Communique 30 March 2023

The 13th 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 discuss the total allowable commercial catch (TACC) for the 2023-24 fishing year for mud crab and blue swimmer crab.

Agri-science Queensland provided a written update on current progress on mud crab research for noting by the working group members. The working group noted the participation of many recreational and commercial fishers in the joint research project to report sightings of egg-bearing female mud crabs. Several crab research projects are continuing.

Fisheries Queensland provided a general update on the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy (the Strategy), noted that the Great Sandy Marine Park zoning review was underway, and that a working group expression of interest (EOI) process was imminent. Fisheries Queensland also updated the working group on the status of developmental fishing activities which have operated adjacent to the commercial crab fishery.

Fisheries Queensland advised members of the status of several proposed legislative amendments for the crab fisheries. These include the removal of lightweight pots, pot sizes for commercial and recreational sectors, maximum number of pots permitted on trot lines, and marking requirements for trot lines. These will be considered in a broader review process across multiple fisheries requiring public consultation.

The working group noted the Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) Part 13A (export) accreditation under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) remains revoked for mud crab and blue swimmer crab. Part 13 accreditation under the EPBC Act remains in place for the blue swimmer crab and mud crab fisheries.

The working group discussed the National Mud Crab workshop held in October 2022. Members who attended provided positive feedback about this workshop and the opportunities for collaboration across jurisdictions.

Members provided an update on fishing operations in their local areas. Commercial operators in the Gulf of Carpentaria noted that catch rates are high despite extreme weather events affecting operations and movement of catch to market. Gulf of Carpentaria quota is currently trading at $125/kg with 13 major quota owners, including 9 owner operators. On the east coast, the season has been steady with large crabs (approximately 2kg) being caught around central Queensland, despite limited rain. Some commercial operators are experiencing low catch rates in Gladstone Harbour, with the Gladstone Healthy Harbour Report stating a decline in mud crab stocks within Gladstone Harbour has occurred. Observed depletions on the east coast may be due to the continued take of B and C grade crabs in the commercial and recreational sectors. Members in the blue swimmer crab fishery have recently observed low catch rates both offshore and inside the bays. Wholesale prices for blue swimmer crab have remained steady for operators. Members raised ongoing concerns with trawl interactions with commercial blue swimmer crab pots. Recreational members in Moreton Bay observed that activity has been quiet over the past month and noted that weather, temperature and water quality factors may be affecting recreational catch.

The GBRMPA representative advised that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority remains interested to see progress on by-catch mitigation and a prohibition on lightweight pots, which will contribute to meeting the conditions of the Part 13 accreditations under the EPBC Act. The member noted potential concern with the current east coast mud crab TACC as the 2022 catch only slightly exceeded the 70% catch required to avoid triggering decision rule 1.7 of the mud crab harvest strategy (the breakout rule), despite apparent high effort and significant catch of B and C grade crabs.

Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol provided a compliance update, and members discussed issues observed in the field. QBFP have implemented a new intelligence and monitoring system (FIMS), which provides real-time access to compliance information and data to officers in the field. QBFP officers across all regions have undertaken education activities with commercial and recreational fisherman about their obligations with positive results. Escape vent compliance for commercial operators, for example, is high. Some ongoing issues with vessel tracking offences and uptake of the eFisher app for reporting are being managed. The issue of black marketing of crabs remains a priority for enforcement. QBFP encourages all commercial fishers to contact their local district office if there are specific enforcement concerns in their area.

Fisheries Queensland proposed the following in relation to Total Allowable Commercial Catches (TACCs) for the upcoming season commencing on 1 July 2023:

  • no change to blue swimmer crab TACC from 263,000kg
  • no change to east coast mud crab TACC from 770,000kg
  • no change to Gulf of Carpentaria mud crab TACC from 108,000kg.

The working group endorsed these proposed TACCs for the 2023-24 fishing year. Members noted that while decision rule 1.7 of the mud crab harvest strategy (the breakout rule) was not triggered to reduce the TACC for mud crabs on the east coast or in the Gulf of Carpentaria, there is concern that a large proportion of the catch on the east coast may be B and C grade crabs.

The working group was presented with a letter from four commercial east coast mud crab fishers proposing several management measures to address fishing effort in the east coast mud crab fishery. These measures included requiring a commercial fisher to hold two C1 symbols on their primary licence to participate in the fishery, and increasing the minimum quota holding requirement from 1,200kg to 3,500kg to commence fishing. A number of these measures were previously considered by the working group when developing the harvest strategy and the move to individual transferable quota (ITQ). While there was some support for the proposed measures, the working group preferred to continue with the management arrangements under the current mud crab harvest strategy at this time.

The requirement for commercial fishers to check crab apparatus at least every 7 days after being set was also raised, as some commercial fishers have raised concerns that this requirement does not allow for leniency, even in exceptional circumstances such as ill health. Fisheries Queensland advised that QBFP officers can apply discretion in circumstances where a genuine reason can be provided. Fishers are encouraged to discuss any concerns about their capacity to check crab apparatus within 7 days with their local QBFP District Officer.

The working group discussed a proposal to trial the commercial take of female mud crabs in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Some members supported a trial but noted the advice already provided to trial proponents that Fisheries Queensland is awaiting the outcomes of FRDC research before further consideration will be made. Additionally, the completion of the first five-year harvest strategy will demonstrate sustainable management under quota arrangements, prove compliance, and reduce black marketing of mud crab. Fisheries Queensland advised that management arrangements for the fishery are not anticipated to be significantly changed until these outcomes have been demonstrated, however trial arrangements can continue to be considered.

A proposal for a transhipment strategy in the Gulf of Carpentaria was discussed. This proposal would seek to allow holders of primary licences owned or leased in the name of a single entity to land catches on board a single holding vessel owned by the same entity. Members were generally not supportive due to concerns of increased localised effort from holders of primary licences moving into and operating in areas which cannot sustain increased effort or increased pressure on local mud crab stocks.

Working group members discussed a proposal to allow the temporary transfer of fishery symbols between primary licences. Members expressed support, although noting that this is currently possible through third-party agreements between primary licence holders. Fisheries Queensland noted to investigate opportunities to streamline current processes to enable temporary transfer of symbols to be enabled, noting that consultation between representatives from all commercial fisheries and Fisheries Queensland is required.

Fisheries Queensland will update the Responsible Crabbing Guide for recreational fishers. Education activities will be progressed to raise awareness of B and C grade crabs for recreational fishers. The working group also reiterated the need for action to be taken to remove lightweight crab pots from both commercial and recreational sectors. The working group encouraged efforts to enable greater reporting of recreational catch across all fisheries.

The next working group meeting is planned to be held in October 2023.

Attendees

Members: Fisheries Queensland (Chair – Mark Doohan, Sian Breen, Jeffrey Ikin, Rhys Watson, Rob McDonald), Commercial Fishing (Anne Tooker, Ben Day, Keith Harris, Paul Hyland), Recreational Fishing (David Bateman; first hour only), Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (James Aumend)

Observers: Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel (Ian Tibbetts, Natalie Stoeckl).

Apologies

Members: Commercial Fishing (Matthew Vickers, Nicholas Burr), Recreational Fishing (George Bennetts, Wayne Bonham), Agri-Science Queensland (Julie Robins), Kord Luckus (Fishing Tackle Industry)

Observers: Dr Richard Pillans (CSIRO).