Communique 13-14 July 2021

The reappointed Rocky Reef Working Group met 13 – 14 July 2021. The purpose of this working group meeting was to update members on the progress on sustainable fisheries strategy reform process, new information and research available, new Management Strategy Evaluation tool outputs and recommence management review and harvest strategy development processes for the Rocky Reef fishery.

Fisheries Queensland provided a broad update on the implementation of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017-2027 and commercial fishing changes commencing on 1 September 2021.  The working group also discussed the proposed timeline to review the existing management arrangements and develop a harvest strategy for the rocky reef fishery ahead of the 2022-23 fishing season, to commence from 1 July 2022.  Members noted that any management changes and the draft harvest strategy would be released for public consultation before any decisions are made.

Members were invited to provide a general update from their respective sectors. The commercial sector noted concerns with the upcoming reporting requirements, shift in fishing effort to deep water species, and accurate data collection and validation for recreational and charter sectors. All sectors reiterated concerns over shark and dolphin depredation impacting fishing mortality along with questions around the impact of other commercial fishing activities (e.g., trawl) on rocky reef species.

The recreational sector expressed an interest in alternative management measures to bag and size limit such as enhancement of key wild harvest species through stocking, similar to what NSW, SA and WA are trialling with mulloway, kingfish and snapper. One of the charter members noted that weather has been a big issue this year resulting in an increase in cancelled trips. The working group expressed an interest in seeing the impact of COVID-19 on the snapper catch across all sectors at the next meeting. The charter sector noted a reduction in larger offshore fishing boats in south east Queensland, shifting effort to different areas and different species to make the trips worthwhile. One charter member suggested this may be due to recent snapper management changes (e.g., the eight boat limit).

Noting any potential changes to management may result in increased discards, GBRMPA raised they are also interested in discard mortality, depredation and spawning area research. GBRMPA noted that they are currently reviewing their policy position regarding for FADs and artificial reefs and Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The NSW Fisheries observer provided an update on the NSW harvest strategy process. NSW have developed a Harvest Strategy Policy and Guidelines and are developing strategies in a staged process with working groups established to develop strategies for trawl (whiting), lobster, spanner crab and mulloway.

Fisheries Queensland presented commercial harvest and standardised catch rates for snapper, pearl perch, cobia, teraglin, kingfish and grass emperor. The report is available on the department’s website. Commercial logbook catch rates are standardised for lunar cycle, wind, season, region, boat and fishing power. Fisheries Queensland clarified that NSW and QLD catch rates are standardised separately. The catch rate standardisation could account for some changes such as fishing power, but management changes through time are applied in the stock assessment model. The standardised snapper catch rates declined by almost half from the 1980s to present. .

Fisheries Queensland presented the methodology and results of the 2019-20 statewide recreational fishing survey. The results are available via a dashboard on the department’s website. The results include recreational harvest, effort and expenditure and a range of other data which can be explored by region, species, year and other criteria. Fisheries Queensland also answered questions on the statewide boat ramp survey.

Members noted they expect to see an increase in recreational effort in the next recreational survey due to an increase in recreational fishing across the COVID-19 pandemic. The working group discussed member’s concerns about the methodology and accuracy of recreational fishing data. The working group requested the department commit to timely improvements in the accuracy of recreational fishing data.

Animal Science Queensland presented the new FRDC funded Management Strategy Evaluation (MSE) tool that was developed for snapper and pearl perch. Efficacy of management strategies are generally measured against biomass targets in stock assessments, which generally occurs years after implementation. MSE tests the effects of management on a virtual stock pre-implementation. A range of outputs from the MSE for a number of different management scenarios were presented. The MSE indicated that the current management arrangements (status quo) for snapper would result in no rebuilding and only minimal rebuilding of pearl perch under the most optimistic scenarios over the forecast period. The MSE indicated that only strong management action could result in rebuilding of both stocks over the forecast period.

Fisheries Queensland provided a presentation on harvest strategy development. The presentation outlined key components of a harvest strategy, previous working group discussions on a draft rocky reef harvest strategy, and components from the Reef Line Harvest Strategy as a working example of a line fishery harvest strategy. Fisheries Queensland requested that members consider aspects of a draft rocky reef harvest strategy such as fishery objectives, species classification, tiers, sector allocation and decision rules in the lead up to the next meeting.

