Communique 13-14 June 2018

The fourth meeting of the crab working group was held in Brisbane over 13 and 14 June 2018. The purpose of this meeting was to consider the consultation feedback from the discussion paper and further refine the fishery reform options to provide a recommendation to the expert panel in late July 2018.

Working group members were provided a general update on key sustainable fisheries strategy actions, policy development and implementation progress. Members sought clarification on the purpose of the recently released Reallocation Policy, and noted that it essentially outlines the steps and key considerations when the access to fisheries resources between sectors is to be changed.

The working group heard a presentation from NSW Fisheries, and a NSW commercial fisher from Yamba joined the meeting. The working group noted that the measures introduced by NSW were primarily to address fisher viability rather than stock sustainability issues. The reforms were difficult, but have ultimately led to less commercial fishers competing for the resource. Fisher profitability and the value of capital investment has improved, and confidence in stock monitoring and quota validation is supported through a mobile phone app. The working group appreciated the insights from the NSW experience and noted opportunities to collaborate further.

The results of consultation for the crab fishery discussion paper and proposed Act amendments were presented to the group. Each member outlined the feedback they received from their sectoral group and own communities in relation to the discussion paper proposals. Most members expressed some disappointment at the lack of engagement, and had expected that more recreational and commercial fishers would be responding to the reform ideas, and noted that further work to better engage and educate stakeholders on the reform process is needed. A report compiling the results of the survey will be made publicly available in coming months.

The working group noted the following key consultation results:

  • Management units as proposed in the discussion paper were supported, however most recreational fishers, conservation group and GBRMPA noted a preference to manage the mud crab fishery at a finer spatial scale on the east coast.
  • Around two thirds of commercial fishers preferred ITQ over other reform options and this division was somewhat reflected in the face to face port visits, individual submissions and group submissions.
  • The use of tags for the commercial sector for quota validation and to address black marketing had widespread support from all sectors.
  • There was strong support from the recreational sector to introduce a recreational bag limit for blue swimmer crabs and boat limits for both blue swimmer crabs and mud crabs. Support for a reduction in the bag limit of mud crabs was also generally supported.

Fisheries Queensland presented the draft fishery objectives and explained how these objectives will be used in the development of the harvest strategy to develop operational objectives. The working group agreed with the fishery objectives and no specific changes were proposed, noting that they may be refined to ensure consistency with other fisheries.

A presentation on estimating biomass and developing proxies and indicators provided an outline of what kinds of stock assessment models are available for crab stocks. While there was an acknowledgement that mud crab stocks are likely to be considered robust based on their biological characteristics, effort has expanded dramatically in recent years. Given the influence of environmental conditions at the local scale, it was noted that the east coast stocks are best assessed regionally, and that this would inform the overall quota, using multiple lines of evidence from stock models, catch data and environmental conditions.

In considering the results of consultation, the issues facing the fishery and the need to ensure a framework that is consistent with managing crab stocks effectively through a harvest strategy, the working group recommended the following ‘in principle’ positions in relation to crab fishery management:

  • Three management units that reflect the genetic fish stocks – blue swimmer crab (whole state), mud crab Gulf of Carpentaria and mud crab east coast;
  • Individual Transferable Quota’s (ITQ) to cap the commercial crab harvest in each of the three management units;
  • The use of tags to identify commercially caught product, that will assist in ensuring integrity with the quota system, and address crab black marketing;
  • Recreational blue swimmer crab in possession limit proposed as 20, with 40 boat limit;
  • Recreational mud crab in possession limit proposed as 5 - 6, with 10 - 12 boat limit (noting that two of the four recreational fishers on the working group did not support this limit, but did support a reduction only in line with a commensurate reduction of the commercial sector in the harvest strategy);
  • An annual closure that would apply to all sectors might afford an opportunity to address ghost potting issues, however the length of the closure and time of closure needs further investigation (whole state/hot spots/rolling regional);
  • Crab pot apparatus review to require escape vents for all sectors and prohibit the use of some recreational pots with large entrances. Further investigation on the use of neutral buoyancy rope is also recommended.
  • Blue swimmer crabs re-affirmed as a non-target species for trawl. Consideration be given to reviewing trawl access to crabs with further advice to be sought from the trawl fishery working group.

The total number of pots permitted to be used in the fishery by the commercial sector be reviewed through the harvest strategy if an ITQ management system does not address the issues associated with excessive effort. Likewise, finer spatial management could be triggered for areas where local depletion or excessive effort is still occurring. Improved data with vessel tracking and validated logbooks will assist in developing the harvest strategy measures to deal with these matters.

The working group noted that in introducing an ITQ an allocation process will be required. It was noted that it will be a difficult process, and discussed a number of general principles that could apply in this process. The working group will consider allocation options, models and receive further advice from the Expert Panel on eligibility criteria at the next meeting. The risks of over allocating the initial quota were noted by the working group.

Members noted the next steps in developing the harvest strategy and to further refine the options for reform. A further meeting was scheduled for September to draft harvest strategies and review proposed regulatory changes.

The Crab Working Group members are: Fisheries Queensland (Chair – Mark Doohan), commercial fishing (Keith Harris, Anne Tooker, Ben Day, Peter Jackson), recreational fishing (David Bateman, George Bennetts, Wayne Bonham, Michael Detenon), Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (James Aumend), Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol (Rob McDonald), Animal Science Queensland (Julie Robins).