Communique 29-30 August 2018

The purpose of this meeting was to discuss expert panel feedback on the recommended management package, bycatch and protected species reforms, setting Total Allowable Commercial Catches (TACCs) and identifying suitable species for Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ)/TACC to support harvest strategy development.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the implementation of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017-2027. The working group noted the progress report on implementing the Strategy and in particular that work to improve engagement was identified.  The working group recommended that the progress report and key meeting communiques be posted out to commercial fishers to help keep them informed about what is happening.

Darryl McPhee attended the meeting as a member of the Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel (Expert Panel) to provide feedback on the proposed management options. Daryl advised that the Expert Panel believe the proposed management regions provide a good structure for improving the management of this fishery for all sectors and reiterated that the Expert Panel’s advice is for a small number of ITQs to anchor the management and improve the fisheries economic outlook.  The working group asked for more advice on TACC versus ITQ.  Daryl advised that the race to fish will be less if key species that drive fishing behaviour are managed through ITQ compared to most species being managed through competitive TACC. Daryl also reiterated the Expert Panel’s caution in how many species move to ITQ and focus on a small number of species that are targeted and drive fishing effort/behaviour in the fishery. A cluster analysis will help identify those species and provide confidence about this management approach.

The working group revisited the proposed management regions due to concerns from some commercial fishers about the number of management regions.  After discussion it was clearly reaffirmed that it is critical that commercial fishers will continue to have flexibility to move between regions with their licence and it should just be the catch limits that is are based on the proposed management regions.  There was discussion about less regions (or more), but most members agreed that the proposed six management regions were about right and would promote better stewardship at the regional level. The working group noted the analysis by Fisheries Queensland that 81-84% of commercial fishers with an ‘n’-symbol have operated in one of the proposed management regions, 14-18% have operated in two of the proposed management regions and 1-2% have operated in three of the proposed management regions over the last 5 years.  This shows that most of the commercial net fishers focus their operations around a ‘home base’ however consideration still needs to be given to multi-endorsed fishers who have diversified fishing businesses.

The working group discussed measures required to reduce bycatch and protected species interactions.  The working group supported introducing the following mitigation measures:

  • Industry-led Best Management Practice (BMP) program to be developed with tailored regionalised components for each proposed management region building upon the existing environmental management systems but with more of a focus on training and accreditation process.  The BMP should set out the minimum standards for practices as well as best practice and innovation with incentive provided for BMP accredited fishers.
  • Mandatory use of bycatch reduction devices with an ‘approved list of BRDs’ to be included in the fisheries regulation that fishers can choose from (e.g. pingers, LED lights, breakaway panels etc.). The working group supported holding a gear innovation forum to ensure the development of these measures is evidence based and well-tested.
  • Temporary closures with triggers in the harvest strategy to avoid fishing interactions that threaten protected species population viability. Noting different sectors have different concerns with this measure and it would work best if there was a net benefit overall (i.e. pre-agreed areas that could be temporarily opened when an area is closed by local communities and all sectors).
  • Consider trials of Alternative gear types (e.g. arrow head traps and tunnel netting) to explore gears that could be more selective than mesh netting. The working group was willing to consider other apparatus multi-hook, fish traps, selective ring netting and reviewing whether barramundi could be commercially taken by line once other measures are in place (i.e. catch limits, ITQ) noting reservations from recreational members on some methods.
  • Introducing Vessel tracking, digital observers and logbook auditing to validate mitigation measures to reduce bycatch and protected species interactions.
  • Netting rules including reviewing attendance, net length and configuration to ensure fishers are close enough to respond to any interactions and increase release survival.
  • Minimum and maximum size limits to protect juvenile and large breeding fish.
  • Ecological risk assessments (ERAs) with triggers in the harvest strategies for high risks that emerge from the ERAs to ensure there is an appropriate management response to address the risk.
  • Recreational fisher education particularly on catch and release methods and expanding existing work on best practice, codes of practice.

There were a number of additional measures that were supported by a small number of working group members that would also require funding and more adequately address protected species issues from the conservation sector perspective. This included a net free north proposal, human observers, tighter net attendance, changes to allowable take of certain species. Industry indicated that while there was very little fishing effort in the far north currently, the only way they would contemplate a net free north was if there was an agreement for fishers to access the area if there was a significant weather event or emergency further south where they couldn’t access their existing fishing grounds.  Members also advised that consultation should be undertaken with affected fishers and to not rely solely on the advice from the working group. They would also want to see a commitment from the conservation sector to the reform process rather than proposing more permanent closures, banning of mesh netting on the remainder of the east coast and would want to see WWF surrender the licences they have purchased. The working group will explore further measures at the next meeting to minimise protected species risks and seek advice from the Expert Panel on progress.

The working group reviewed a decision tree for how to set sustainable catch limits for species in the fishery. In general, where a stock assessment is available the working group agreed that this would be used, with a TACC initially set based on maximum sustainable yield (40% biomass) and moving progressively each year to maximum economic yield (60% biomass) by 2027, unless there was agreement to move more quickly or MEY has already been reached.  Where a stock assessment was not available, existing TACCs or a 5 year catch average along with available science. The working group reviewed the top species by volume and provided comments on the options for setting the TACCs in each of the proposed management regions. The working group also agreed that an estimated recreational harvest should be included in the harvest strategy to clearly show the catch shares between sectors.

