Communique 15 September 2023

The 14th Crab Working Group meeting was held via teleconference. The purpose of the meeting was to note the continuing implementation of reform to the crab fishery and to consult on a proposed discussion paper for the C1 fishery.

Fisheries Queensland provided a general update on the phase-out of gillnet fishing in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and changes to commercial fishing in the Great Sandy Marine Park. Further information on the taskforce, including recent meeting communiques, is available online here: https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/commercial/future-fishing.

The working group noted the current working group membership will continue until the expression of interest (EOI) process to renew the crab working group membership will be finalised shortly. The current membership will continue until the EOI process is finalised.

Fisheries Queensland advised members that catch data submitted through logbooks is currently being entered and reviewed and will inform fishery management of trends with the crab fishery. Members noted and agreed stock assessments are an important mechanism to inform the total allowable commercial catch (TACC) of a fishery. The decision rules in the harvest strategy consider the outputs of a stock assessment and aim to achieve a target biomass of 60% as a proxy for maximum economic yield. If the biomass is at or above the target reference point (60% exploitable biomass), the TACC will be set at a level that maintains this biomass.

Members provided an update on fishing operations in their local areas. Commercial members noted the price of mud crab is low across Queensland. On the east coast, members have noticed more large crabs being caught in some regions. Members in the blue swimmer crab fishery have observed steady catch rates while the wholesale prices for green blue swimmer crabs have dropped. Members continued discussions of the take of B and C grade crabs in the commercial and recreational sectors. The working group noted reports of good catches observed by recreational representatives in Moreton Bay.

Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol (QBFP) provided an update on the Responsible Crabbing Guide for recreational fishers and noted that it will be released soon. QBFP noted that compliance has been high in both commercial and recreational sectors. Members noted potential reporting issue in the Gulf of Carpentaria. QBFP provided an update on ongoing crab pot clean ups and encourages commercial fishers to contact their local district officer regarding should they have any compliance concerns. QBFP noted that tagging would assist in controlling black marketing.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) representative reiterated the Reef Authority’s interest in progressing a prohibition lightweight crab pots and interested in a bycatch mitigation strategy for the crab fishery, and on current research into female mud crabs and turtle interactions with crab gear. The representative also reiterated they were eager to hear how the Individual Transferrable Quota (ITQ) management and other reform is working towards a sustainable fishery.

The Food Innovation team within Agri-Science Queensland presented on the mud crab traceability project. The project focuses on building a traceability data infrastructure to track provenance and quality in Australian seafood supply chains, with a focus on Queensland mud crab fisheries. Commercial fishers are encouraged to get involved in the project, with several working group members interested.

Agri-science Queensland provided an update on current mud crab research and development. Agri-science noted the need for further discussions on regulated escape vents in commercial pots to be reviewed due to limited effectiveness of one of the allowed vents. They noted the general decline in reported catch and effort in the mud crab fisheries since the introduction of Vessel Monitoring Systems and ITQ, although nominal catch rates have increased. It was noted the next stock assessment for the fishery is due in year-5 of the Harvest Strategy (2025/26).. Members noted marine turtle interactions are concentrated in south-east Queensland and are particularly caused by lightweight apparatus.

The working group reiterated the need to remove lightweight crab pots from both commercial and recreational sectors. Fisheries Queensland indicated that a discussion paper for public consultation is proposed for the near future including the removal of lightweight crab pots.

The working group briefly discussed the commercial take of female crabs. Fisheries Queensland reiterated they are awaiting the outcomes of FRDC research before further considerations.

A document drafted by the Queensland Mud Crab Consortium was circulated amongst fisheries stakeholders and discussed with the working group. Commercial representatives have conflicting views of proposals in the document. Members were advised of a survey that Queensland Seafood Industry Associated conducted in response to the document. The survey results will be distributed to Fisheries Queensland.

The working group discussed the following topics to address effort shift concerns in the fishery. Working group members had conflicting views, and it was noted there are also different views amongst industry. Fisheries Queensland noted no decisions have been made and a discussion paper will be released for public consultation to all C1 licence holders electronically and via mail post.

