Communique 29–30 November 2022

The fifth meeting of the Gulf of Carpentaria Inshore Fishery (GOCIF) working group was held in Cairns on 29 and 30 November 2022. The main purpose of the meeting was to continue the development of a harvest strategy, discuss fisheries monitoring and research priorities, and protected species management.

Fisheries Queensland noted that the Report on the Joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring Mission to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) (Australia) was released, recommending the World Heritage Committee list the GBR as “in danger”. Fisheries Queensland noted that the World Heritage Commission would make the final decision on the listing but when this would occur was unknown.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the progress of the fishery reforms under the Queensland Sustainable Fisheries Strategy (the Strategy); biological information collected for king threadfin and barramundi; planned stock assessments; Convention on International Trade of Protected Species (CITES) listing of the whaler and hammerhead sharks and guitar fish families on Appendix II of CITES; and king threadfin management options. Fisheries Queensland presented the biological information collected for king threadfin and barramundi, and commended industry for their proactive approach and continued involvement in the monitoring program and stock assessment project teams. The king threadfin stock assessment will be updated with all available data up to 2022.

In member updates, the commercial members raised concerns with the reforms impacting industry operations, diminishing economic returns, issues with sourcing experienced crew members, business logistics, increasing burden and costs associated with meeting regulatory requirements, lack of existing infrastructure to support commercial fishing in the Gulf of Carpentaria (GOC), the mental health impacts reform is having on industry and the loss of productive mackerel grounds to mining proposals. Commercial members also advised harvest has been above average and attracting strong market prices. The science and research members provided updates on sawfish identification training for commercial fishers at the Gulf of Carpentaria Commercial Fisherman’s Association (GoCCFA) annual general meeting and sought support to collaborate with industry on sawfish research projects. The charter and recreational members advised there was currently low number of recreational fishers in the gulf regions, with most charter operators tied up for the summer months following an amazing year with increasing tourist and charter customers. The indigenous member requested all members consider and respect the indigenous community of the GOC when considering access and management options for the fishery. The conservation member reinforced the importance of the CITES decisions in relation to protected species management.

Fisheries Queensland presented the proposed logbook changes for the net and line fisheries and provided an update on the reporting changes that have been implemented on the Queensland east coast and GOC crab fisheries. Members noted a similar reporting framework will be implemented for the GOCIF, with increased reporting obligations for species managed with total allowable catches (TACs). Commercial members noted their preference for a previous logbook (GB03) that was more user friendly and reduced the administrative burden on fishers.

Members discussed improvements to the reporting systems that need to be considered for the GOCIF, that account for the remote nature of the fishery, limited phone reception and operational logistics. The need to simplify the current transhipment arrangements in the GOCIF was identified as an issue to address. Fisheries Queensland agreed to consider additional ways to improve the reporting framework.

The working group discussed net unitisation scenarios for the N3 symbol. Members discussed the pros and cons associated with the various unitisation scenarios and benefits the reform option can have for both target, bycatch and protected species. Commercial members presented their preferred option for further consideration. The group discussed possible limitations with the unitisation of symbols and possible activation of latent effort. The conservation sector highlighted that the Expert Panel had recommended closure of the N3 fishery for three years with structural adjustment but supported discussions regarding unitisation after rebuilding of king threadfin stocks. Fisheries Queensland agreed to consider the discussions and bring detailed unitisation options back to the working group. Members supported structural adjustment as a mechanism to support removal of latent effort and transition to a sustainable future.

Fisheries Queensland presented a draft list of target, secondary and bycatch species for the GOCIF and sought advice on suitable management tiers for the GOCIF harvest strategy. Members noted the species management tiers used in Queensland harvest strategies and discussed suitable management tiers and associated output controls for target, secondary and bycatch species.

The working group discussed the setting of sustainable catch limits for target and secondary species under the harvest strategy. Members noted the setting of sustainable catch limits was one of the key actions under the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy, with the preference to use biomass estimates from stock assessments for key target species. The working group discussed an appropriate reference period that could be used to set harvest for species without biomass estimates. The conservation sector advised the CITES listings could influence future TAC’s for shark and ray species.

