Communique 18-19 September 2018

The rocky reef fishery working group met for the first time in Brisbane over 18 and 19 September 2018.

The working group talked about their aspirations for the rocky reef fishery and reflected on past experiences and management initiatives.

The working group was provided with an overview of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017-2027 (the Strategy). The members discussed the key policy objectives and how their input will be used to shape the future management of the rocky reef fishery.

Fisheries Queensland provided the working group with an overview of the current status of the fishery. Limitations with the current estimates of recreational harvest were noted. The working group noted that improvements are needed and could be achieved by exploring alternatives and novel approaches to data collection and technological advancements.

The working group noted the recent stock assessment results for snapper, which showed the biomass was between 10−45% of original unfished biomass (as low as 10−23% in Queensland) and noted there has been no rebuilding of snapper stocks in Queensland, despite management changes put in place in 2011.  More than half of the total harvest is estimated to be taken by recreational fishers (including charter).  All fishing sectors identified shark depredation and discard mortality as key issues.

Members noted that there was uncertainty in the assessment, but agreed that there was an issue with snapper stocks. Some members felt that it wasn’t as bad as the assessment suggested, but all members still agreed there was a need to take action to recover the stock.  While the assessment has uncertainty, the working group noted that there are other signals that the stock is in a poor condition, including relatively low numbers of juvenile snapper (less than one year old) in Moreton Bay recruitment surveys, particularly since 2013, and a shift in age classes with more younger fish and fewer older fish in samples.

The working group agreed to the following principles for reform in snapper and pearl perch management:

  • There is a need to take action to rebuild the stocks. Doing nothing is not an option.
  • A harvest strategy should fairly apply to all sectors
  • All sectors may need to take a reduction to help recovery
  • Changes need to be fair and equitable between sectors
  • Options needs to be practical, effective, reasonable and enforceable
  • The aim should be to see the stock start to recover and aim for 40% of unfished biomass initially rather than the 60% biomass target
  • Effective monitoring of all sectors’ harvest will be needed
  • There needs to be strong public engagement and wider consultation
  • Need to work with NSW to ensure the whole stock is managed appropriately.

The working group acknowledged that the productivity may be affected by environmental factors like river flow, decreasing water quality, coastal habitat loss, and pollution events, and the working group was keen to use the working group process to advocate better environmental outcomes across government. It was also noted that snapper and pearl perch in Queensland are at the edge of their range distribution, so climate change effects will always be a challenge for managing the stocks.

The working group also reviewed the pearl perch stock assessment which estimated the biomass to be between 15−40% of unfished biomass levels. Standardised catch rates have declined by 50% in last ten years, indicating that stocks are continuing to decline.  The working group noted that while the catch was relatively low, that some action will likely be needed to help recover the stock.

The working group discussed the Queensland Harvest Strategy Policy and Guideline. The members noted that a harvest strategy would provide more certainty by outlining predetermined management actions based on agreed indicators for fishery performance. The working group discussed how increases in stock biomass (rebuild) and ‘good’ fishing years could be accessed in the future. The working group discussed how triggers could be applied to other non-target species caught in the fishery to pick up changes in trends.

The working group members discussed current issues in the rocky reef fishery, and agreed on an initial set of fishery objectives that included:

  1. Transition from ‘overfished’ to ‘recovering’ for snapper and pearl perch
  2. Reduce fishing mortality to rebuild snapper and pearl perch stocks to 40% unfished biomass over time
  3. Reduce discard mortality, and reduce bycatch in other fisheries
  4. Restore and maintain habitats and water quality
  5. Improve certainty for commercial fishers, diversified businesses and profitability
  6. Ensure flexible management
  7. Provide business certainty for charter operators
  8. Improve satisfaction of recreational fishers and charter clients
  9. Minimise localised depletion
  10. Reduce latent effort in commercial and charter sectors
  11. Improve education and compliance

The working group confirmed that the appropriate management unit for the rocky reef fishery continue to be at the species level in all Queensland waters given the species are mostly single stocks across Queensland.

The working group discussed the range of management options, noting that the Strategy preferences quota where possible. The group noted the pros and cons of a range of options and recommended that Fisheries Queensland further analyse the following options for consideration and consultation with the wider community:


  • Create a new rocky reef (RR) symbol to limit the number of line fishers accessing rocky reef species
  • Total allowable commercial catch (TACC) allocated through Individual Transferable Quota for key species – snapper and possibly pearl perch
  • TACC for other species and/or watch/monitor through triggers in the harvest strategy (e.g. if catch increases or stock assessment shows concerns)
  • Explore making all rocky reef fish species line only commercial fishing (noting net harvest is very minor component currently)
  • The commercial sector supported moving to quota, but only if the recreational catch was constrained and reduced commensurate to the commercial sector and monitored effectively.


  • Consider the effectiveness of size limit increases for snapper and pearl perch
  • Consider spawning area closures (if key areas and times can be identified)
  • Set a catch limit for recreationally caught snapper
    • -   consider free harvest tags to manage to a limit (will also assist with black marketing)
    • -   consider other options to monitor compliance with catch limit e.g. compulsory reporting through an app or other mechanism
  • Consider fin clipping to identify recreationally caught fish to address black marketing issues
  • Explore ways to incentivise fishers to move on to other species (e.g. Fish Aggregating Devices)
  • Boat limit of 2−3 times the individual limit for priority black market species (snapper) (noting some members did not support this)
  • Some members supported a reduction in the pearl perch recreational limit to 4 to be consistent with snapper
  • Improve education on gear  e.g. use of circle hooks to reduce discard mortality
  • Community based social marketing / behaviour change program to encourage recreational fishers to take less and improve post-release survival
  • Clarify and simplify filleting arrangements
  • Reviewing the existing size limits for other species to ensure most fish have matured before entering the fishery
  • General recreational in possession limit of 20 for those species without a current limit e.g. sea sweep, bonito, frying-pan bream
  • Review all species caught in this fishery, particularly deep water species to ensure that none are overlooked (e.g. blue eye trevalla)
  • Consider an in-possession limit of 2 for blue eye trevalla


  • Limited entry for charter licences for snapper and pearl perch
  • Set a catch limit for snapper for charter fishers
    • -   E.g. allocation of free harvest tags
    • -   Consider ITQ allocated on history
  • Continue logbook reporting
  • Other recreational measures as above, except for the boat limit

Members agreed further work is needed to explore these options, model the impacts on the catch and seek broader feedback. Part of this should include exploring the spatial aspects of the data and undertaking management strategy evaluations.

The working group also identified a number of monitoring and research priorities. The working group would meet again in late January and review a draft discussion paper for public consultation in February/March.

Fisheries Queensland (Chair – Claire Andersen), commercial fishing (Christopher Hain, Michael Thompson, Steven Campbell), recreational fishing (Jeffrey Ahchay, Lachlan Reed), charter fishing (John Gooding), Science/Conservation (Nils Krueck), Science (Paul Hamer), Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Randall Owens), Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol (Simon Harmon), NSW Fisheries (Dale Gollan), Animal Science Queensland (Michael O’Neill, Joanne Wortmann)