Communique 24 February 2020

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

The Spanner Crab Working Group meeting was held in Mooloolaba on 24 February 2020. The purpose of the working group meeting was to review the recommended final harvest strategy, the 2019 status of the fishery, apply the decision rules and associated data and provide recommendations for Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) setting for the 2020 and 2021 seasons in accordance with the harvest strategy.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy (the Strategy), proposed regulation changes, development of harvest strategies and the coronavirus Industry Support Package. The working group noted a number of regulation amendments commenced on 1 September 2019 that related to the spanner crab fishery. Some members raised concerns around compliance of the number of spare dillies now permitted (10) under regulation, noting that there is a high risk that some fishers would deploy all of these spare dillies as part of normal operations. Fisheries Queensland agreed to work with Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol to ensure operations were compliant.  The working group also identified an administrative error that has resulted in a 15-dilly limit per string, rather than a maximum of 25-dilly limit per string, being specified in the regulation. Fisheries Queensland will look at addressing this as soon as practical.

The working group noted the process and consultation undertaken to develop a final recommended harvest strategy for the spanner crab fishery. The harvest strategy aligns the fisheries with the Strategy and meets key objectives to set sustainable catch limits based on achieving maximum economic yield (MEY), or a proxy of 60% biomass, establish decision rules for setting the TACC on a biennial basis and rules setting out when these decision rules should be departed from as well as other ‘triggers’ for management actions.

The working group discussed and noted the results of consultation on the draft harvest strategy which was released for public consultation in December to January 2020.  Sixteen formal responses were received, with 20% indicating they thought the harvest strategy meets the objectives of the fishery, 20% were unsure and 60% indicated that the harvest strategy did not meet the objectives of the fishery. However, most unsupportive comments were found to be less about the harvest strategy itself and more around regulation reform or the target of 60% biomass outlined in the Strategy.

Industry members provided an overview of their 2019-20 fishery season generally, commenting on catch rates, predator interactions, product quality, seasonality, prices and demand. Some members noted that they had just completed some work to look at expanding into China, only to now be significantly impacted by coronavirus. All members considered that investment in promotion had generally lead to better spanner crab value in recent years and there was general interest in doing more and looking at third party accreditation (e.g. Marine Stewardship Council) for the fishery to support better access to export markets. Most members commented that they had been experiencing increased catch rates, but also noted that crabs were still absent from some traditional fishing grounds.

Fisheries Queensland provided an outline of the catch standardisation undertaken for the spanner crab fishery, and explained the various standardisation factors that go in to these calculations. The working group were keen to continue to improve catch standardisation for the fishery, and supported the use of an annual gear sheet to inform catch standardisation calculations. The working group also recommended Fisheries Queensland do more to communicate the importance of standardisation and how it is calculated (including providing information comparing the standardised catch to raw catch to assist fishers ground truth the information against their experience).

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 the fishery trends had improved with increasing catch rates from both data sources, and all regions showing positive signs.

Being year one of the harvest strategy, the working group applied the catch and effort information against the decision rules for setting the TACC. This results in a pooled index of 0.56 (average of the commercial index 0.54 and survey index 0.58). As this pooled index is less than one, the decision rules indicate no change to the TACC for the next two years (2020/21 and 2021/22). The working group agreed that the break out rules relating to regional catch rates and the pooled index were not triggered warranting a different decision.  The working group also considered and agreed there was no other information to suggest that decision rules should be set aside and a different decision made (Attachment 1 indicates the decision tree that was applied).

In addition to the TACC, the working group provided advice on transitioning the quota year to align with a financial year.  The members supported Fisheries Queensland’s proposal for a one off 13-month quota season from 1 June 2020 to 30 June 2021 with a 43.8 tonne increase to account for the extra month of fishing. The increase agreed to was based on the average of the last 5 years catches in June, excluding the worst year in 2017 (see Attachment 2 for options considered). Therefore, the working group supported the following recommended TACC’s, in line with the harvest strategy, of 890 890 kg for 1 June 2020 to 30 June 2021 (13 months), and 847 000 kg for 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022 (12 months).

The working group reviewed research and monitoring priorities, as outlined in the harvest strategy. In considering a previously recommended independent data review project, members felt that avenues for reviewing and improving monitoring initiatives could be achieved by collaborating between the working group and Fisheries Queensland staff rather than seeking advice from independent scientists. It was agreed that this approach would present better value for money.

The Working Group also discussed possible updates to the commercial logbooks, and agreed discarding and the presence of berried females would be good data to capture in the future. In considering how to incorporate this information, the working group recommended waiting to see if electronic monitoring could capture this data rather than logbooks. The working group agreed that reporting berried female crabs could be part of any proposed electronic logbooks. The working group also noted upcoming research including a depredation study and environmental influences on the fishery.

The working group discussed updating the Code of Practice for the fishery, which was last done in 1997, to improve and promote responsible fishing practices across the fishery. Fisheries Queensland agreed to coordinate the development of updating this code of practice based on working group advice and consultation once a revised draft is available.

The working group agreed that the next meeting should occur in July 2020, and focus on reviewing data collection, industry research priorities and updating the code of practice.

The Spanner Crab Working Group participants were: Kimberly Foster (Chair), Richard Hamilton, Richard Swanson, Les Apps, Vanessa Hughes, Jason Simpson, Peter Jones, Sampie Nieuwoudt, Allen Filip (industry), Adrian Gutteridge (conservation), Ian Brown (scientist), QBFP (Russell Overton) and Fisheries Queensland (Nick Boucher, Sian Breen, Michael O’Neill, Jason McGilvray). Observer - NSW Fisheries (Daniel Johnson)

Attachment 1 – TACC setting decision tree

Attachment 2 – Options considered for the 13 month transitional season

Year

Total reported catch (kg)

Average of 5 years

Average of 5 years minus 2017 catch

2015

44 033

41 486

43 890

2016

43 632

2017

31 870

2018

41 261

2019

46 636