The working group discussed the challenges around black jewfish currently and the significant increase in catch over the last 12 months from 1-2 tonnes to 30 tonnes (plus another 22 tonnes ‘jewfish – unspecified’).  The working group noted that the value of black jewfish swimbladders (up to $900/kg) was driving a significant increase in targeting and black marketing of the product.  The working group unanimously agreed that action was needed to protect black jewfish which has a vulnerable life history (aggregate, suffer barotrauma and mature at a very large size). The working group agreed a precautionary TACC of 20 tonnes and a tagging system for swimbladders should be implemented, as well as a temporary reduction in the bag limit to 1 and a requirement for recreational fishers to keep either a whole fish or gutted fish with no bladder on a boat. The working group sought advice from the Expert Panel that this is an appropriate approach to manage this issue.

Based on the Expert Panel advice, criteria was developed for considering which tier of management (ie Tier 1 – ITQ, Tier 2 – TACC, Tier 3 – Catch Monitor) should apply.  Applying a criteria based on volume of catch, target species, availability of assessment information, commercial value, recreational value, level of sharing between sectors, vulnerability of species and influence on protected species interaction risks identified 5 species that would be suitable for ITQ (barramundi, whiting, grey mackerel, king threadfin and school mackerel (and potentially spotted mackerel if other methods than line fishing were considered).  The working group identified another 10 that would be suitable for TACC (mullet, shark, hammerhead, trevally, garfish, bream, tailor, blue threadfin, flathead, grunter, black jewfish). The remainder would be monitored, with catch triggers and decision rules in the harvest strategy. The majority of the commercial fishing members did not support ITQs because of the difficulty in obtaining fair allocation and holding of ITQ by non-fishers.  The conservation member sought ITQs on all species and further discrimination of shark species catch is required. Recognising current efforts to resolve data limitations for shark and ray catch, the GBRMPA member encouraged moving to species specific targets to manage take of shark and ray, particularly those that are more vulnerable to fishing pressure.

The working group ran through a number of allocation models, with grey mackerel as a worked example. The working group agreed that allocation should be fair and based on an individual history.  The working group recommended the following scenarios be modelled:

  • Eligibility criteria modelled based on 100, 250 and 500kg total over five years
  • No base allocation
  • Eligibility period modelled on (1) average of the best of 2 or 3 annual catches over five years; (2) average annual catch over five years; (3) average of three annual catches with the highest and lowest in the five year period removed.
  • Catch history specific to the management regions will only be considered.
  • Trip limits for smaller incidental catch (put aside 5-10% of TACC) to minimise discarding
  • A reserve of 15% of the TACC established for appeal processes.
  • Special circumstances to be considered

The working group discussed other models including commercial fishers nominating the amount they think is deserved, based on validated information they can provide or that government hold the quota that fishers can request a certain tonnage at a time to fish.

The working group discussed current biological information available on the stock and size at maturity for inshore fin fish species to based on minimum legal size (MLS) allowing fish to spawn at least once before it can be harvested and protect larger fecund females while considering discard, gear selectivity, release mortality etc.  The working group considered potential size limit changes based on the science to a number of species, but recommended further consultation would be required, particularly to understand the impact on fishers, potential discards and release mortality. Further consultation would be undertaken by the department before any regulatory changes were considered.

To support implementation of the reforms, the working group had an initial discussion on what changes might need to be made to the Fisheries Regulation in 2019. The working group recommended, as a start to, clarify the definition of a river mouth; Generally reviewing the legislation to reduce complexity and simplifying the k-symbol rules; Reviewing net length, size, drop and attendance to ensure it supports best practice, Reviewing need for inshore/offshore waters, need for weekend closures in isolated areas and net-only caught barramundi for species moving to ITQ management; and Improve the reporting requirements so it’s clear what is being caught under which entitlement/gear type.  The working group supported Fisheries Queensland talking to Industry and key stakeholders to enable more detailed proposals to be developed for consideration later in the year.

The working group has identified a new research need to better understand the movement, life cycle, stock structure and habitat utilisation for king threadfin to improve a harvest strategy in the medium to long term. The next working group meeting is scheduled for December to draft harvest strategies and review proposed regulatory changes.

The East coast inshore Working Group members are: Fisheries Queensland (Chair – Claire Andersen), commercial fishing (Ben Gilliland, Mark Ahern, Nathan Rynn, Margaret Stevensen and Allan Bobbermen), recreational fishing (Steve Morgan, John Bennett, Mick McDade and Nathan Johnston), seafood marketing (Matthew Vujica), conservation (Nick Heath), research (David Welch) and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Thomas Hatley). Apologies: Mark Ahern.


ITQ                          Individual Transferable Quota

TACC                     Total Allowable Commercial Catch

Expert Panel         Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel

MLS                        Minimum Legal Size

MSY                        Maximum Sustainable Yield

MEY                        Maximum Economic Yield