Communique 5 March 2021

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 eighth Spanner Crab Working Group meeting was held via teleconference on 5 March 2021. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how the fishery was performing, review the status of the fishery based on 2020 data, and apply the harvest strategy rules to monitor the Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) for Year 2 (2021-22).

Industry members provided an update on fishing operations. Catch rates (kg per net lift) were improving in northern waters but catch rates were still low in the south. Industry members noted the lower catches in the Gold Coast region was due to a lack of demand arising from COVID-19 restrictions (e.g. tourism, border closures, availability of flights). Total harvests, for the expended fishing effort, were lower compared to previous years due to limited product. Local, interstate and international market demands have varied, with COVID-19 rules and transport restrictions a challenge for selling harvests to markets. Industry expressed continued interest in obtaining biological spawning information to inform the spawning closure.

Fisheries Queensland provided a general update on the:

  • Sustainable Fisheries Strategy (the Strategy)

  • Recent regulation changes

  • Development of harvest strategies in other fisheries

  • COVID-19 impacts on fisheries

  • The new commercial fishing application

  • Vessel tracking review.

Working group members noted the only change for spanner crab is the new single commercial fishing licencing framework. Fisheries Queensland offered to connect commercial fishing businesses with Trade Investment Queensland to explore ideas for export markets and increase the reliability of freight flights, noting the need for frequent supply to be effective.

Fisheries Queensland reported the 2020 fishery data. Overall, total harvest for the expended fishing effort was down compared to the previous years. Lower total harvests were more likely due to market demand than spanner crab stock availability. The working group members noted the standardised catch rate for the 2020 season. Standardised catch rates of spanner crab increased compared to the previous three years. Standardised catch rates increased in all regions except for region 6. Some members reiterated historical trends in catch rates vary and sometimes cycle between north and south.

Fisheries Queensland compared the standardised catch rates against the harvest strategy decision rules. Members noted Year 2 of the harvest strategy is not a TACC setting year and there were no indicators triggered for an early change to the TACC. Members endorsed the TACC to remain at 847 tonnes for Year 2 (2021-22).

Members noted that there was no fishery independent survey (FIS) for 2020. COVID-19 restrictions prevented the 2020 survey from being undertaken.  The 2021 FIS survey is scheduled for May.  The working group discussed options to handle the missing 2020 survey index. The index is required in the TACC calculation. Options are to be presented to the working group in detail at the next meeting before recommending the method to use in the TACC setting for Year 3 (2022-23).

Fisheries Queensland provided a compliance update. Working group members noted high compliance within the spanner crab industry with 77 inspections and 6 offences detected in the last 12 months. Industry noted the low number of inspections. This was due to inspections being more targeted and intelligence based. Compliance noted catches of spanner crab being taken by charter vessels, and members expressed an interest in seeing data from the charter sector at the next meeting.

The working group noted the research updates relevant to spanner crab depredation and effects of environmental drivers on spanner crab productivity and catchability. Early findings suggest multiple species are depredating upon spanner crabs, not only sharks. In some instances, the target is not the spanner crabs themselves but the bait bags. Preliminary findings suggest that Chlorophyll and sea surface height anomaly (i.e. indicating changes in primary productivity and upwelling / downwelling conditions) may be associated with changes in catch rates in region 2 and 3 (Rockhampton to Bundaberg). The research is ongoing.

The working group endorsed the release of the current draft of the Spanner Crab Code of Practice for wider consultation. Fisheries Queensland will source further images for the draft document prior to consultation.

The working group agreed that the next meeting should occur in November 2021 with a focus on reviewing the options for dealing with the missing 2020 FIS and finalising the Code of Practice.

The Spanner Crab Working Group participants were: Chair (John Dexter), commercial sector (Allen Filip, Richard Hamilton, Jason Simpson, Peter Jones, Sampie Nieuwoudt), Fisheries Queensland (Kimberly Foster, Tony Ham, Samantha Miller, Nancy Trieu, Michael O’Neill, Nicholas Dennis), Animal Science Queensland (Samuel Williams), University of the Sunshine Coast (Jackson Milburn), New South Wales Fisheries (Daniel Johnson) and Safe Food Production Queensland (Georgina Walker).

Apologies (Les Apps, Richard Swanson, Vanessa Hughes, Ian Brown, Adrian Gutteridge)