Communique 21-22 March 2022

The East Coast Spanish Mackerel Working Group met on 21-22 March 2022 in Cairns. The purpose of the working group meeting was to discuss a draft east coast Spanish mackerel management discussion paper and draft harvest strategy prior to public consultation in March / April 2022.

Fisheries Queensland provided a broad update including progress implementing the Queensland Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017ꟷ2027 (SFS), working group membership gaps and continual improvements to the ‘eCatch’ commercial fishing reporting application.

In the members update, commercial and recreational members cited concerns primarily due to their uncertainty and distrust in the science and latest stock assessment and potential future management based on this science. Commercial and recreational members also stated that fishers are observing large aggregations of fish on the water that are not fished or not available to fishing, and that the stock assessment does not reflect this apparent abundance. Commercial members also noted concerns for food security and significant social and economic impacts of the management actions proposed.

Recreational and commercial members expressed frustration with the level of communication from Fisheries Queensland since the last meeting regarding questions on the stock assessment inputs and methodology.

The Indigenous fishing representative noted that traditional owners are currently working with Fisheries Queensland to help develop Indigenous commercial fishing in northern Queensland and are cognisant of the discussions regarding Spanish mackerel.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) member acknowledged commercial and recreational members’ on-water knowledge and experience, while also considering the latest stock assessment to be robust, data-rich and in line with national and international best practice. The GBRMPA member explained that other scientific information has indicated a decline in the east coast Spanish mackerel stock for some time, and supported timely implementation of management to rebuild the stock in a reasonable timeframe. Acknowledging the social and economic impacts this management action would have on industry, the GBRMPA member noted that impacts of continuing stock decline would be more severe.

The conservation member was supportive of the science and timely implementation of management action, noting that rebuilding the stock will improve environmental, social and economic concerns in the long term to achieve triple bottom line objectives.

The New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) observer noted that Spanish mackerel is an important component of NSW fisheries, advising that they are looking more broadly at management of key species and are watching this process with interest.

Fisheries Queensland presented biological information on Spanish mackerel collected through the fisheries monitoring program, which provides key inputs into the stock assessment. The biological data indicated variability in recruitment and potential linkages between strong recruitment events and environmental influences. Members noted that further research on environmental drivers for east coast Spanish mackerel is a key focus of a current Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) project application, and members will be kept up to date on research projects as they progress. Fisheries Queensland emphasised that continuing the collection of biological information is critical for estimating annual length/age structures, recruitment, growth and mortality as key inputs for monitoring stock recovery. Members also emphasised the importance of fishery independent data collection if proposed management intervention is implemented.

Fisheries Queensland presented an overview of the consultation process for harvest strategy, discussion paper and management option development and implementation, including (and subject to Government consideration):

  • April 2022 – draft harvest strategy and discussion paper released online for public consultation for 28 days.
  • May 2022 – fourth working group meeting held to consider the results of public consultation and provide final feedback on the draft harvest strategy and rebuilding options.
  • May 2022 – Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel review and provide advice on the draft harvest strategy and rebuilding options.
  • May 2022 – Fisheries Queensland finalise rebuilding options and the harvest strategy for Government consideration and approval.
  • June 2022 – East coast Spanish mackerel fishery harvest strategy released, and stakeholders advised of decisions on management actions to rebuild stock.
  • July 2022 – East coast Spanish mackerel fishery harvest strategy and rebuilding action to take effect from 1 July 2022.

Recreational and commercial members indicated concerns regarding the compressed timeframe, questioning if a harvest strategy needs to be developed and implemented alongside any urgent management action. Fisheries Queensland clarified that the harvest strategy is necessary as it sets the framework for rebuilding as well as the long-term management of the fishery, including objectives, reference points, decision rules, rebuilding timeframes and review criteria.

Fisheries Queensland then presented a draft discussion paper which included the reasons for consultation and rebuilding, rebuilding policy information, background information on the fishery, current management arrangements, options to rebuild the stock and impact alleviation options. Working group members provided advice and input on the discussion paper for consideration by Fisheries Queensland (noting the working group is not a decision-making body). Most members did not endorse the discussion paper, noting reservations regarding the science and stock assessment results and, subsequently, their ability to communicate rebuilding options and impacts to other stakeholders. The Indigenous fishing member, one recreational member, the conservation member and the GBRMPA member did endorse the discussion paper to seek public feedback on the future management of the fishery.

The working group, in noting the influence that NSW catch has on proposed management measures in Queensland (including the TACC), reiterated the importance of working with NSW to discuss and progress commensurate management arrangements to contribute to the rebuilding of this shared stock.

Fisheries Queensland presented the draft east coast Spanish mackerel fishery harvest strategy, which included primary fishery objectives to first rebuild the stock to a level that achieves maximum sustainable yield (40% spawning biomass), then progress to the longer-term objective to return the stock to a level that maximises economic yield (60% spawning biomass). Members noted the proposed sectoral catch shares of 60% commercial and 40% recreational (including charter), and one recreational member noted they do not support defining sectoral catch share allocations generally. Members discussed and provided advice on the draft harvest strategy decision rules, which are designed to rebuild the stock to sustainable levels and maintain sectoral catch shares by adjusting the TACC and recreational in-possession limits. Members noted the draft harvest strategy components on monitoring social and economic performance, data collection validation and assessment and information on research priorities.

Members discussed that that the next stock assessment is proposed to take place after 1 July 2025, which will provide an indication of stock recovery given sufficient time for management changes to have a positive impact. Fisheries Queensland noted that the proposed management measures should deliver stock recovery in the proposed time frame.

Members held concerns regarding a draft decision rule relating to closing and reopening the fishery if recovery is not achieved. Fisheries Queensland will review this decision rule before the draft harvest strategy is released for public consultation, noting commercial and recreational members concerns regarding stock assessment outputs and rebuilding projections.

Most working group members endorsed the draft harvest strategy for public consultation on the proviso that members’ advice on readability and decision rules are considered. A commercial member and a recreational member did not endorse the harvest strategy for public consultation.

Some members requested a more balanced consideration of ecological, social and economic objectives in rebuilding the stock. Commercial and recreational members suggested that management action could be delayed, which would provide time for industry to adjust and allow additional data to be collected to address uncertainties in the stock assessment.

Fisheries Queensland presented and discussed results and methodology of Queensland’s recreational monitoring programs, including the boat ramp survey program and state-wide recreational fishing surveys. Members noted that all information and data from the programs are available on the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries website. Commercial members held concerns over the representativeness of the surveys, suggesting that the majority of ‘skilled fishers’ do not participate. Fisheries Queensland, GBRMPA and recreational members noted that the surveys have very high participation rates (>95%), produce reliable estimates and are best practice. Members also discussed options for improving recreational data, including reporting through the recreational fishing app and mandatory reporting requirements in line with measures taken by other jurisdictions for at-risk species.

In other business:

  • The GBRMPA member advised that sea surface temperatures remain above average across most of the marine park and are expected to remain so until the end of March 2022. Weather patterns over the next few weeks are being monitored, and they will be critical in determining the overall extent and severity of coral bleaching.
  • The commercial sector noted concern around changes in recreational catch methodology in stock assessments over time – particularly between the 2016 and 2020 stock assessments – and sought further clarification from the stock assessment authors regarding these changes.

The next meeting will be held in May 2022 to review feedback from public consultation results and seek final feedback on the draft harvest strategy and rebuilding options. Fisheries Queensland are working towards implementation of management action to rebuild the stock coming into effect on 1 July 2022.