Communique 6 March 2018

The third meeting of the trawl fishery working group was held in Brisbane on 6 March 2018. The purpose of this meeting was to endorse a discussion paper and to recommend management options for the scallop fishery. A discussion paper is to be distributed for broader stakeholder feedback at the end of March with extensive consultation to follow until May/June via a range of communication methods including face to face meetings, online surveys and individual feedback forms.

A monitoring and research update was presented to the group. Members noted the key monitoring investments for the trawl fishery included fishery independent trawl surveys for scallops and eastern king prawn recruitment, which also looked at juvenile snapper and blue swimmer crabs. The survey at the end of 2017 shows that eastern king prawn recruitment was maintained and similar catch rates could be expected for the 2017/18 fishing season. The working group noted survey designs are being reviewed, and felt positively about new technologies being used to improve efficiency. Some members felt that the monitoring of by-catch and by-product, such as squid and cuttlefish, would prove beneficial for ongoing management of the fishery and should be considered.

Fisheries Queensland provided information on the additional investment in social and economic monitoring under the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy. Working group members noted that a workshop with experts had been held to identify social and economic indicators and the requirements to roll-out a successful monitoring program. Fisheries Queensland will be engaging working group members and stakeholder’s out-of-session for their input when identifying priority indicators. The working group suggested collection of social and economic information should focus on sector–wide data and indicators and not individual business data as such. It was considered essential that Fisheries Queensland make clear how collection and use of these data could benefit the sector throughout the engagement process.

Working group members were provided an update on the status of the vessel tracking trial. Members noted the release of the vessel tracking policy and guidelines and discussed feedback received from stakeholders as part of public consultation. Key concerns were to do with costs, privacy and malfunction of tracking devices. Fisheries Queensland advised they are engaging external consultants to conduct an audit of the safeguarding of fishers’ private location data to ensure appropriate checks and balances are in place and to identify any further improvements. It was also raised that older tracking devices on some trawl vessels may be approaching the end of their lifetime and require updating. The costs and implications associated with this will be discussed further at future working group meetings with the opportunity for commercial fishers to raise their concerns and provide advice. Fisheries Queensland is drafting an update to existing VMS users on the possible changes to existing satellite services and the timelines around these.

The working group discussed a draft discussion paper and provided feedback. They recommended some layout and content changes to make the paper easier to read and to make the management options clear to understand  The major concern of working group members was in ensuring equity and fairness across fishing businesses, with particular concern for the impacts that the management options may have on small-scale fishing businesses. The Working Group agreed that a major driver of any change to existing management should be to ensure that adequate tools are available to prevent adverse impacts from activation of potential fishing effort that is currently not being used. Some industry members again raised buybacks as a fairer method of reducing latent effort however the working group was advised that no funding is available for further buybacks.

Working group members acknowledged the draft management regions and the management options to be consulted on in the discussion paper. A large amount of feedback was provided and a number of issues were raised which Fisheries Queensland will amend prior to the release of the discussion paper. It was noted that no decisions have been made and that the discussion paper is simply the basis for the initial round of engagement. Feedback from consultation on the discussion paper will be presented to the working group to provide advice on a preferred management option or alternative and develop a draft implementation plan, including allocation methods where relevant, for review by the Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel in July 2018.

The working group noted that commercial sector allocation is required if the allocated effort unit option is implemented in the fishery. The working group considered a number of allocation method options to be included into the discussion paper, including used units being allocated based on their history and inactive units being spread across the fishery in a number of ways (e.g. equally across the regions; across the regions based on fleet averages). Principles of consistency, fairness, equity and increased benefits were generally supported.

A recent assessment found scallop stocks had fallen to 6 percent biomass. Working group members were asked to provide a recommendation on management action to support the rebuilding of the scallop stock. Fisheries Queensland presented results from the 2017 fishery independent scallop survey (sampling in October 2017) and scallop logbook catches from 1990-2018 for the working group’s consideration. Survey results indicated very low abundance of 0+ and 1+ scallop densities (compared to previous survey years), and concluded its likely biomass remains very low. Working group members provided information based on their own experiences fishing for scallops during 2017-2018 with anecdotal reports of good recruitment throughout the fishery and improved catch rates. Some of the commercial fishers felt that there had been improvements in the stock levels based on catches experienced.

Members noted that standardised commercial catch rates (including data to April 2017) had improved marginally but still remained very low. More recent logbook data (incomplete but including January 2018) showed an increase in the total scallop catch and catch rates so far in 2018. However, the working group also noted that while some areas sampled had very high catches of scallops the survey results were poor compared to previous years. The high catch survey areas were supported by similar results in the commercial logbook data with an area off Fraser Island producing over 60% of the catch during November 2017. The working group also noted that an updated formal stock assessment for scallops would be produced in 2018. This assessment will provide an updated biomass estimate for the stock. The working group acknowledged that without an updated stock assessment making management decisions was not easy.

No members were of the opinion that the rebuilding has been sufficient to warrant no further management action. However, the working group was split on how to proceed.  Some members felt that the most effective course of action could not be decided until all logbook data was returned, as they suspect catch rates have improved in more recent months, and that it was difficult to discuss management changes without this information. However, they acknowledged low biomass means fishing may have an increased risk on the stock.

Some members supported the closure of the fishery as soon as possible until the biomass has rebuilt well above an overfished level. These members pointed to evidence indicating that it is unlikely the stock has rebuilt sufficiently to warrant continued fishing and to do so is jeopardising the fishery’s future, including jobs, and is not supported by the objectives of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy or considerations of environmental sustainability. Other members felt this option would not be supported by the wider commercial sector.  Industry members also suggested that the benefits to the stock of the winter closure will take a year to be realised. Any improvement in recruitment from the 2017 spring won’t be seen in surveys or in the fishery until 2018/19 summer fishing season. Due to the improved catches in 2017/2018 and the potential social and local community impacts through job losses in the wider fishing industry some working group members felt extending the closure until December or January was preferable. There was no clear preference for what management change should be implemented for the scallop fishery. It was noted that these views discussed at the working group along with the current data (existing stock assessment and recent survey and logbook data) should be considered by the Expert Panel to provide advice on urgently.

The next working group meeting is scheduled for late June – early July 2018 to draft an implementation plan for the preferred management option. Fisheries Queensland will be seeking the views of all stakeholders through face-to-face consultation, expected to take place throughout April-June 2018.

The Trawl Working Group members are: Fisheries Queensland (Chair – Scott Spencer), commercial fishing (Richard Taylor, Jim Newman, Neil Mogensen, Barry Ehrke, Steve Murphy, Nick Schulz, Glen Duggan, Scott McLay, Bill Marsh and Kev Adams), WWF Australia (Jim Higgs), recreational fishing (David Bateman) and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Rachel Pears).