Communique 29 – 30 March 2022

The third meeting of the Gulf of Carpentaria Inshore Fishery (GOCIF) working group was held in Karumba on 29 and 30 March 2022. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the reform process under the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy (the Strategy), begin the initial development of a harvest strategy for the GOCIF, discuss the fisheries key issues and current management arrangements, and management action for king threadfin.

Several working group members attempted to attend the meeting online, however left the meeting early and were unable to provide input due to audio and connectivity issues. The traditional owner members were also unable to provide input into the meeting. A working group member asked about the independence of the chair given they are a DAF employee. FQ advised that this approach is consistent with the majority of working groups and there are no plans to implement an independent chair for this working group.

There was a discussion regarding the reliability of the boat ramp survey data with concerns about the sampling processes and recreational fishing data collected, and how this data is utilised in the stock assessment process. Working group members raised concerns about perceived bias in the sampling process of recreational fishers at boat ramp surveys. Fisheries Queensland summarised how the data was used and committed to follow up with a presentation for the next meeting to respond to the issues raised. The working group recommended an expansion of current charter specific fishing requirements (e.g., licencing, logbooks) to all charter operators.

The working group were presented with a table summarising the key fishery issues that had been submitted by working group members and discussed and prioritised a list of key ecological, social and economic issues to work through when considering management reform and developing a harvest strategy for the GOCIF. Working group members were asked to discuss their top three issues. These are broadly summarised below:

  • Sustainability:
    • Broad support for the sustainable harvest of GOCIF stocks from all sectors, as well as changing fishing behaviours
    • Support for the long-term sustainability of gulf fishery resources
    • Assessing environmental impacts on species and the collection of data to account for this
    • Changing fishing behaviours influencing catches and how to interpret these changes
    • Concerns with effort standardisation as part of stock assessment process
  • Threatened, Endangered and Protected species (TEPs):
    • Improved data validation
    • Improved reporting
    • TEP handling and release training
  • Management and regulation:
    • Distrust with Fisheries Queensland
    • Lack of consultation with industry
    • Improving the collection and usage of data to improve stock assessment outcomes and management decisions.
    • Concerns around data validation options being discussed.

A research member discussed the implementation of a best management practice for the handling and release of sawfish and other TEPs to ensure their survival. The working group supported the possible implementation of a best management practice for handling and release of TEP’s, noting further discussions around the framework and implementation of such project will be required. The working group discussed a reduction of the barramundi maximum size limit from 1200mm down to 1000mm.

The working group discussed the current management arrangements for the commercial charter and recreational sectors in the GOCIF, to identify any changes that may be required during the fishery reforms. Members raised several issues around the current fishery rules including the definition of a set mesh net in the offshore parts of the fishery, existing netting closure, improving the definitions of a river mouth, nearshore and offshore areas, net length definitions, net attendance rules, maximum boat length, use of multiple N3 symbols and freshwater charter licence requirements. There was unanimous support from all members for the introduction of a recreational fishing licence.

Fisheries Queensland provided an overview of harvest strategies as a framework for setting pre-determined management actions to achieve fishery objectives while allowing timely changes to improve stock sustainability and fishery economics. The working group discussed the recent implementation of the East Coast Inshore Fishery Harvest Strategy, noting a similar but unique harvest strategy relevant to the GOCIF will be developed in consultation with the working group and Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel. Members noted that the harvest strategy is a living document that allows for refinement as new information and knowledge becomes available.

Fisheries Queensland provided an overview of the Protected Species Management Strategy (PSMS) implemented in the East Coast Inshore Fishery, as a working example of a strategy to minimise and mitigate ecological risks arising from fishing-related activities on protected species. Members noted a similar PSMS will be developed for the GOCIF and a future working group meeting will be planned to develop this strategy. The working group recommended that relevant scientific experts be part of the future discussions around the PSMS. Members raised concerns around the need to identify and fill data gaps in TEPs information, to ensure suitable interaction levels for individual species are included in the PSMS.