Animal Science Queensland provided an update on a research project assessing the spawning characteristics and reproductive biology of pearl perch in Queensland. Results suggest that pearl perch are likely to be serial spawners and have a prolonged spawning period across several months (North between Aug – Mar; South between Mar – Aug). Further work is being undertaken on spawning locations and larval dispersion, but preliminary results suggest that pearl perch do not move much between sites, particularly as larger or older fish.

Animal Science Queensland provided an update on a research project modelling the effects of environmental changes on Snapper and Pearl Perch in Queensland. There were several key findings from the project regarding environmental influences (temperature, chlorophyll-a concentrations) on snapper spawning and recruitment, which provide potential implications that should be considered in future management and stock recovery. The report will be available on the department’s website in the future.

The working group was provided an update on the ‘Fishing for Change’ project and the ‘Switch your Fish’ campaign, which has the objective to increase the diversity of fish targeted by recreational fishers to reduce pressure on currently popular species, including snapper and pearl perch. The working group were advised the official campaign launch is on 18 July 2021 in Mooloolaba. The Chair noted that the program is a good example of trialling an alternative management strategy to promote recovery of snapper and pearl perch.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the Fish Aggregation Device (FAD) program. There has been extensive use from recreational and charter sectors, primarily through Spring to Autumn, with mahi mahi the predominant species caught. Charter members noted that when there are good catches on the FADs, generally there is lower effort towards snapper and pearl perch (also vice versa). The working group noted the program is a great initiative which provides a positive impact in diversifying target species and reducing pressure on snapper and pearl perch.

Fisheries Queensland provided a presentation on the methodology and outcomes from the BDO social and economic indicators report for commercial and charter fisheries, and noted an interactive dashboard is available on the department’s website. The commercial sector suggested that participation was low (16% - 44 businesses), and there is limited trust in the project and data outputs and the potential for misrepresentation of the data. The Chair explained that BDO have been engaged as an independent contractor and emphasised the importance of this social and economic information in assessing the performance of the fishery, and when considering the economic impacts of management or other changes. The working group noted that BDO have been contracted to continue the project as well as work focused on measuring and comparing social and economic information from the recreational and charter fisheries alongside the commercial sector.

The QBFP member provided an update on enforcement activities and offences in the rocky reef fishery over the past few years. It was noted that most infringements relate to regulated fish offences. Black marketing was noted as a priority area for the QBFP, and the department has made significant progress towards investigating and prosecuting these offences.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the new standardised commercial fishing reporting requirements that will commence on 1 September 2021. The working group noted the primary change for the rocky reef fishery is the introduction of a pre-trip notice and catch disposal record. Working group members asked questions regarding weights notice timeframes, accurate weight using certified scales, and landing locations. The commercial member noted that the 24-hour timeframe for giving the weights notice is not practical from a fatigue management and product quality aspect, and should be reviewed as a priority.

The working group noted a presentation and update on the new commercial fishing smartphone application (the app). The app will cover a range of fisheries and is designed to encompass the new reporting requirements coming into effect from 1 September 2021.

As part of general business, the working group discussed the following:

  • East coast Spanish mackerel: Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the east coast Spanish mackerel fishery, noting that preliminary stock assessment results indicated a 17% biomass. The stock assessment is currently undergoing independent peer review. No changes have been made to recreational or commercial fishing rules, and none will be made without consultation with all stakeholders.
  • Deep water effort shift: The working group noted there has been a shift in recreational effort to deep water species (e.g. bar cod, blue eye trevalla), and these are high value, large and long lived species. It was suggested that Fisheries Queensland review bag and boat limits for deep water species.

The next meeting will be in September to discuss future management and develop a draft rocky reef harvest strategy.

The Rocky Reef Fishery Working Group members are: Fisheries Queensland (Chair – Eddie Jebreen, Director (Management and Reform) – Kimberly Foster, Principal Fishery Manager – Tony Ham, Senior Fishery Manager – Ryan Keightley, Fisheries Manager – Chad Lunow), Commercial fishing (Joey Meeuwsen (Absent) , Scott Butterworth (Apology at this meeting), Michael Thompson), Recreational fishing (Jeffrey Ahchay, Lachlan Reed), Charter fishing (John Gooding, Mathew Hubbard), Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (David Williamson), Animal Science Queensland (Matthew Campbell), Working group observers: Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol (Simon Harmon), NSW Fisheries (Nicolas Giles), Animal Science Queensland (Michael O’Neill).