Communique 10 December 2021

The Coral and Marine Aquarium Fish Fisheries working group met for the seventh time online on 1 December (Day 1) and again on 10 December 2021 (Day 2).

On day 2 the working group (WG) discussed what species of coral should be considered for management under Individual Transferrable Quota (ITQ) to meet condition 6 of the Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) export approval for the Queensland Coral Fishery.

FQ explained that the process of ITQ’ing species was difficult and takes significant time. Although the aim was to have some species ITQ’d for next fishing season, there is a chance that it may not be possible to have it in place for the 2022 season. Industry vehemently requested that FQ do everything in their power to put some of the important species into ITQ for next fishing season as they felt there would be catastrophic impact on industry if all species were harvested under competitive catch (race to fish) next year. However, some parts of industry remain concerned about progressing ITQs prior to 1 July 2022 given the short time frames and lack of time to fully consider the ramifications.

Industry stressed that they had major concerns with possible errors in the Qld data that was used by DAWE to work out harvest limits in the WTO and similar concerns with gross export data submitted as part of annual CITES reporting. The WG noted that this has not yet been addressed and whilst a data validation program will be ongoing in FQ this may not address all of the issues.

Industry raised concerns about investing in projects to determine biomass, that would hopefully enable a review of catch limits, without a decision-making framework and pre-agreed decision rules for setting catch limits, given the uncertainty around return from their investment. There was a consensus that traditional biomass-based estimates and reference points may not be appropriate for this fishery and that alternatives may need to be investigated. Industry would like more certainty on what levels of harvest may be allowed if they invested in projects. FQ noted that it was extremely hard to provide this certainty at this stage. The WG agreed it is necessary to revise the Harvest Strategy to set a more fit-for-purpose decision making framework.

The WG debated which species to be shortlisted for ITQ analysis and agreed all species of concern listed in Attachment B of the WTO should be considered as well as Fimbriaphyllia divisa. Although there was discussion on whether Acropora spp. and Acanthophyllia deshayesiana should be included. List to be recommended at the January WG meeting and then put out for public consultation. Industry raised the issue regarding compliance and species identification and that FQ needed to review compliance strategies for this fishery with the new harvest limits. There was concern that some fishers may record high value species against other genera. It was agreed that ITQ’ing like species was not necessary the best tool to address compliance risk.

The WG discussed the requirement under Condition 5 of the WTO coral export approval for a scientific program to independently characterise the species composition of Acropora species harvested in the fishery. FQ mentioned that the department will pay 50% of the cost for the Acropora project to meet condition 5a. and undertake the procurement. The WG discussed the suggested program requirements provided by Pro-Vision Reef and Scientific Expert. Part 1 (Establishing harvest levels for different species of Acropora spp.) is the minimum required to meet the WTO condition and the WG agreed to progress Part 1. However, it was also noted that efficiencies could be gained from delivery of multiple parts of the program by a single provider. For this reason, Part 2 (Improving accuracy and consistency in species reporting) and 3 (Field sampling to establish the distribution and abundance of major harvest species of Acropora spp.) will be included in DAF’s procurement application for discussion and recommendation at a future WG meeting.

FQ will provide an update to the January WG meeting, this will include refinement of the project scope from the Scientific member and addition information on part 2 and 3 to enable a recommendation going forward. Preliminary advice will be requested from DAWE about the proposed approach.

Under a 50% cost sharing arrangement the industry component will be recovered based on quota unit holdings, before 1 July using “other” coral quota, after 1 July 2022 it will likely be based on Acropora spp. ITQ if it moves to species level ITQ.

The Coral and Marine Aquarium Fish Fisheries Working Group members are: Fisheries Queensland (Chair – Kimberly Foster, Jenny Keys, Samantha Miller, Imraan Esat, Graeme Broughall (QBFP)), Environment (Jessica Stella (GBRMPA)), commercial fishing (Daniel Kimberley, Darren Brighton, Dean Pease, Don Gilson, Lyle Squire, Ros Patterson), science (Randall Owens, Morgan Pratchett).