The following proposals from industry were discussed. No decisions have been made:

  • decreasing the Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) and increasing the minimum quota requirement: Some commercial and recreational representatives noted concerns that for the previous two years, the east coast mud crab TACC only slightly exceeded the 70% catch required to avoid triggering decision rule 1.7 of the harvest strategy (the breakout rule). There was concern that B and C grade crab are being taken to reach the minimum requirement and the impacts involved. Some commercial and recreational members supported the current harvest strategy arrangements to run its course and if the TACC does not meet 70%, the breakout rule 1.7 will be implemented. Working group members noted a need for a mechanism in the harvest strategy to review catch and effort data and increase TACC if needed.
  • Require 2 x C1’s on PCFL to commercially fish: Some commercial members raised concerns regarding latent effort and the possibility for effort shift into the C1 fishery due to the phase-out of gill netting in the Great Barrier Reef. There were mixed views on the proposal for two C1’s symbols to operate in the C1 fishery, with some commercial operators supporting and other opposing the proposed idea.
  • Require tagging of crabs: Commercial members raised concerns about the extra time and resources required to tag crabs. A commercial member carrying out tagging on a voluntary basis noted although it does require further effort and time, tagging crabs is a beneficial marketing tool and can assist with compliance and reporting. The working group noted tagging in the recreational sector would benefit knowledge of recreational catch of crabs.
  • Clarify the scope of the C1 fishery: Fisheries Queensland sought advice on how access to the deepwater crystal crab resource might be managed, noting spanner crabs were set up as a separate fishery several years ago. Working group members generally did not support splitting off the entitlement to catch crystal deepwater crab, noting there are existing deep-sea fishers in C1 areas. Fisheries Queensland noted the different operational mechanisms required to deep-sea fish and associated risks such as interactions with threatened, endangered, or protected (TEP) species. Exploration of deep-sea fisheries crab under the C1 symbol may trigger a review of the wildlife trade operation (WTO) conditions, which may impact all C1 licence holders. Public consultation is proposed on this issue.
  • Amend wording of intact mud crab in reporting: The working group noted the uncertainty of what ‘whole fish’ means in the context of crabs when conducting reporting which possibly results in unreported catch. Members advised the definition to be an individual crab with a carapace, regardless of any missing appendages.

  • Count crabs instead of weight: Some members noted current reporting requirements involving counting and weighing crabs is onerous. Fisheries Queensland noted there may be a need to investigate regional differences in mud crab size and consider how the change could be implemented.
  • Close Eurimbula Creek to all crabbing and prohibit crabbing apparatus: The working group noted the creek is currently a mud crab sanctuary and is creating an enforcement issue for QBFP and park rangers due to crab apparatus being set to take other crabs which are likely also catching mud crabs. Members supported to closing the creek to prohibit the take of all crabs and the use of all crabbing apparatus.
  • Review requirements for trotlines to replace flags with buoys and increase number of pots permitted on a trotline; Members supported the review of the requirement for a flag to be attached to one end of the trotline. Members indicated it is a safety issue to commercial offshore crab fishers and recreational boat users. The working group discussed the limit on the number of permitted pots on a trotline does not allow efficiency in the offshore crab fishery. Additional trotlines can lead to entanglements with TEP species and safety hazards.

The next working group is proposed to be held in-person in March 2024.

Attendees

Members: Fisheries Queensland (Acting Chair – Jeffrey Ikin, Lauren Jubb, Rob McDonald, Dallas D’Silva), Commercial Fishing (Anne Tooker, Benjamin Day, Keith Harris, Matthew Vickers, Paul Hyland), Recreational Fishing (David Bateman, George Bennetts), Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (James Aumend) Agri-Science Queensland (Julie Robins),

Observers: Agri-Science Queensland (Donna Cawthorn, Paul Exley).

Apologies

Members: Fisheries Queensland (Mark Doohan, Sian Breen), Commercial Fishing (Nicholas Burr), Recreational Fishing (Wayne Bonham), Kord Luckus (Fishing Tackle Industry)