Communique 14-15 December 2021

The Reef Line Working Group met on 14-15 December 2021 online. The purpose of the working group meeting was to review and provide advice on progress in meeting the wildlife trade operation (WTO) conditions for the fishery, research updates and to review the recent state-wide recreational fishing survey and fisheries economic and social indicators methods and results.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the implementation of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy (SFS), the release of the commercial fishing reporting application ‘eCatch’, noted stakeholder concerns with quota liquidity and increased catch of deep-water species.

Commercial members cited concerns with coral trout quota availability and cost. Also, that the SFS reforms coupled with increased compliance, increased shark depredation, crewing issues and COVID-19 impacts, and rising fuel costs have made it a very difficult period for Industry. Volatility in export markets, competition from other international fisheries and aquaculture has remained a challenge. It was noted that there has been significant work and progress in developing a domestic fresh fish market. Members held divergent views on the challenging market for coral trout quota, including availability and prices, and the effect this is having on the operation and competitiveness of the industry more broadly.

Members noted that Australian Marine Conservation Society are currently updating their ‘GoodFish’ sustainable seafood guide and that the recent reforms and harvest strategy implementation are positive and result in additional reef line species being included in the updated guide. An update on research on the effects of climate change on the fishery was noted and there is a push to better understand effects of target species on crown-of-thorns starfish.

The charter member noted significant issues with shark depredation and is collaborating with researchers to quantify depredation in the charter sector and to trial mitigation options. Otherwise, the charter sector is looking forward to an increase in business demand with the opening of Queensland’s borders.

The recreational fishing member advised that recreational fishers are eager to consider more scientific information about stock for which there are sustainability concerns. Generally recreational effort and fishing power is understood to be increasing, and recreational fishers are prepared to shoulder their share of the burden of future management changes to ensure ongoing sustainability of these stocks.

GBRMPA provided an update on compliance and offences in the fishery including zoning non-compliance by commercial and recreational fishing sectors.

The working group received a presentation from PhD candidate Kyle Hillcoat (JCU) on research on reproduction, barotrauma and size at maturity for saddletail snapper, finding regional variation across Queensland and inconsistency between the current minimum legal size and size at first maturity. An update was also provided on three ongoing shark depredation research projects including cooperation with some commercial and charter operators, as well as testing of two separate mobile apps for voluntary recording of shark depredation events.

The working group discussed the range of conditions attached to the current WTO accreditation for the line fishery (reef). The conditions include requirements to review management arrangements and complete stock assessments for some ‘OS’ category species, collect additional data on non-retained species (including no-take/protected fish species) and an updated level 2 ecological risk assessment (ERA) for the Queensland Line Fishery (Reef). The working group considered results of the updated 2021/22 ERA which will be released this year. Members provided advice in relation to these matters, including general support for application of the reef line fishery harvest strategy and other management changes such as to possession, size and catch limits, to pursue the objectives of the harvest strategy and SFS. Further stakeholder input, including from the working group, may be sought prior to any potential management changes for these species. Stock assessments have been undertaken for saddletail and crimson snapper and these will be considered through the harvest strategy process at the next working group meeting. Measures to mitigate high risk species identified in the ERA will also be discussed at the next meeting.

The working group noted the release of reports on fisheries economic and social indicators for the commercial, charter and recreational fishing sectors. Members noted the next available data will be for the 2020 financial year and will include investigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Comparing indicators between the different fishing sectors and updating the interactive dashboard will also be a priority. Members were also presented methodology and results of the state-wide recreational fishing survey 2019-20 and boat ramp surveys, including answering frequently asked questions regarding concerns about bias and participation.

As part of general business:

  • membership on the working group was discussed, in particular challenges in recruiting new members and achieving representation across different sectors of the fishery,
  • commercial members reiterated the cumulative impacts of reforms and other changes (e.g. EPBC Act, WTO conditions, market access, marine park constraints) in the commercial fishery and the significant challenges are driving changes in the industry and affecting mental health and wellbeing, and
  • the working group further discussed current challenges and competition within the reef line quota market, particularly coral trout. Some working group members requested consideration by Government on whether the current market is adequately providing competitive and fair access to quota and in pursuing the objectives of the fishery. Fisheries Queensland will provide the working group information that is available on quota trading, including some analysis of historical trends.

The next meeting will be held in February/March 2022 to include reviews of new stock assessments for coral trout, red emperor, crimson snapper and saddletail snapper and consideration of decision rules in line with the harvest strategy for these species.