Members agreed a suitable reference period for the fishery would be between 7 – 10 years and requested Fisheries Queensland further investigate the environmental variables over this timeframe. Members recommended that an updated Spanish mackerel stock assessment is used to set the future harvest limits for this species.

Fisheries Queensland presented a draft table of performance indicators and reference points for the GOCIF harvest strategy. Members noted the relationship of performance indicators and reference points, and how these are used to monitor stock performance. The working group will consider options for performance indicators, decision rules and reference periods that are appropriate for a multi-species fishery.

The working group discussed a draft list of decision rules for the GOCIF harvest strategy, noting the intent is to provide a transparent and consistent management approach to achieve target reference points and fishery objectives set under the harvest strategy. Members noted the hockey stick rule is the default decision rule to manage target species with stock assessment outputs and discussed additional decision rules to manage harvest from the charter/recreational sector, ecological risks identified from ecological risk assessments (ERA’s) and the application of new research and information to inform management decisions.

The working group discussed catch shares between the commercial and recreational sectors that will be set under the GOCIF harvest strategy. Members noted the process where catch shares are used to allocate harvest between sectors and the intent to maintain set allocations to limit effort creep and harvest from either sector.

The working group discussed protected species in the GOCIF, including the outcomes of the Level 2 ERA and the protected species management strategy (PSMS) implemented in the ECIF (as an example) to minimise and mitigate fishing interactions with protected species. Members noted a similar PSMS will be developed for the GOCIF and discussed the key issues to be considered during the fishery reforms to minimise and mitigate high risks identified in the ERA. Members discussed the importance of collaboration on future research in the fishery, to improve and value add where possible. Commercial members advised of their proactive approach to protected species issues, with the GoCCFA recently appointing an environment/resource officer to update their commercial fishing code of practice, and to assist with research collaboration and information sharing with all sectors of the fishery.

The conservation and research members raised the importance of independent data validation (IDV) to monitor and validate fishing interactions with protected species. Members discussed that mortality limits and management measures need to be based on research and base line information. Members agreed a future workshop meeting with additional research experts, industry members, conservation and broader stakeholder groups was necessary as part of the PSMS development process.

The working group discussed and prioritised a list of monitoring and research priorities to be included in the GOCIF harvest strategy, with the high priorities including biological monitoring programs for key target species, improved research and validation of protected species interactions, validation of commercial catch and effort, research into shark biology and depredation, improved harvest estimates for the charter and recreational sectors and the need to investigate the information needs to undertake maximum economic yield (MEY) estimates for key target species.

In general business, commercial members raised concerns with the Glencore Aurukun Bauxite Project and the environmental impacts the development is expected to have on the inshore fishery. Commercial members were concerned with the lack of consultation undertaken and Fisheries Queensland agreed to seek further information on the social and economic impacts from the development. Commercial members raised issues with the current form requirements of black jewfish and proposed tagging trial and Fisheries Queensland agreed to investigate the legislative requirements to progress potential changes and will update members at the next meeting. The group discussed the membership of the working group and committed to maintain diversity and representation from all sectors.

The next working group meeting is planned for early 2023 to review a draft harvest strategy and continue the discussion of management reform options including sustainable catch limits, allocation periods for Spanish mackerel and net unitisation for the N3 symbol. Additional meetings to discuss the development of a Protected Species Management Strategy will be undertaken in early 2023.

Working Group Members Attending: Chair: Sian Breen (Fisheries Queensland); Fisheries Queensland: Luke Albury – Fisheries Manager, Tony Ham – Principal Fisheries Manager, Tony Loader (QBFP) – District Manager (FNQ); Agri-Science Queensland: Julie Robins; Commercial Members: Bruce Davey, Claudine Ward, David Wren, David Lane, Shane Snow; Charter/Recreational: Ben Bright, Simon Phillippa; Seafood Processor/Wholesaler: Tony Hurley; Shawn McAtamney (Day 2 only); Conservation: Leonardo Guida; Research/Science: Barbara Wueringer, Stirling Peverell; Observers Steve Eayrs – FRDC Extension officer (Qld), Will Bowman (online) – NT Fisheries; Jason Stapley –Resource/Environmental Officer, GoCCFA