Communique 26-27 July 2018

The coral reef fin fish fishery (CRFFF) working group met in Brisbane to progress the harvest strategy with the assistance from the FRDC funded Triple Bottom Line (TBL) project team, consider feedback from the management review discussion paper and recommend appropriate management amendments.

Triple Bottom Line (TBL) Project

FRDC have funded a project using the CRFFF as a pilot fishery to develop a comprehensive triple bottom line harvest strategy that meets all stakeholder objectives (commercial, recreational and environmental).  The working group has been collaborating with the project team, and took the next steps in developing a harvest strategy at this meeting.

The FRDC TBL project team advised there was a very good response to the project’s fishery objective preference survey which assisted to analyse and weight ecological, economic, social and management objectives for each sector. The working group noted that ecological objectives are considered of primary importance to all stakeholders.

Coral Trout

The working group together with the TBL team considered the strengths and weaknesses of the existing decision rules associated with the coral trout. It was noted that the commercial sector have been the primary contributors to the stock’s status since the introduction of the decision rules and they are the only group bound by the existing decision rules. The working group agreed that adjustments should apply to commercial total allowable catch (TAC) and recreational bag limits. All sectors agreed that in future all stakeholders should share the benefits and costs of ensuring coral trout stock biomass is maintained.

The working group discussed the following key issues:

  • The existing quantitative stock assessment process was supported, and in interim years (between formal stock assessments), decision rules would incorporate more indicators to give additional lines of evidence to give a higher degree of confidence for those decisions.
  • Using standardised catch rates would reflect best practice and help detect trends in underlying abundance with more confidence.
  • Other indicators in the harvest strategy would include lead (indicative of future stocks) and lag (reflective of past stocks) measures and include fishery independent data that accounts for other aspects such as reef health and severe weather events. Override triggers in the harvest strategy may account for environmental effects or events.
  • Recognising that there are 6 coral trout species in the current ‘coral trout’ complex that have different distributions, reef habitat affiliations and are targeted by different sectors should be accounted for.

The working group agreed in principle, the harvest strategy should account for regional aspects at a finer spatial scale to account for spatial abundance, reef health, weather impacts, fishing effort and temporal spawning differences. Ideally, the harvest strategy would include levers or triggers to address effort shift after a severe weather events (at whatever scale it occurs), long-term declines, and catastrophic and/or reef-wide events. Further consultation is critical in developing options further.

Red Throat Emperor

The working group and TBL team agreed that similar principles to coral trout should be considered in developing a harvest strategy for red throat emperor (RTE). RTE is of particular importance to the charter and the recreational sector, but is now, because of the economics of the live coral trout fishery, largely a byproduct species for most licence holders. The last stock assessment (2006) established the sustainable harvest level at that time, which current catch levels do not exceed. The working group agreed that in light of the biological characteristics, past management reform and the existing level of fishing effort, the threat of overexploiting RTE stocks was likely to be low.

A harvest strategy could take into account the low-risk life history of red throat emperor, and trigger management actions only when changes in biomass occur. Indicators might include a risk assessment, reported discards, catch rates, or total annual harvest. A risk assessment approach and/or regular stock assessments may also help inform appropriate catch limits for all sectors. To provide an improved understanding of stock status, a commitment to acquiring regular biological samples (length/weight measurements, otoliths) for incorporation in stock assessments would be useful.

Other Species (OS)

It was noted that the current OS quota category does not adequately constrain those species considered to be high risk, and management arrangements don’t respond to stock status, address risk or localised depletion. The working group noted it is a large and complex group of species that differ by a number of attributes including biological life history and risk characteristics, spatial abundance, localised pressures, importance to each sector, market demands and discard mortality rates.

The working group together with the TBL team discussed a number of options that could address limitations in the existing framework for OS, including:

  • Tiered approach where an overall OS quota applies but with triggers informing when/how to adjust quota;
  • Identify higher-risk or key species and apply species-specific catch caps or triggers;
  • Individual ITQs and bag limits for some higher risk species.

A range of management responses were identified, including move-on provisions, higher unit value conversions, commercial trip limits, recreational bag limit adjustments, or seasonal closures.

Summary TBL Project

Across the three sets of species categories, the existing arrangements were reviewed and alternative harvest strategy options were developed accounting for all sectors. The TBL team will develop detailed versions of the harvest strategy frameworks based on the principles and elements identified by the working group.

Out of session, the working group and the TBL project team will rate each option against its perceived ability to address the fishery objectives. This input will then help inform the preferred harvest strategy option for further consideration by the working group and stakeholders.

Discussion paper and consultation outcomes

The working group took into account the results of consultation on the discussion paper to inform their view on a number of management reform issues. In summary, the working group supported recommending the following proposals to Fisheries Queensland, noting in most cases they will be contingent on harvest strategy implementation to address risk associated with high-risk OS species.

  • Increase the fishery primary vessel length limit to 25m.
  • Maintaining the RQ and L symbol arrangements.
  • Retain the current 7m tender vessel size limit.
  • Transhipment or transfer of fish between primary vessels operating out of the same quota account may be considered alongside vessel tracking and appropriate monitoring provisions.
  • Existing limits on L2 and RQ tenders be capped at a maximum number of 7 per licence, to be sourced from the existing pool of tenders.
  • In light of existing AMSA regulations, the 5nm tender distance be removed from fisheries regulations, as Commonwealth legislation overrides the State’s.
  • Filleting at sea is an important element for commercial viability but arrangements must be strengthened in a number of areas to address compliance and increase certainty. The working group will continue to be consulted with a policy position on this matter.
  • Support to maintain the existing coral trout spawning closures and arrangements at this stage. Any extension beyond the 2 x 5 days for coral trout be considered in future harvest strategy implementation.
  • Consideration be given to the requirement and timing of spawning closures for species other than coral trout.
  • Affirm existing recreational possession limits that will move accordingly with the status of stocks and to maintain sectoral proportions.
  • Ensure that the reforms proposed in the regulations are flexible enough to support and/or enable OS and finer spatial or regional management in the context of delivering the harvest strategy.

Further out-of-session discussions on a number of matters including the FRDC TBL Project will occur prior to the next formal working group meeting.

The Coral Reef Fin Fish Working Group members are: Fisheries Queensland (Chair- Kimberly Foster), commercial fishing (Chris Neil, Gareth Andrew, Andrew Tobin, Terry Must) marketing/export (Mathew Squires), recreational fishing (Dan Kaggelis and Jason Bradford), charter fishing (Raymond Gleeson) and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Darren Cameron), and Conservation sector (Jim Higgs).