Communique – 27 April 2023

The Reef Line Fisheries Working Group met on 27 April 2023 at Cairns. The main purpose of the working group meeting was to provide opportunity for stakeholder feedback, and to provide the members with updates on the fishery status, harvest strategy decisions, Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) conditions and ongoing research. Fisheries Queensland also provided an update including Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017-2027 (SFS) reform progress, the working group membership expression of interest process, and will be publishing indicative closure dates for the coral reef fin fish and Spanish mackerel closures in the near future.

In the members update, the recreational member discussed the desire for artificial reefs, but noted difficulty with implementing this within the Great Barrier Reef. Fisheries Queensland have lodged a submission to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for their review regarding artificial reefs and fish aggregating devices. The recreational member also raised concern from their sector regarding the collection of coral, and the possibility for localised pressure in the Mackay region. Commercial members again noted cumulative increases in operational costs, and difficulty in attracting and retaining crew members. Shark depredation was also raised as an ongoing issue. The commercial fishing sector is still seeking feedback on linking unit value to quota fees. The conservation member raised the Report on the Great Barrier Reef Reactive Monitoring Mission priority recommendation to accelerate the implementation of the SFS, and the importance on continuing to implement the harvest strategy. The research member provided an update on recent and relevant research to the reef line fishery, including FRDC project 2018-034. All members recognised the significant increase in recreational fishing effort and capacity regarding reef line fishery species and the need to urgently obtain more comprehensive data.

From 1 July 2023, the following management arrangements are expected to be implemented via regulation amendment:

  • The total allowable commercial catch (TACC) for coral trout will be set at 912 t (51 t reduction).
  • A prescribed commercial catch (PCC) to be implemented for bar rockcod of 2x historic average (24.67 t).
  • Additional reef fin fish closure dates for 2024 onwards.

The commercial fishing industry members expressed concerns around the 51 t reduction for coral trout given the repeated under-catch of the TACC noting concerns the decrease will further increase financial constraints on industry.

Commercial harvest of all other species (OS) was reviewed against the harvest strategy decision rules. Five OS species were above the 20 t threshold (red emperor, spangled emperor, stripey snapper, gold band snapper and saddletail snapper). Bar rockcod is expected to cross the 20 t limit as more logbook data is processed. No species were above the 2x historic average, and only bar rockcod was found to be in excess of 1.5x historic average. As bar rockcod was triggered previously against the 2x historic average, and a PCC is expected to be introduced from 1 July 2023, no further action is currently required. Recreational and charter harvest were reviewed against the decision rules in the harvest strategy. Charter decision rule 3.6 was triggered, reviewed and no further action was necessary as the rule was triggered due to reduced catch during the COVID-19 period and has since started recovering.

Working group members noted progress towards meeting WTO conditions under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The WTO permitting export expires 18 January 2024. The reassessment submission will be sent 6 months prior to the expiry date (mid July 2023). WTO Condition 5 was discussed regarding non-retained catch monitoring, and possible solutions such as a discard verification program and including non-retained catch in the Qld eFisher app. Further discussion is required.

Fisheries Queensland presented an update on the Qld eFisher logbook reporting App. Filleting operations can now use eFisher for their reporting. Fisheries Queensland are looking to understand what barriers may be hindering industry uptake of the app and commercial fishers noted concerns around its use. Fisheries Queensland committed to providing support for commercial fishers who want to use the app.

An update was provided on the integrated monitoring and reporting (IMR) portfolio. This work aims to provide information to traditional owners, management, stakeholders, and policy makers about the status and trends of nearshore and offshore fish communities and draw this information together to develop indicators of fish status and trend, and how they are tracking towards the goals in the Reef 2050 plan. The three main sampling components are inshore fringing reef monitoring, coastal nursery habitat monitoring, and deep water inter reef monitoring. The deep water inter reef monitoring is attempting to gather monitoring information on important fishery species like saddletail and crimson snapper, red emperor and coral trout. Initial results are expected later in 2023. This data could be useful to supplement stock assessments.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the BDO EconSearch social and economic report for fisheries for the 2021 financial year. Economic and social indicators provide valuable information to everyone about the benefits of fishing for regional communities. Key economic indicators for different fisheries for the four financial years (2018 to 2021) are available in an online dashboard. The data provided for these surveys to BDO is kept confidential and Fisheries Queensland only receives aggregated data which can not be linked to individual businesses. BDO EconSearch has been asked to collect this information from fishers for the 2022 and 2023 financial years and are seeking participation from industry. Initial meetings have been held with Fisheries Queensland, and BDO is scheduled to begin contacting fishers in May/June 2023.

The next reef line working group meeting is expected in October / November 2023.

The Reef line working group members are: Fisheries Queensland (Acting Chair – Sam Williams (Director Assessment and Monitoring), A/ Principal Fishery Manager – Jeffrey Ikin, Fishery manager - Chad Lunow, QBFP – Tony Loader), commercial fishing (Sean Stiff, Susan Davenport and Chris Bolton), recreational fishing (Jason Bradford), indigenous (John Dorante), charter fishing operators (Lynton Heffer), seafood marketing (Barry Dun), conservation (Simon Miller), research (Prof. Morgan Pratchett) and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Darren Cameron). Apologies for this meeting were: Lynton Heffer, John Dorante and Darren Cameron. Observers for this meeting were: Dallas D’Silva (Executive Director) and Alex Campbell (Manager, Stock Assessment).