Communique 6-7 March 2018

The coral reef fin fish fishery working group met in Brisbane to consider the 2018/19 commercial coral trout quota, work with the FRDC Triple Bottom Line (TBL) project team to continue work on a draft harvest strategy and to consider a discussion paper on reform options. A joint session with the Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel occurred prior to the working group meeting. The session involved a workshop on research priorities under the monitoring and research plan, and allowed members to engage in a Q&A session with the Expert Panel.

The working group noted that a stock assessment for Spanish mackerel is due this year, which may necessitate management review. The working group recommended that some dedicated Spanish mackerel fishers, together with some existing working group members form a sub-group to review the stock assessment and formulate management recommendation. Expressions’ of interest from Spanish mackerel fishers would be sought for inclusion in this sub-group.

The working group discussed the coral trout commercial total allowable catch (TAC) for the 2018/19 season. Commercial average catch per unit effort (CPUE) increased significantly from 24.53 in 2016 to 31.09 kg/dory/day in 2017. This follows an increase in CPUE from 19.74 to 24.53 kg/dory/day in 2015 to 2016.  These increases in CPUE and fishery performance predict an increase of 370 tonne in the commercial TAC, which is limited to a maximum of 200 tonne in any year when applying the decision rules formula (developed by the working group).

In considering whether the coral trout TAC should be increased by 200 tonnes for the 2018/19 year, the working group considered the current state of the Great Barrier Reef, quota usage to date and market conditions. The conservation member, recreational fishers and GBRMPA noted that caution should be exercised in increasing the quota of coral trout given system-wide decline in the condition of the Great Barrier Reef, including impacts from severe weather events and the unprecedented 2016 and 2017 bleaching events and resulting coral mortality.  Despite their concerns, the recreational fishers supported the application of the decision rules. The GBRMPA representative strongly expressed the importance of reducing all impacts on the reef, (including from fishing), to increase its resilience, but supported the application of the decision rules, to the extent that exceptional circumstances apply to only increase the TAC by 100 tonnes. The conservation representative did not support any increase to the coral trout quota. Commercial sector representatives supported the increase.

The working group noted the need to start capturing economic data (such as lease price, beach price and sale of quota) to monitor any economic trends from increasing the quota.  The working group was keen to move forward in developing harvest strategies that incorporate rules to address all sectors, reef condition, resilience and additional indices of abundance to improve confidence in providing advice on future quota decisions. All advice from the working group will be provided to the Chief Executive to make a decision on the commercial TAC for the 2018/19 season.

An update on current monitoring programs was noted, including a program to evaluate coral trout monitoring strategies to inform management practices. Modelling recreational boat ramp survey data is being used to design biological sampling strategies for development of regional age-length keys, which is important for stock assessment. The working group were encouraged that current boat ramp survey data could be used as an index of abundance and that there will be greater emphasis on increasing the robustness of survey data in the future.

The working group reviewed a draft discussion paper reviewing existing rules governing the Coral Reef Fin Fish Fishery. The discussion paper aims to address rules that inhibit the fishery maximising the ecological and economic benefits available from an ITQ fishery. Removing existing input controls may increase risk to those ‘Other Species’ (OS) quota category, however it was noted that harvest strategy decision rules and reference points would be implemented prior to any legislation changes. It was agreed that the discussion paper be amended to include a review of ‘OS’ species, and seek feedback on regional aspects of management. Given a harvest strategy will be developed for the whole fishery, the working group agreed that dedicated OS fishers should be included in future discussions.

Fisheries Queensland provided information on the additional investment in social and economic monitoring under the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy. Working group members noted that a workshop with experts had been held to identify social and economic indicators and the requirements to roll out a successful monitoring program. This will include seeking advice from the working group to develop priority social and economic indicators for the coral reef fin fish fishery.

The FRDC TBL project team facilitated a workshop to develop and refine the fishery objectives to underpin a harvest strategy for the coral reef fin fish fishery. The workshop evaluated each objectives on its merits for inclusion in a harvest strategy or whether they should be considered outside of a harvest strategy framework. The working group were provided a demonstration of the weighting process, which is used to determine how conflicts between objectives are resolved and prioritised.

Working group members noted an update on the vessel tracking trial and the vessel tracking policy and guidelines consultation, which ended on 23 February. Major concerns raised by members included the cost of units, confidentiality issues, risk of unit failures, and reception issues for manual reporting options. Whether GBRMPA could differentiate between fishers’ accessing a safe anchorage or fishing activity in a green zone of the marine park was questioned. It was generally understood that the situation would be dealt with in the same manner it is dealt with now, for fishing vessels without VMS anchored in green zones.

A further working group meeting is planned for 18 and 19 June 2018. Fisheries Queensland will be seeking the views of all stakeholders through face-to-face consultation around issues raised in the discussion paper which is expected to take place throughout April-May.

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).