Communique 5-6 March 2019

The seventh meeting of the east coast inshore working group was held in Brisbane over 5-6 March 2019.  The working group reiterated the need for reform to meet public expectations and ensure long-term sustainability of the fishery.

The working group discussed the directions paper on fisheries reform released by the Government in January. A number of management changes were outlined for the east coast inshore fin fish fishery including:

  • splitting the fishery into six management regions based on key fish species;
  • allocating commercial individual quota for priority species (barramundi, king threadfin, grey mackerel, school mackerel, whiting);
  • set competitive total allowable catches (which are not allocated to individuals) for other key species (mullet, tailor, bream, flathead, shark);
  • introducing a general recreational in-possession limit of 20 for fish (other than bait species) without current limits; and
  • considering recreational boat limits for priority black-market species (barramundi, prawns and black jewfish).

Members noted that further consultation would focus on accompanying regulatory reforms.

An update on the new Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) approval from the Commonwealth Government was discussed. One of the conditions of note was to progress the development and implementation of an independent data collection and validation program. Fisheries Queensland advised that an innovation challenge is underway using cameras, sensors and image recognition to automatically collect catch, effort and protected species interaction information. The aim is for an affordable and transferable system that can be used as a digital observer program from 2020 onwards.

A representative from the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF) managed by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) presented to the working group on the fishery’s reforms over the years and its harvest strategy. Members noted the similar issues which have been worked through in SESSF and that success could not have been possible without real-time monitoring and validated reporting. Members noted the quota management framework and strong protected species management plans in place which focussed on individual accountability through electronic monitoring.

Professor Colin Simpfendorfer from James Cook University and Dr Michelle Heupel from Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel attended the working group meeting and  discussed the risks of the fishery to different species of shark, and how interactions with threatened and protected species may be better managed in the fishery.

The working group reviewed an initial draft of the bycatch management strategy to achieve the objective to avoid and mitigate high ecological risks arising from fishing related activities on bycatch species. The working group noted that a number of measures are already proposed such as a BMP, use of BRDs and temporary closures. The working group agreed to establish a sub-group to further develop the bycatch management strategy, including refining the objectives, looking at the approach taken by other net fisheries, identify species-specific and area-specific information (e.g. mapping higher risk areas), appropriate monitoring triggers, potential BRDs and opportunities around tagging or other technologies to provide alerts to fishers to help avoid interactions.

Quota management systems were discussed.  The majority of the working group supported:

  • No requirement to hold minimum quota (at least initially)
  • Considering ‘overs and unders’ for quota (for example up to 10% over or under catch may be carried over for only one year) to help avoid discards
  • Discards/non-retained catch to be recorded for quota species so it can be accounted for in stock assessments and future quota decisions

Members agreed that generally a financial year would work best for the fishing season, although this may need further consideration for the southern region where winter is primary fishing season. Working group members discussed whether mullet should be considered for an ITQ system given it is the largest catch in the fishery.  Fisheries Queensland would provide further information at the next meeting on the stock assessment and options for ITQs, or splitting the TACC into ocean beach and inshore net.

The working group discussed the draft harvest strategy that would primarily use:

  • For main target species:
    • Stock assessment: adjusting catch limits based on biomass estimates
    • Catch rates: fast-track stock assessments and consider adjustment of catch limits if catch rates fall rapidly
  • For Tier 3 species
    • Catch range / upper catch limit:  For key species (e.g. recreationally important), set upper catch thresholds that trigger review and consider whether TAC should be established
    • % change in catch in two consecutive years: Review any significant increases in catch (e.g. like recent black jewfish increase).

The working group provided feedback on a number of regulatory changes put forward during netting regulation workshops around the state and from previous working groups. A number of views were shared with members recommending Fisheries Queensland consult more broadly on a number of options as part of the regulatory review out for consultation in May. Members agreed it was important for all stakeholders to have their say on these proposed regulatory changes.

The working group noted the proposal to introduce a general possession limit of 20 (excluding bait) and discussed whether there was a need to consider bait limits for any particular species.  In general it was agreed no limits were needed, except for squid (consult on 20 for tiger squid, 50 for other) and mullet other than sea mullet/diamond-scale (consult on 50).The working group also supported considering reducing the pipi limit from 50 to 30 to minimise localised depletions on ocean beaches.

Members noted that a discussion paper and survey on allocation for the east coast inshore fin fish fishery quota species would be released for consultation shortly. Fisheries Queensland advised that this would include individual reports for stakeholders to view on FishNet. The feedback of all stakeholders will be considered by Fisheries Queensland and provided for Government to make a decision on allocation approaches. The working group agreed that there should be an effective validation exercise to ensure accuracy of logbook data. This should be focused on the outliers (e.g. catches above the median), plus a random selection of fishers to validate catches (e.g. receipts/dockets/invoices) for a specified 12+ month period. The focus species for validation should be whiting, king threadfin, grey mackerel. Some members also felt that the allocation period should be 7 years instead of 5 years and feedback should be sought from commercial fishers.

Some members raised that the number of fishing platforms should be considered as part of the reform process. Stakeholders continued to discuss between themselves options for a structural adjustment process, recognising there is no funding available from Government at this stage.

The East Coast Inshore Working Group members are: Fisheries Queensland (Chair – Claire Andersen), commercial fishing (Ben Gilliland, Mark Ahern, Nathan Rynn 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).