Communique 4-5 December 2018

The sixth meeting of the east coast inshore working group was held in Brisbane over 4-5 December 2018. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the detail behind implementing the recommended management package, including ecological risk assessment, co-harvest analysis of the net fishery, managing discarding, allocation options for any quota species and harvest strategy triggers and decision rules.

The working group discussed at length potential impacts of the proposed reforms on the commercial fishing industry.  All members agreed that they want the fishery to continue, in particular the netting component, and acknowledged that there are a number of social and economic issues and protected species interactions that mean doing nothing is not an option.  Some commercial fishing members reiterated their (and the majority of commercial fishers) preference to start with Total Allowable Commercial Catches, with a trigger to move to individual quota if the TACC is reached in two consecutive years.  Most other members preferred ITQs, with the conservation sector wanting more species covered by ITQ than currently proposed.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the implementation of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017-2027. The working group noted that the vessel tracking regulation and supporting policy and rebate information has been provided to commercial fishers ready for implementation on 1 January 2019. Industry noted there are still concerns from commercial fishers about vessel tracking providers.  It was also noted that work is progressing on the new apps, in particular the commercial fishing app, which should be ready for initial user testing soon. The working group was advised that the Queensland Government is currently considering the recommended management package for this fishery and a direction would be communicated with stakeholders in early 2019. Following this, Fisheries Queensland will undertake targeted consultation with commercial fishers on any allocation required to implement the reforms followed by broader public consultation on proposed changes to the Fisheries Regulation 2008 to implement the reforms.  Subject to consultation and government consideration, a new Fisheries Regulation would be in place by September 2019, with implementation of reforms to occur for the 2020 fishing season.

The working group noted feedback from the Expert Panel, including:

  • focusing on more vulnerable sharks,
  • reiterating only a small number of quota species to avoid too much complexity,
  • developing simple stock assessment-based harvest strategies for all sectors,
  • improving understanding of discarding,
  • avoiding the use of trip limits for quota species,
  • considering rules requiring commercial fishers to hold quota and considering what triggers and decisions will be in the harvest strategy once a TACC is reached.

More detailed advice is outlined in the Expert Panel communique.

Fisheries Queensland advised that consultation on proposed changes to protect black jewfish has been released and is open until 13 December 2018.  Following this, consultation feedback will be considered and urgent management actions implemented in early 2019 (currently proposal is for a 20 tonne TACC on the east coast and 2 tonne TACC in Gulf of Carpentaria, recreational in-possession limit of 1 and requirement to keep fish whole).  All working group members reiterated their concern for the sustainability of this stock and the need to put catch limits in place and improve traceability and reduce blackmarketing, especially with the tenfold increase in the commercial catch which has now reached 100 tonnes year to date and evidence around increased recreational catch and blackmarketing.  The working group supported considering other management options (e.g. dual tagging of swim bladders and trunks for traceability and better recreational monitoring) to be considered as part of the broader reforms in mid to late 2019.  Some members also supported looking at potential area/time closures around aggregations.

Working group members engaged in a general discussion on shark fishery management, particularly following recent shark attacks. It was agreed to:

  • undertake further analysis to look at the original purpose of the current 1.5m maximum size limit for shark,
  • consider adjusting the existing split associated with the total allowable commercial catch of shark to allow an increase in take in the south where there is a more viable shark fishery and the current TACC has been almost fully utilised the last few years (compared to the north which is underutilised); and
  • prepare a risk assessment of shark species ranked in order of most vulnerable to least vulnerable to guide development of an appropriate management response based on species risks in the harvest strategy,
  • consider extending the no take for commercial and recreational fishers on the most vulnerable shark species.

The working group discussed recreational bait netting and concerns around bycatch of juvenile species including through trawl bycatch as well as blackmarketing of prawns and other compliance issues. It was acknowledged that further work was needed to quantify the risks to determine if management changes may be necessary (e.g. apparatus rules for cast nets and drag nets). It was noted that the proposed boat limit for prawns would help address the blackmarketing issue.

Fisheries Queensland presented the draft whole-of-fishery (Level 1) Ecological Risk Assessment (ERA) for the east coast inshore fishery for the working group to provide feedback on. The working group noted that the high risks were similar to those previously identified, including risks to target species due to few limits on catch and effort; risks around bycatch, marine turtles, dugongs, cetaceans, sawfish, sharks and rays which will need to be addressed through the reforms and harvest strategies.  The working group noted information from GBRMPA regarding tolerance of key species like snubfin and dugong to withstand interactions and human induced mortality. Fisheries Queensland advised that the next stage of the ERA process will start assessing the risks of different gear types and sectors on the higher risk species.   The working group agreed to invite shark and threatened species experts to discuss risks at the next meeting.

Fisheries Queensland presented the preliminary results of a cluster analysis to demonstrate the species which are commonly caught while targeting another species. The analysis showed that a number of species were commonly caught together – for example:

  • barramundi, king threadfin, queenfish;
  • grey mackerel, shark and queenfish;
  • school mackerel, grey mackerel.

The cluster analysis reinforced previous recommendations to only consider ITQs on a handful of species that drive effort and behaviour. Some commercial members reiterated that the preference was TACCs and moving to ITQs only when needed over time.  The working group considered a range of ways to reduce discards once TACCs are met, including requiring a minimum quota holding on co-caught species (e.g. having to hold min 100kg of barra quota if fishing for king threadfin), or allowing fishers to go over their quota and take it off the following season’s quota account.

Working group members revisited which category different species should go in (ITQ; TAC or Monitor). Given the concern for black jewfish it was generally agreed that this species could be considered to move to ITQ in the future, however allocation would be difficult as some fishers have consistently caught low volumes whereas others have recently invested heavily in the fishery. Some members felt that mullet should also be considered an ITQ species given it is the largest take by volume for this fishery and the concern that a TACC may result in northern fishers being unable to access harvest if the TACC is reached. However, given the amount of regional management applied to mullet already it was generally agreed to keep it as a TACC species and monitor it over time to see if the TACC is reached and review after the stock assessment for the species is released in early 2019. Members also agreed that queenfish should be managed as a Tier 3 species but monitored closely given their relatively slow-growth and late maturity compared to other trevally species.

Most working group members felt that there may still be too many net licences in Queensland and that further structural adjustment may be needed to ensure profitable net fishers under the new reformed fishery. The working group noted that all sectors would need to work together and agree on clear objectives for a voluntarily buy back of net licences over time to ensure a sustainable and profitable net fishery and look at options to achieve this. It was noted that there is no current funding for government-funded buybacks.

Fisheries Queensland presented a range of allocation models for ITQ species based on previous working group and expert panel feedback. The working group agreed with the expert panel advice that trip limits consumed too large a portion of the TACC and generally did not support them being implemented alongside ITQs. A number of eligibility criteria were modelled (100kg, 250kg, 500kg totals over a five year period). The working group agreed that 500kg over 5 years was a suitable level to ensure those who have historically fished the species will be allocated quota. A range of allocation models were presented and the 5-year average model (using data 2013-2017) generally appeared the fairest for fishers and represented their historical reliance. There was strong support across the working group for a logbook audit/validation process (either random or for abnormal records) for fishers eligible to be allocated ITQs. Fisheries Queensland will produce individual reports and send them to all fishers to show how they may be allocated quota under the different models for feedback.  It was noted that many commercial fishers are opposed to ITQ regardless of the allocation model.

Fisheries Queensland presented information on the netting regulations and results of recent workshops with fishers. Further out of session work will be undertaken and stakeholders will have an opportunity to review proposed regulatory amendments in March/April 2019.