Communique 8 December 2021
The Crab Working Group meeting was held in via teleconference. The purpose of the meeting was to note the implementation of reform to the mud and blue swimmer crab fisheries, current research and ecological risk assessment outcomes and to discuss the risk mitigation strategies to address Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) conditions.
Fisheries Queensland provided a general update on:
- the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy (the Strategy)
- recent regulation changes
- implementation of the mud crab and blue swimmer crab harvest strategies and quota
- high compliance rates with the new reforms that started 1 September 2021.
Members were invited to provide an update on fishing operations in their local areas. Commercial operators noted that industry is adapting quite well to reforms that commenced on 1 September 2021. There were early teething issues with reporting, which seem to have been resolved or are currently being reviewed. Members have raised concerns regarding size and location of escape vents for mud crab apparatus and the requirement to have flags on trotlines in the blue swimmer crab fishery. Members reiterated the need to urgently progress the legislative changes to remove light-weight crab pots. Fisheries Queensland undertook to progress this change and other risk mitigation issues.
Agri-science Queensland presented the progress to-date on the mud crab genetic stock structure research. One aim of the FRDC project is to utilise genetic analysis to assess the spatial stock structure of mud crabs. Preliminary analysis has revealed strong genetic differences between mud crabs from the East Coast and Gulf of Carpentaria. Mud crab genetic analysis has shown minimal latitudinal differences along the East Coast suggesting a single genetic stock for East Coast Queensland and New South Wales. Strong sex-linked markers have been identified which could potentially be used to develop a forensic compliance tool in future to detect illegal harvest of females for crab meat. Further work is underway to determine fine scale evaluation of the stock structure among east coast locations. Members discussed how results could be used to influence future management of the fishery.
Fisheries Queensland presented the methodology and results of the 2019-20 state-wide recreational fishing survey. The results are available via a dashboard on the department’s website (Dashboard | Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland (daf.qld.gov.au)). The results include recreational harvest, effort and expenditure and a range of other data which can be explored by region, species, year and other criteria. From April 2019 to April 2020, approximately 660,000 Queenslanders went recreational fishing in Queensland during the survey period. Queenslanders spent approximately $630 million on recreation fishing, generated an estimated $334 million in gross state product and supported 3,136 full time equivalent jobs. Approximately 798,000 mud crabs were caught and were the second most caught species across Queensland. Of these, 160,000 were kept and 638,000 were released. Approximately 235,000 blue swimmer crabs were caught with 78,000 being kept and 157,000 being released. Fisheries Queensland also answered questions on the state-wide boat ramp survey. The working group discussed member’s concerns about the methodology, data collected and accuracy of the recreational fishing data.
Members noted the status and results of the scoping study, Level 1 and Level 2 Ecological Risk Assessments (ERA) for the mud crab and blue swimmer crab fisheries. The assessments have identified that crabbing activity poses high risk to loggerhead turtles, green turtles and speartooth shark. Key drivers of risk for marine turtles and speartooth shark were conservative life history traits, potential to interact with fishing gear and mortality risk following an interaction. Recommendations to reduce turtle interactions with crab apparatus included improving data on interaction rates and release fate across the commercial and recreational sectors, examining fine scale effort data with marine turtle habitats, minimise risk of float line entanglements in active pots and minimising the risk of turtles getting trapped or entangled in ghost pots and float lines. Recommendations to reduce speartooth shark interactions with crab apparatus in the Gulf of Carpentaria included improving data on interaction rates and release fates across the commercial and recreational sectors and to identify mechanisms that minimise capture and entrapment in active pots.
Marine turtle expert, Dr Col Limpus, provided a presentation regarding turtle interactions with crab apparatus. StrandNet data reports approximately 400 turtle interactions from 2010 to 2021 in Moreton Bay. Turtle interactions with crab apparatus result in entanglement in float lines and entrapment in pots, including ghost pots. Initial data has shown that entanglement and entrapment is more prevalent with light-weight recreational crab pots. Recommendations were provided to the working group and Fisheries Queensland for consideration to reduce effort in high turtle population areas and change crab apparatus to limit interactions.
Members agreed that cheap, light-weight crab pots are the major contributors to turtle interactions with crab apparatus.
Members discussed a range of bycatch mitigations strategies to address WTO conditions relating to turtle interactions with crab apparatus. Options were presented to the working group for discussion with members providing feedback on all options. To address the current WTO conditions, members discussed possible changes to gear design to minimise turtles entering crab pots. Other options to be considered further are the use of weighted float lines to prevent surface entanglements. A phase out of light-weight crab pots was also recommended.
Fisheries Queensland will undertake to develop a risk mitigation strategy to address turtle interactions with crab apparatus. Once developed, the risk mitigation strategy will be released for public consultation in early 2022. In addition, Fisheries Queensland will be consulting with all licence holders in relation to the export component (Part 13A) of future WTO applications noting the current approval expires on 27 May 2022.The responsible crabbing guide will also be reviewed as an immediate priority.
Members raised the need for mud crab tagging and the progress of female mud crab research including the possibility of extending the research to the take of female blue swimmer crabs. The number of pots on blue swimmer crab trotlines and potential retention of bycatch in the blue swimmer crab fishery was also raised for consideration. Trend data about effort post quota allocation will need to be monitored.
The next crab working group meeting is scheduled for May 2022 with discussions to include:
- An update on research progress and preliminary findings
- An update on the WTO status and by-catch mitigation strategies
- Progress on the phase-out of light weight crab pots
- Review of the fishery performance post quota implementation