Communique 6-7 March 2018

The third meeting of the east coast inshore working group was held in Brisbane over 6-7 March 2018 and included a joint session with the Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel. The purpose of this meeting was to endorse a package for initial engagement on management regions and reform options for the fishery. The engagement package is to be distributed at the end of March for extensive consultation.

Working group members were provided an update on the status of the vessel tracking trial. The members noted the release of the vessel tracking policy and guidelines and discussed feedback received from stakeholders as part of public consultation, which ended on 23 February. Key concerns from consultation were to do with cost, privacy and malfunction of units. Fisheries Queensland advised they are engaging external consultants to conduct an audit of the safeguards around protecting fishers’ private location data to ensure appropriate checks and balances are in place and to identify any further improvements. Some working group members were interested in the functionality of units, as to be easily-shared across boats with the same boat mark (i.e. for when an operator has a crabbing boat and a netting boat with the same boat mark). This will be further considered by Fisheries Queensland while reviewing the policy and guidelines.

A monitoring and research update was presented to the group. Members felt that additional monitoring was required on shark predation, discards, interbreeding between stocked impoundment and wild barramundi, better recreational catch data (e.g. through citizen science). Members noted stock assessments have been carried out for a number of key inshore fish species, including sea mullet (2004), spotted mackerel (2005), grey mackerel (2013), sharks (2014) and tailor (2004, 2017). Additional stock assessments are currently underway for sea mullet, spotted mackerel, sand whiting, yellowfin bream and dusky flathead. Members agreed that where biomass estimates are not available a list of the proxies for each species, using data such as size structure, age structure or catch rates, should be listed to assist with developing harvest strategies.  As part of the updates to the Monitoring and Research Plan, consideration should be given to ensuring a cost-effective program that can be delivered long term.

Fisheries Queensland provided information on the additional investment in social and economic monitoring under the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy. Working group members noted that a workshop with experts had been held to identify social and economic indicators and the requirements to roll out a successful monitoring program. Potential indicators included total employment from commercial and recreational fishing sectors; willingness to adapt; and the mental health and well-being of commercial fishers. The working group identified some indicators that would be of value to stakeholders. This included: price of fish; jobs that each sector supports; perceptions of each sector, the sources of those perceptions and whether they are improving; the value of fish and protected species to tourism; how much product goes toward the local seafood market; the number of fisheries offences; and number of complaints/conflicts. Fisheries Queensland will be engaging working group members and broader stakeholders out-of-session for their input when identifying priority indicators. Stakeholders supported the roll out of the economic and social monitoring and indicated they would be willing to contribute as it would help identify the importance of the different fishing sectors and any potential impacts from changes (e.g. to jobs). The working group also felt that more work was needed to share stories about commercial fishers and operations and dispel myths and misconceptions.  The group also felt that country of origin labelling at restaurants was important but recognised it was outside Fisheries Queensland’s control.

The working group discussed the draft discussion paper on reforms options that included proposed management regions and reform options, noting that it is a very complex fishery. Members discussed the potential management regions and agreed they should primarily be based on the boundaries of the fish stocks (eg barramundi, threadfin, mullet, mackerels), but also take into account the number of licences and catch in each region and ensure sensible boundaries (eg not cutting a port in two) for practicality.  The working group proposed a number of changes and additions to the discussion paper, including simplifying some of the language. The working group also provided advice on the questions that should be asked in a survey to be put to stakeholders.

This feedback will be considered by Fisheries Queensland and amended prior to release of the engagement package. It was noted that no decisions have been made and that the discussion paper is simply the basis for the initial round of engagement. Fisheries Queensland will be seeking the views of all stakeholders through face-to-face consultation, expected to take place throughout April-May. Feedback from the discussion paper will be presented to the working group to provide advice on a preferred reform option and develop a draft implementation plan, including allocation if relevant, for review by the Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel in July 2018.

The working group discussed options for allocation if quota or effort units are established for the fishery.  Members agreed that if this were to be the case, catch history should be used to allocate the total allowable commercial catch and that lessons should be learned from past processes.  Members agreed that there should be no further reduction in licence numbers and allocations should be based on existing TACs and recent catch levels, given the reduction in licences over the years and the fact that most target species are sustainable.  Not all members of the working group felt comfortable discussing allocation models noting issues arising from past allocations in other fisheries.  Members also wanted to see the latest information from the 2018 recreational fishing survey to understand the catch shares across sectors.

Fisheries Queensland presented an update on the status of Ecological Risk Assessments, noting that draft ERA guidelines were being reviewed by the Expert Panel and expected to be released later this year. Working group members noted that the guidelines took a species-specific approach to ERAs, rather than being fishery-specific. The working group will have a significant role in the development of the ERAs including in identifying priority species, reviewing draft risk assessments and providing feedback for consideration by both Fisheries Queensland and the Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel.

The working group agreed to discuss snubfin dolphin at the next meeting, when Dr Col Limpus would attend and discuss his project currently underway around tagging and citizen science.

A further working group meeting was scheduled for June to consider the feedback from consultation and provide advice on the preferred management options.

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 and Nathan Johnston), seafood marketing (Matthew Vujica), conservation (Nick Heath), research (David Welch) and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Thomas Hatley).