieve a window of time to allow a pot clean up included the following options:

  • rolling regional community clean ups;
  • tags to identify if pots are being worked to exempt them from a ‘clean up’ during a defined period of time;
  • requiring the use of standardised heavier pots that are less likely to be lost; or
  • implementing a trigger for further management action in the harvest strategy if the number of abandoned pots/ghost pots are not reducing over time.


The working group noted that the first generation of a tagging scheme for the commercial mud crab fishery should include features that will address quota compliance, significantly minimise black marketing and provide marketing advantages and opportunities for fishers (provenance tracking). There are still many details to work out in order to operationalise a tagging system, and the working group views will continue to be sought to finalise a workable arrangement.

Other regulation amendments

The working group discussed a number of minor regulatory amendments that will be necessary as part of the remake of the Fisheries Regulation in 2019 to support the reform and harvest strategy processes.

The working group discussed possession limits for blue swimmer crabs and mud crabs. The working group noted the previously recommendation concerning the recreational blue swimmer crab in possession limit as 20, with a possible 40 boat limit. It was highlighted that the boat limit is being introduced for priority black market species only, and as blue swimmer crab are not a priority black market species, a boat limit may not be required.

The proposed reduction in the possession limit for mud crabs was again discussed, with most members supporting 5 – 6 crabs, with 10 - 12 boat limit. However some recreational members offered 7 instead, as long as there was a similar reduction in the commercial quota.

The working group agreed that a separate sub-working group be developed to engage with blue swimmer crab fishers who are both multi endorsed or dedicated blue swimmer crab fishers.

Next steps

Members noted the next steps in developing the harvest strategy and to further refine the options for reform. Fisheries Queensland aims to undertake broader industry consultation on the ITQ allocation formula before the end of the year.   A further meeting was scheduled for 12-13 December to draft harvest strategies and review proposed regulatory changes.

Fisheries Queensland (Chair – Mark Doohan), commercial fishing (Keith Harris, Anne Tooker, Ben Day, Peter Jackson), recreational fishing (David Bateman, Wayne Bonham, Michael Detenon), Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (James Aumend), Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol (David Kahler), Animal Science of Agi Science Queensland (Julie Robins).