Communique 18 January 2022

The Gulf of Carpentaria Inshore Fishery (GOCIF) working group met for the first time on 18 January 2022 online. This was the first meeting of the newly appointed working group. The purpose of the meeting was to provide information on the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017 – 2027 (The Strategy), review the current management arrangements of the GOCIF and commence discussions on the fisheries.

The working group was provided with an overview of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017 – 2027 (SFS), and regulation changes that commenced on 1 September 2019 and 1 September 2021 that implemented changes across all sectors.

All attending members were invited to provide a general update from their respective sectors. All members agreed that the fisheries resources of the GOCIF need to be sustainably managed and shared between all sectors, including the commercial, recreational, charter and Indigenous sectors, as well as the protection and recovery of Species of Conservation Concern (SOCC), reduction of bycatch and removal of rogue operators. The commercial sector wants effective rules and regulations to be implemented that are relevant to the fishery, noting concerns with current reporting requirements, future access to fresh fish for the nation and the mental health of industry members. The marketing member identified the need to address non-target species in future management citing recent shifts in target species, as well as market stability and the requirement to provide sustainable products for customers and major supermarkets including Coles and Woolworths. The recreational sector noted concerns with the bycatch from both the commercial and recreational sectors, reduction in pelagic species that have impacted baitfish schools and shark depredation. The conservation sector identified they want to ensure the SFS reforms are achieved in full by 2027, noting key concerns with SOCC interactions, their population recovery and validation of commercial catch. The research members acknowledged the work the commercial industry have already implemented to reduce interactions with SOCC, noting the need for improved data validation to identify and further reduce interactions. The Indigenous member noted issues with bycatch, maintaining sustainable stocks for community access and interactions with SOCC. The scientific observer discussed the natural fluctuation of environmental conditions in the GOCIF that influenced the catch of key species and the difficulties with including environmental variables in a harvest strategy.

The working group were presented with an overview of the recent reform process that has been undertaken as part of the SFS, including the implementation of harvest strategies and associated changes to the regulations that occurred on 1 September 2021. The overview identified the future planned reform processes for the GOCIF, noting that some reform stages are subject to consultation and government approvals, and their associated timelines may change.

Fisheries Queensland provided the working group with an update on the current status of the fisheries. The working group noted the stock status of key GOCIF species, stock assessment biomass estimates for barramundi, Spanish mackerel and king threadfin, historic decline in commercial catch and effort, current management arrangements for each sector and species co-catch in the net and line fisheries. The working group noted the limited charter and recreational data that is available, as well as the impact of key environmental variables such as rainfall and sea surface temperatures that influence the catch of target species that is difficult to quantify (e.g. king threadfin). The working group sought a detailed presentation on the collection of recreational fishing data at a future meeting.

Fisheries Queensland presented an overview of the Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) accreditation process, including the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment (DAWE) assessment requirements for each application, as well as an update on the fisheries progress against the existing WTO conditions, noting the recent revocation of Part 13A of the accreditation on 21 December 2021. The working group noted a number of existing conditions for Part 13A of the accreditation had not been met, including a harvest strategy, data collection and validation (target and non-target species) and mitigation of high risk Threatened, Endangered or Protected species (TEPs) interactions. It was recommended that Fisheries Queensland not reapply of for Part 13A of the accreditation at this time but will focus on the fishery reforms to ensure compliance with existing conditions, noting the DAWE conditions are important for broader sustainability of the GOCIF. The working group noted the Part 13 approval is still in place, affording commercial fishers protection for any unintentional interactions with TEPs. There was a question around export compliance of GOCIF product given the recent revocation of Part 13A.

Fisheries Queensland updated the working group on the relisting assessment of scalloped hammerhead shark under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), including the results of the recent consultation with industry on proposed management changes to pursue a ‘Conservation Dependent’ listing. The working group acknowledged the preferred management options were to implement a species-specific hammerhead harvest strategy for hammerhead shark in the GOCIF and form changes to land hammerhead shark in whole form with ‘fins naturally attached’, however the conservation sector noted the lack of external consultation on the hammerhead harvest strategy. The working group acknowledged if the species is listed as threatened under the EPBC Act, the species would become no take and fisheries would need to take all reasonable steps to avoid interactions.

The working group was provided with an overview of the stock assessment process identifying the various data sources used in the mathematical models created to accurately reflect how the fish stocks have responded to fishing and other pressures over time and estimate the total amount of fish in a given stock. The working group was presented with the stock assessment results for barramundi, Spanish mackerel and king threadfin stocks in the GOCIF. The working group discussed the genetic and biological information used to identify the stock structure of each species, as well as standardisation of catch rates and recreational data used in the assessments. The commercial sector questioned the net selectivity calculations used in the stock assessments and the working group requested further analysis of logbook data and historical research and observer information from the commercial fishery at a future meeting. The commercial sector noted they actively target a specific size of fish for market preference and do not actively target larger fish, citing observations of larger breading fish in some areas of the Gulf (e.g. king threadfin and barramundi). The working group agreed to discuss the existing monitoring program at a future meeting to identify any additional data collection or information needs for the fishery.

The next meeting is planned to cover off the remaining information sessions online in February including presentations on the fisheries ecological risk assessments, social and economic information, recreational data and current biological monitoring program. A face-to-face meeting will then be planned to finish days two and three of the agenda in March. In general business, the working group agreed to appoint an additional member with relevant GOCIF marketing experience based on recent applications received for the working group.