Members were asked to develop a list of triple bottom line (ecological, social and economic) objectives to guide the development of a harvest strategy for the GOCIF. The working group discussed the following draft fishery objectives for further consideration:

  • minimise and mitigate any unacceptable ecological risks arising from fishing-related activities
  • maximise economic performance of the commercial and charter sectors
  • monitor the social and economic benefits of the fishery to the community
  • consider potential impacts of localised depletion
  • maintain appropriate sectoral allocations for GOCIF resources.

Members recommended further discussion is needed on the objective around species specific localised depletion and requested further information on possible sectoral allocation information before developing this objective further.

The working group were asked to discuss and recommend management units which will guide the development of a harvest strategy for the GOCIF. Members noted that the Strategy has a preference to manage species at the stock level where possible, and finer scale spatial management regions would allow for more flexible management changes to be made in a specific region if required, without the need for broad scale change impacting other regions of the GOCIF. Commercial members discussed the potential for spatial management through the existing fishery symbols and gear types. Climatic variability drives fishing behaviour and any spatial restrictions that may limit the movement of fishers under the existing symbol was identified as a concern for commercial members. The working group supported a single management unit approach for the Gulf. It was discussed that there may be options for management without finer scale regionalisation if required.

The working group were asked to discuss and develop a list of management reform options to support the development of a harvest strategy. Members noted the Strategy has a preference towards output controls where possible. The working group discussed the pros and cons of a range of input and output management options possible for the GOCIF, noting further discussions are required around the management options that are available for the fishery. The following options were discussed:

  • the working group supported the option of a buyback of licences in the GOCIF and the group agreed that further discussion on this issue would be held between government and industry members outside of the working group meeting
  • possible unitisation of nets in the N3 fishery
  • review existing closures to ensure they are fit for purpose
  • possibility of total allowable catch limits for key target species
  • review of possession and boat limits for the recreational and charter sectors
  • consideration of effort shift from the east coast into the Gulf line Spanish mackerel fishery.

The commercial members present strongly advised that they did not support ITQ or regional management (zoning) in the N3 and N12 fisheries.

The working group discussed management action for king threadfin in response to the recent stock assessment estimating biomass in the GOC to be 5 per cent of unfished levels in 2019. Members noted a biomass of less than 20 per cent is the national trigger for urgent action to rebuild stocks to a sustainable level and the recommendations of the stock assessment are to close the fishery for three years. The working group discussed the details of the stock assessment including data inputs into the model, effort associated with co-catch of king threadfin when targeting barramundi, net selectivity, natural mortality and mortality from fishing interactions including recreational cast netting, environmental effects on the stock and options for the collection of additional biological information such as age/length and reproductive information. Some members raised concerns about the biomass estimate for the king threadfin stock and were concerned about the contrast between the gulf and the east coast biomass estimates.

Without an existing harvest strategy in place the working group discussed options for rebuilding the king threadfin stock. The focus is to halt any further decline in the biomass and begin the recovery of the stock prior to the next stock assessment. Members discussed a range of ideas, however requested that Fisheries Queensland formulate more specific options for the possible management of king threadfin for consideration at the next working group meeting.

As part of general business commercial members requested the establishment of a formal data sharing agreement between industry and Fisheries Queensland. This was proposed to improve the sharing and use of data, for example, between industry and the department and to give the industry confidence in the data being collected and how it is to be used in the management of fisheries. Fisheries Queensland committed to meeting with the industry members to progress this proposal.

Fisheries Queensland updated the working group on the current status of the Commonwealth wildlife trade operation approval for the L4 fishery due for reassessment in November 2022 and requested advice from the working group on how they wish to proceed. Commercial members advised Fisheries Queensland that the preference is to maintain the Part 13A accreditation for the fishery.

The next working group meeting is planned for July – August 2022 to continue development of reform options, a harvest strategy and potential management action