Communique 17-18 May 2021

The inaugural East Coast Spanish Mackerel Working Group met on 17 and 18 May 2021 in Brisbane. This was the first meeting of the newly appointed working group. The purpose of the meeting was to provide information on the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy, review the current management and stock issues and commence discussions on developing a harvest strategy for this fishery.

Members were invited to provide a general update from the region or the sector they represent. Several members commented on the issue of shark depredation, which is thought to be a wide-spread issue affecting other fisheries across multiple jurisdictions. Members generally agreed that large numbers of Spanish mackerel are lost to depredation and supported further research to quantify the extent of depredation, identify the species responsible and better understand what is driving the apparent increased prevalence of shark interactions.

Members also raised other issues that may impact on the abundance of Spanish mackerel, including seasonality and environmental drivers of recruitment such as water quality, urban development and oceanographic changes. While these may impact Spanish mackerel stocks, they are outside the control of Fisheries Queensland and need to be accounted for in management arrangements. Some members raised bycatch and discarding in other fisheries that are incidentally capturing Spanish mackerel and contributing to overall fishing mortality (for example, net fisheries). Other issues that were raised included the need to account for managing different types of recreational fishers – those that may incidentally catch Spanish mackerel (as part of reef line fishing activities) and those that may target Spanish mackerel, the abundance and management of bait fish and the need for management intervention in the short-term.

The working group noted information to help inform a shared understanding of the status of east coast Spanish mackerel stocks. It was noted that the commercial harvest has averaged 300 tonnes annually since 2004, however total harvest is well below the current total allowable commercial catch (TACC) for the species. It was noted that Fisheries Queensland’s monitoring programs are picking up increased recreational fishing participation and current east coast Spanish mackerel recreational harvest is estimated to be approximately 170 tonnes.

The working group was provided a preliminary presentation on the results of the 2021 east coast Spanish mackerel stock assessment (not yet published) and how this will inform future decision making in the fishery. Fisheries Queensland advised the draft biomass for Spanish mackerel is estimated to be 17% of unfished biomass. The working group noted the limit reference point of 20% unfished biomass is the point below which a fishery is recommended to be closed under the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy and under National Guidelines. While there are some uncertainties, this is a complex stock assessment with good confidence about the outputs. Industry members noted concerns that a new stock assessment model was used, which produced lower biomass estimates than the previous assessment in 2018.

The working group noted that the stock assessment is currently undergoing independent scientific peer review, which will also be published in coming months. The working group requested more detail on projections for different rebuilding strategies for discussion at the next meeting. Given the stock is shared with New South Wales the working group felt it was important to invite them to attend the next meeting to discuss rebuilding strategies.

Fisheries Queensland provided a presentation on the methodology and outcomes from the BDO social and economic indicators report for commercial and charter fisheries. The working group noted the social and economic indicators dashboard that is available on the department’s website is an important tool for businesses to view performance of the fishery. While the fishery’s economic performance is not positive, all members agreed that this information is important in assessing the performance of the fishery, and when considering the economic impacts of management or other changes.

The working group were presented with an overview of the current management arrangements in place for Spanish mackerel. Given the low biomass estimate, the working group agreed that the management arrangements and fishing rules for all sectors would need to be reviewed to inform management interventions and a rebuilding strategy for this stock.

All members noted the importance of Spanish mackerel for local supply of fish, particularly in regional Queensland where the species is popular. Given the status of the stock, the working group asked about the feasibility of making changes ahead of the 1 July 2021 fishing season, starting in 6 weeks. Fisheries Queensland provided information on the process to review management of this stock and develop a harvest strategy ahead of the 1 July 2022 fishing season. The working group agreed that management change needed to be in place as soon as possible noting that it was likely to be significant and consultation with other stakeholders would be required. The working group noted the need for a number of meetings in 2021 to consider management options for further consultation later in 2021.

Fisheries Queensland provided information on the monitoring and research programs that are in place for the Spanish mackerel fishery. The working group noted the extensive monitoring data over a long time series for east coast Spanish mackerel, with 13% of the commercial catch represented in the data set over the last 10 years. This is higher than many other fisheries, and members noted the continued contribution of commercial and recreational fishers in volunteering this information and the good working relationship with the Fishery Monitoring team. The working group recognised the importance of the combined data collected from commercial fishers and recreational fishers, which provides more confidence about the science underpinning both the status and management of this stock. The working group were keen to see this level of monitoring continue.

The next meeting will be in late June or early July. Members have sought some information on rebuilding projections, how recreational harvest is calculated, release mortality, environmental influences, fishing effort (for example, standardised catch rates), targeting behaviour between the coral reef line and Spanish mackerel fisheries and biological information from monitoring and research. The next meeting will focus on working through possible management interventions, stock rebuilding strategies and initial development of a harvest strategy.

The Spanish Mackerel Working Group members are: Animal Science Queensland (Chair – Sian Breen), Fisheries Queensland (Director, Management and Reform – Kimberly Foster, Principal Fishery Manager – Tony Ham, Senior Fishery Manager – Darren Roy, Fisheries Manager – Ash Lawson, Fisheries Scientist – Joanne Langstreth, Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol – Chris Morrison), commercial fishing (Chris Hain, Tony Lanzi, Anthony Vass, Richard Gilmore), recreational fishing (Ryan Tully, Gary Powis, William Bowtell), Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Darren Cameron) and conservation sector (Debbie Chamberlain).