Communique 17 March 2022

Role of the spanner crab working group: is to provide advice on the operational and ecological aspects of managing Queensland’s spanner crab fishery in line with the harvest strategy and the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy.

The tenth Spanner Crab Working Group meeting was held in Mooloolaba on 17 March 2022. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how the fishery was performing, review the status of the fishery based on 2021 data, and apply the harvest strategy rules for Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) setting for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 seasons.

Industry members provided an update on fishing operations. There was a good start to the spawning season with reasonable catch rates, but poor weather and strong currents have negatively impacted on the number of available days to conduct fishing trips. Members mentioned small crabs and berried crabs were observed in areas where they were less frequent in previous years. Both domestic and export markets continue to be impacted by COVID-19.

Fisheries Queensland provided a general update on the:

  • Sustainable Fisheries Strategy (the Strategy)
  • Recent regulation changes which primarily focused on other commercial fisheries
  • Development of harvest strategies in other fisheries
  • High compliance rate observed by Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol within the spanner crab fishery.

Dr Ian Brown presented his new research into spanner crab reproductive cycle and growth. The project aims to firstly, address industry concerns regarding the appropriateness of spawning closure dates and secondly, attempts to increase understanding of spanner crab growth rates. The aim of the research is to lead to a better understanding of critical life-history events such as the timing of the reproductive cycle, the crabs’ size-specific moult cycles, their age at maturity and entry to the fishery, and their longevity. The success of this project is largely dependent upon information provided by industry with a notice having been sent to spanner crab licence holders on 24 February 2022. Additional participation by commercial fishers is encouraged.

The working group was presented with the catch and effort information from commercial logbooks and the fishery independent survey, to assess the performance of the fishery. Overall, it was noted that fishery performance was lower in 2021, however, this is not a cause for concern at this stage given the long-term trend was still on the increase.

The working group applied the catch and effort information against the decision rules for setting the TACC for year three. This resulted in a pooled index of 0.61 (average of the commercial index 0.60 and survey index 0.63). Based on harvest strategy rules one and two, the TACC should be decreased in proportion to the decrease in the pooled index from 2019-20 to 2020-21. This would result in a TACC decrease of 28 t. However, rule four of the harvest strategy does not require a TACC increase or decrease if that change is less than 50 t. The working group examined all harvest strategy rules and agreed the TACC should not change for the next two years (2022-23 and 2023-24). The Total allowable commercial catch review for Queensland spanner crab (Ranina ranina), with data to December 2021 report provides a review of catch data and application of harvest strategy rules.

As a follow up from a previous meeting’s action, additional calculations were presented for refining the formula used for the missing FIS data for 2020 by using commercial data only from the survey grids in May 2020. Although agreeing that this provided a closer fit, it did not materially change the resulting TACC.

The working group noted the research updates relevant to the effects of environmental drivers and depredation on spanner crab productivity and catchability. Key findings found that downwelling (or lack of upwelling) may be deleterious to subsequent spanner crab catch rates. Related to this is a significant association between chlorophyll-a concentrations and catch rate of legal-size crabs particularly in regions 2 and 3. These associations may help to explain the lack of recovery in regions 2 and 3 over the past two decades. A model was developed that allows for stock modelling under varying levels of fishing mortality and environmental influences. The work also examined whether environmental factors that had been associated with the catchability of crabs could be used to improve the catch standardisations, however, preliminary investigations indicated that the existing standardisation factors such as region, month and year already captures much of the variability due to environmental factors. The research is published in Modelling environmental changes and effects on wild-caught species in Queensland.

Spanner crab depredation occurred on 3.68% of dilly deployments, with 3.82% of crabs depredated by bowmouth and giant guitarfish which are known as at risk species. It was interesting to note that other shark species such as tiger sharks were observed targeting the bait bags rather than the crabs, which is in line with research findings into Hawaiian kona crab fishery. The data also indicates a 27% reduction in crabs from the maximum number on the gear to the point before the gear is hauled, and a 13% reduction in crabs during the hauling process. It is likely that longer soak times may have been a primary factor contributing to the reduced number of spanner crabs remaining on the dillies at the time of hauling. The implications of the results on fishery management were discussed by the working group.

Fisheries Queensland provided a presentation on the methodology and outcomes from the BDO social and economic indicators report for commercial and charter fisheries for the 2018 and 2019 financial years as well as comparable indicators for the recreational fishing sector. The working group noted the release of the BDO social and economic report for the spanner crab fishery with a dashboard accessible via the department’s website. For the Spanner Crab Fishery, the 2018-19 financial year estimated $13.2 million in gross state product directly and as flow on contributions through Queensland’s economy. The fishery provided 123 full time equivalent jobs directly and as flow on contributions through Queensland’s economy. BDO will be repeating the social and economic survey for 2019-20 and 2020-21 financial years which will incorporate the impacts of COVID-19.

Members discussed how this information could be incorporated into the management of the spanner crab fishery and under which circumstances it could be used. This includes being able to inform decision makers and possible indicators in future harvest strategies.

Members agreed to encourage uptake by the broader industry and identify obstacles to participation.  Members noted trust and reassurance of confidentiality were essential and an online version would be welcomed.

Fisheries Queensland provided a demonstration of the new Queensland commercial fishing app which spanner crab fishers and other fisheries can use for reporting. The app allows a commercial fisher to submit pre-trip, quota, reporting notices, logbooks, catch disposal records; check the status of vessel tracking devices; manually report positions; view authorities and quota balances; and receive Fisheries Queensland notifications. The working group stepped through a workflow for a spanner crab trip and made suggestions for improvement.

Possible changes to temporal spawning closure were discussed and agreed a paper would be discussed at the next working group meeting, with a view to canvasing the broader industry for their level of interest. Members raised the possibility of using larger dillies including the impact on the catch rate standardisation.

The working group agreed that the next meeting should occur in November 2022.

The Spanner Crab Working Group meeting participants were: Chair (John Dexter), commercial sector (Peter Jones, Richard Swanson, Les Apps, Richard Hamilton, Allen Filep), research (Dr. Ian Brown), Conservation (Adrian Gutteridge), Fisheries Queensland (Samantha Miller, Nancy Trieu, Michael O’Neill, Russell Overton, Jason McGilvray), New South Wales Fisheries (Daniel Johnson).

Apologies: Vanessa Hughes, Sampie Nieuwoudt.