Communique 12 March 2024

The seventh meeting of the Gulf of Carpentaria Inshore Fishery (GOCIF) working group was held in Cairns on 12 March 2024.

The purpose of this special meeting was to discuss the recent government decision to introduce gill net free zones commencing on 17 May 2024.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the structural adjustment scheme associated with the Queensland Government's commitments to phase out net fishing on the east coast and to establish additional net free zones in the Gulf of Carpentaria. A brief update was provided on the Cape York special fisheries working group which represents the government's ongoing commitment to greater engagement with First Nations peoples.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the new east coast NX gill net fishery and commercial members raised industry had concerns around the requirement to have on-board observers. Fisheries Queensland advised the working group that advice received from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) confirmed observers on commercial fishing vessels remain lawful, provided vessels met all their requirements under the national law which includes meeting their vessels permission (either their Certificate of Operation, Certificate of Survey or Exemption) and maintaining a Safety Management System. Some commercial members stated that further clarification was required as conflicting information had been received by a commercial fisher from AMSA.

Fisheries Queensland noted the current Fisheries Bill proposing changes to the Fisheries Act 1994, which included a new head of power to be able to mandate independent onboard monitoring, noting that the actual implementation would be done through stakeholder consultation and developing regulations.

Fisheries Queensland noted the king threadfin stock assessment was ongoing with independent reviewers providing valuable input as it is finalised over coming months. Members noted the need to ensure meaningful and ongoing engagement in the steering committee process. The final report is due later in 2024, with the intention of being considered at the next working group meeting.

The working group noted the Gulf of Carpentaria Commercial Fisherman’s Association (GOCCFA) collaborated with CSIRO (Dr Richard Pillans), with support by DAF Agri-Science Queensland, to run a Threatened Endangered and Protected Species (TEPS) identification and handling workshop in late January 2024. The workshop was held in Karumba, as well as being available online. CSIRO updated and provided a TEP identification and handling guide, focusing on TEPS found in the Gulf of Carpentaria, and drawing on the considerable experience of Gulf fishers. It was also noted that commercial representatives from the fishery have volunteered to undertake trials of Independent Onboard Monitoring.

An overview of the Gulf of Carpentaria consultation report was discussed. Commercial members raised concerns around the large number of submissions from respondents who were not necessarily based in the region. It was also acknowledged that the number of submissions doesn’t dictate the course of action nor should each submission be considered of equal weight.

Members of the working group noted that additional net free zones in the Gulf of Carpentaria have the potential to concentrate effort in remaining fishable areas and may have unintended consequences or perverse outcomes for threatened endangered and protected species. Members raised the need for steps to be taken to prevent and/or minimise effort shift and ensure the provision of voluntary buy backs that are sufficiently attractive to achieve a reduction in fishing effort.

Commercial members raised concerns with the speed and lack of engagement over the proposed changes and noted that a more sensible solution might have been to introduce new closures at the end of the season instead of mid-season.

Working group members noted the Future Fishing Taskforce preference for larger gillnet free zones to smaller zones in the Gulf of Carpentaria to provide refuge for threatened species and to support compliance activities. Members discussed the 4 proposed net free areas which went out for consultation in greater detail with members from the commercial, conservation, and social areas providing significant information around suggested changes in line with the needs of their stakeholders.

Fisheries Queensland noted the suggestions and will present the views of all members to the Expert Panel, and government for final decisions of zone boundaries, subject to further consultation with Traditional Owners. The government intends to announce these in early April.

Members discussed the proposed structural adjustment approach that is being developed for the Gulf reforms, with Fisheries Queensland advising that payments would be done in line with the east coast structural adjustment package. This includes the determination of a reference period for catch, calculations on logbook reported data, payments for up to 3 years including CPI. Noting that the department intends to have some money available for package buyouts where impacted fishers wish to surrender licences and leave the industry.

Commercial and Conservation members raised the is a need for licence buybacks to ensure there is no effort shift or increased pressure on remaining areas and other fisheries in the Gulf.

Commercial members noted concerns with delays in Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority (QRIDA) payments on the east coast and the need for payments to be made in a timely fashion. Fisheries Queensland explained the current process and all members discussed their concerns arounds payments, taxation and ensuring the payments are made as soon as possible.

Next meeting will discuss harvest strategy, Spanish mackerel, Independent Onboard Monitoring and king threadfin stock assessment.

Working group members attending

  • Chair: Glenn Anderson (ASQ)
  • Fisheries Queensland:
    • Sian Breen – Director
    • Jeffery Ikin – A/Principal Fisheries Manager (online)
    • Imraan Esat – Senior Fisheries Manager
    • Maddie Glacken – A/Fisheries Manager
    • Evan Barnes– A/District Officer Cairns (in place of Tony Loader)
  • Agri-Science Queensland: Julie Robins
  • Commercial Members:
    • Bruce Davey (online)
    • Claudine Ward
    • David Lane
    • Shane Snow
    • Frank Wren
    • Greg Radley
    • Mathew Vickers
  • Charter/Recreational: Jemma Probert
  • Seafood Processor/Wholesaler: Shawn McAtamney (online)
  • Indigenous: Thomas Wilson
  • Conservation: Simon Miller (online) (in place of Leonardo Guida)
  • Scientific: Barbara Wueringer (online)

Observers

  • Ian Tibbetts – Chair of Sustainable Fisheries Scientific Expert Panel (online)
  • Olivia Whybird – Fisheries Monitoring, Fisheries Queensland

Apologies

  • Leonardo Guida
  • Tony Loader
  • Ben Bright