Communique 23 August 2021

The Sea Cucumber Fishery working group met for the fifth time via videoconference on 23 August 2021.

The working group accepted the previous meeting minutes and noted the progress of the meeting action items.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the regulatory changes that were announced in September 2020 and will commence by 1 September 2021. The working group noted that these include reforming the administration framework (licensing, quota certificates and management arrangements and reporting) to ensure consistency with other quota managed fisheries. The working group further noted the publication of a finalised sea cucumber harvest strategy, which was updated with feedback received during consultation.

Industry noted that the current fishing season is the third year under the rotational zoning strategy and a new initiative is to allocate fishers to specific zones with specific species quota, so they are responsible for fishing the same zones every third year for additional stewardship.

Industry has contracted to seek MSC accreditation for four units of assessment (black teatfish, white teatfish, curryfish and burrowing blackfish). It is anticipated that this will take approximately 12 months. An environmental risk assessment will be one of the requirements. DAF will be involved in this process.

Industry also advised that market demand had reduced slightly due to COVID in the last couple of years although prices have remained relatively stable.

AFMA advised that the Torres Strait beche-de-mer fishery is operating for the second year under a harvest strategy. While most aspects of the new harvest strategy have been implemented, the 2022 fishing season will be the first application of the harvest strategy decision rules to set total allowable catches (TAC). A trial reopening of fishing for black teatfish commenced on 30 April 2021 with a 20 tonne competitive total allowable catch (TAC) and lasted for 4 days.

GBRMPA noted that black teatfish has been used as a case study for resilience in the last three versions of the GBR Outlook Report (2009, 2014 and 2019). The fourth report will be published in 2024. The working group will continue to be updated on progress.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the current status of the Commonwealth Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) approval, which was issued subject to numerous conditions until 30 September 2021. The working group noted that Fisheries Queensland has applied for a new WTO approval. This application is currently out for public consultation and some working group members have already provided submissions. Fisheries Queensland will continue to work closely with industry to consider any new developments. Industry meetings will be scheduled for mid September to discuss further.

The working group were updated with the 2020 status of Australian fish stocks report, in which white teatfish and burrowing blackfish were assessed as ‘sustainable’. There is scope for adding additional species in the future.

Fisheries Queensland provided an outline of an ecological risk assessment (ERA) for the fishery. Despite assessing the situation prior to a harvest strategy or stock assessment being in place, the risk in the fishery is considered to be managed and Fisheries Queensland is not recommending the ERA be progressed to a level 2. The ERA will be a potentially important communication tool that formally documents the minimal impact of the fishery. Fisheries Queensland undertook to share the ERA with the working group as soon as it was finalised.

The working group noted that good progress has been made by the industry-funded research team Fishwell Consulting in completing black teatfish surveys and white teatfish feasibility studies, with lead scientist Ian Knuckey included in the DAF stock assessment team. The working group also noted that a GIS layer has been prepared for the rotational zoning scheme, allowing the effect of the rotational zoning scheme to be incorporated into quantitative models.

The working group were updated with preliminary results of the white teatfish stock assessment, based on a combination of fishing data and previous research, and the black teatfish stock assessment, which is informed by the recent black teatfish survey, fishing data (complicated by a long period closed to fishing), and previous research. Model inputs and assumptions were the subject of considerable discussion and the stock assessment team agreed to conduct additional investigations as a result of the working group feedback. The working group noted that the stock assessment models will continue to be refined once the deadlines for the WTO conditions have been met.

Fisheries Queensland advised the working group of a related research project funded through GBR Foundation, which has developed a project proposal for a three year monitoring program of sea cucumber in the Great Barrier Reef. This is expected to inform management needs for multiple agencies. Industry members emphasised that their focus is on sound, reliable data, and suggested research scientist Ian Knuckey be included as part of the project’s technical advisory group. DAF will likely be represented on the project’s steering committee and will act as liaison with industry. A presentation from the research team will be sought for the next working group meeting.

The working group heard a presentation on the social and economic data project being undertaken by BDO EconSearch for Fisheries Queensland. Currently there is no separate report for sea cucumber due to the difficulty in de-identifying individuals when there are low numbers of participants. However, the data team are hopeful that confidentiality can be managed so that participation increases.

Fisheries Queensland provided details of the new reporting requirements that will commence on 1 September 2021, the various fact sheets and contacts to support industry through these changes (, and the development of the commercial fishing app. Clarification about the weight and catch disposal notice requirements, given the operational procedures in the industry, will be the subject of a separate meeting.

The next working group meeting is tentatively scheduled for December 2021 in order to discuss the results of the WTO application and the implications for industry going forward.

The Sea Cucumber Fishery Working Group members are: Fisheries Queensland (Chair - Michael Mikitis), commercial fishing (Rob Lowden, Chauncey Hammond, Ben Cochrane (apology), science (Nicole Murphy, CSIRO) and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Jessica Stella).