Communique 19-20 July 2022

The fourth meeting of the Gulf of Carpentaria Inshore Fishery (GOCIF) working group was held in Cairns on 19 and 20 July 2022. The main purpose of the meeting was to continue the initial development of a harvest strategy, discuss management reform options for the fishery and preliminary management action for king threadfin.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the progress and timelines of the fishery reforms under the Queensland Sustainable Fisheries Strategy (the Strategy), recent legislative changes for hammerhead sharks and progress on reapplication for the gulf line fisheries WTO. The working group noted there are two conditions on the line fisheries current export approval (Part 13A) including a harvest strategy and independent data validation, that will not be achieved before the accreditation expires on 22 November 2022. Fisheries Queensland advised the working group they had received advice from DAWE suggesting the fishery is unlikely to be reaccredited before the existing conditions of approval are achieved. The department advised it will not reapply for Part 13A, and will consider reapplication in consultation with industry when the broader fishery reforms have been implemented. Commercial members requested that clarification be sought on what expectations there are with implementing independent data validation in the Gulf fisheries. Conservation members were disappointed that the recent application of fins naturally attached only applied to hammerhead sharks and not all shark species. Commercial members were satisfied with the outcome applying only to hammerhead sharks given the remote logistics of the fishery.

Industry members advised that they have engaged consultants to progress a joint industry and DAF data management agreement and will continue to progress this document. It is anticipated that this agreement will help improve data collection in the Gulf of Carpentaria. A data collection program for all sectors (including the recreational sector) in the Gulf of Carpentaria was identified as a priority. Conservation members supported urgency on developing independent data validation as part of a data collection program in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Additional indigenous representation on the working group was also identified as a need by members and reiterated the need to fill these positions on the working group. The working group noted that the Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation has a new Sea Country Indigenous Protected Area registered that covers sea country from Karumba north to the Staaten River.

Recreational and commercial members reported a consistent wet season which has resulted in a healthy inshore fishery. Members reported good catches of barramundi and king threadfin. Commercial members also reported an excellent offshore season with a return of whitebait to offshore areas. Members identified that the impact of climatic variability in the Gulf needed to be considered carefully and factored into discussions when making management decisions.

Recreational members reported one of the worst offshore seasons from the Weipa region, with an absence of longtail tuna, grey mackerel and reef species. Charter operators are reporting similar results offshore. Charter members requested information from Fisheries Queensland on proposed reforms for the charter sector and the need to support this sector and deliver outcomes under the Strategy.

Commercial members requested that the current vacant commercial members position be filled before the next working group meeting.

Ongoing work on threatened species was identified as an area of importance and collaboration with the Northern Prawn Fishery on sawfish research should be explored.
Compliance issues in the Gulf were raised and the working group noted a significant breach identified in July 2022.

The working group noted a presentation from Fisheries Queensland on the collection methods and use of boat ramp survey data from the Gulf of Carpentaria. Data on catch trends from 2015 to 2021 for different areas of the Gulf were presented to the group. Some members noted that earlier feedback on the boat ramp program had not been passed on to the assessment and monitoring team.

The Northern Territory (NT) member provided an update on the current reform processes completed and underway in the NT. The group discussed the current biomass rations in the NT fishery. Commercial members requested that the Queensland data be entered into the NT assessment model for comparison. Fisheries Queensland advised that the current king threadfin assessment modelling is better suited to the Queensland data and includes age and length information to improve biomass estimates.

The working group commended the quick industry response to providing additional samples for the biological data collection program. Fisheries monitoring presented an update on the recent biological data that had been collected from commercial king threadfin samples. Results showed good numbers of fish samples being collected and a strong 4-year-old age class in 2021. Anecdotal evidence from fishers suggests there was an increased occurrence of smaller female king threadfin in 2022 catches.

The working group noted a list of FAQ’s that had been developed to answer questions about the recent king threadfin stock assessment and the stock assessment process generally. There were significant concerns raised by commercial members regarding the assessment outcomes, data inputs used, and assumptions made in the modelling. Commercial members were not supportive of using the outcomes of the current assessment to base management decisions on until the concerns were addressed.

Fisheries Queensland presented an amended list of draft harvest strategy objectives that had been revised following feedback and comments from the previous working group meeting. The group noted the objectives and generally supported progressing these as draft objectives moving forward. There was a request from conservation members for the objectives to explicitly reference the protection and supporting recovery of protected species. There was discussion about amending the objective around indigenous fishing to include reference to potential charter and commercial fishing opportunities and attempting to quantify the traditional indigenous harvest of fisheries resources in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The working group discussed possible management units for the GOCIF, with Fisheries Queensland advising the preference is to align the management units with species stock boundaries where possible. Commercial members advised that they do not support any further zoning of the fishery outside of the existing fishery symbol arrangements. Commercial members did not support the implementation of ITQ in the N3 and N12 fisheries.

Fisheries Queensland presented preliminary management options for king threadfin to halt any further decline and begin recovery of the stocks biomass before a harvest strategy is developed for the fishery. Commercial members presented alternative options for consideration.

Fisheries Queensland advised that with a biomass estimate of 5%, doing nothing was not an option and the aim of any option is to begin stock recovery. Based on working group advice, king threadfin options will be explored further noting the urgency to arrive at a solution to begin recovering the stock.  The working group discussed the pros and cons of each option, noting the difficulties around the co-catch of king threadfin with barramundi and their high post-release mortality from netting interactions.

The working group requested at least biennial stock assessment updates to track stock recovery and explore other indicators to monitor stock trends.

Commercial members did not support either king threadfin management option presented and recommended that a government funded buyback be implemented to reduce risks to king threadfin. No take on king threadfin was rejected due to the issues around continued discard mortality and wastage when netting for other species, loss of data to inform stock recovery and risks of the loss of market access associated with any fishing closure. Option two was not supported due to the TACC choking the catch of barramundi and other species and creating more economic impact to fishers. Commercial members commented that alternate gears are not viable options due to safety risks, inefficiencies and the environmental conditions that occur in the Gulf.

The conservation members supported the no take option across all sectors based on the stock assessment recommendations but did recognise the discarding issues and the inherent social and economic risks associated with this option without support through a fishery buyout. Option two was not supported due to the recommended TACC not achieving stock recovery within rebuilding timeframes under the SFS.

A charter member did not support a no take of king threadfin under option one and supported a possession limit of between one and five fish noting that five fish is possibly too high.

The working group discussed the pros and cons of the potential management reform options presented for the fishery. The option for the unitisation of nets in the N3 fishery and amalgamation of licences was discussed and commercial members committed to refine these ideas further. Fisheries Queensland recommended that catch limits may be required in addition to a net unitisation system.

The working group requested that members of the Queensland Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel attend future working group meetings.

The next meeting will be in late November to discuss TEP issues, consider feedback from consultation and provide advice on the preferred management options for the fishery.

Working Group Members Attending: Kimberly Foster, Darren Roy, Luke Albury, Shawn McAtamney, Ben Bright, Dave Donald, Shane Snow, Claudine Ward, Dave Wren, David Lane, Stirling Peverill, Alastair Freeman, Leonardo Guida, Tony Loader, Barbara Weuringer, Donna Kawan, Will Bowman, Julie Robins, Tony Hurley (online).