Central and Northern Combined Trawl Harvest Strategy Workshop 16-17 May 2022

A combined workshop for the Northern and Central Trawl Regional Harvest Strategies groups (the group) was held in Cairns on 16 and 17 May 2022. The main purpose of the meeting was to update members with progress on recent stock assessment discussions, implementation of Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) conditions, discuss the 2023 effort caps for each of the regions and to discuss options for future management ideas for the respective regions including managing excess effort risks across all regions in the fishery. Some group members were delayed due to airport closures.

Industry members expressed concerns regarding the provision of agendas in a timely manner to allow effective engagement with their groups. Members also expressed concerns regarding data used in the stock assessments. Fisheries Queensland (FQ) will work to meet timeframes under the Terms of Reference.

Stock Assessments

FQ provided an update on stock assessments currently underway, noting an updated tiger prawn assessment, new red spot king prawn assessment and a new Moreton Bay bug assessment are likely to be available online in early 2023. These assessments will be used to set the 2024 effort caps in the northern and central trawl regions. The conservation member questioned the status of the tiger prawn assessment and FQ advised that this was an update using revised and updated data to provide a more accurate and transparent process.

FQ also presented on updates to the stock assessment project team Terms of Reference to facilitate industry representation on the project team. Industry members raised questions regarding the varied targeting behaviour of fishers and stocks in unfished areas, and how that influenced the outcomes for biomass estimates. Group and FQ agreed that unfished areas would be included in the data used for future assessments. Group members also questioned why endeavour prawns were not included in stock assessments, and requested that an endeavour prawn assessment be completed as a priority.

WTO Conditions

Group members discussed the implementation of WTO conditions. Industry questioned the decision to close the Central region to the take of scallop and argued that the scallop population in the Townsville did not contribute to scallop recruitment in the historical scallop fishery. Scallops were made no take in the Central region as the stock is within the World Heritage area and FQ advised this was made to maintain the export approval for the East Coast trawl fishery under the WTO. Industry members noted that there was no stock assessment for the Central region prior to the closure. FQ agreed to investigate whether any data was available regarding whether the Central scallop population contributes to stock recruitment in other regions.

The group also noted and discussed:

  • an updated Ecological Risk Assessment for the fishery due in 2023.
  • a review of the World Heritage Area effort cap by GRMPA and FQ.
  • the requirement to implement independent data validation in the Queensland East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery by May 2024 through electronic monitoring (cameras on boats), onboard observers or other means.

Industry members noted FQ was to provide a timeline of upcoming events for these management actions, and that group representatives should be involved in these discussions at the objective-setting stage.

Effort Caps for 2023 Fishing Season

The group supported a proposal to apply a 3-year average effort cap for the 2023 fishing season for both regions, using data from 2018, 2019 and 2020 fishing seasons for the Central Region (318,584 EU), and data from 2017, 2018, and 2019 fishing seasons for the Northern Region (250,178 EU), considering a range of differing impacts across the two regions, including effort reduction due to vessel sales, mothership loss, COVID-19 impacts, loss of export markets, and product pricing.

The conservation member noted the 2012 risk assessment (ERA) was conducted when effort in the Central region was lower, and that effort caps above the data used for that ERA may pose a higher risk to SOCI species. The conservation member expressed support conditional on having the updated ERAs prepared and considered in time to set the 2024 effort cap. Industry members also supported having updated ERAs to set the 2024 effort cap. Industry members also noted that fleet dynamics and mitigation strategies have changed since the 2012 risk assessment, and that an increase in effort units may not necessarily cause an increase in risk to SOCI species.

Industry members also expressed their concerns with how fishing power is measured in different regions, as well as the relationship between effort units and boat days. The group noted that future stock assessments will be used to inform effort units and boat days for each region. The group noted that industry representation on the stock assessment project teams will raise concerns regarding the quantification of fishing power.

Latent effort proposals

The group discussed proposals for both regions regarding unused and latent effort in the regions, including:

  • conversion factors
  • quarterly effort caps
  • minimum quota holdings
  • buy-backs from industry and from government

FQ advised that they are seeking legal advice for these options.

The group discussed a government buy-back system or a penalty system (e.g., 2 for 1) for newly built boats who activate T1 symbols or effort units. Most industry members from the Central region agreed that proposed effort caps did not create additional risk from unused effort in that region. Industry members from the Northern region identified concerns that effort caps in that region may create a race to fish before stocks reached maturity. An industry member explained a proposal to divide the 2023 effort cap for the Northern region into three periods to prevent fishing of prawn stocks before they reach the recruitment stage. The group supported FQ looking into the spread of effort held in Central and Northern effort units.

Central Region proposals

FQ presented on a proposal to split the Central region into 3 zones according to key target species. Industry members recommended FQ provide more information to support further conversations around management proposals to deal with 3 stock assessments for target species in the multi-species fishery. An industry member also requested the FQ assess whether it may be considered appropriate to amend regulation to allow the use scallop nets to catch bugs. The group discussed an alternate proposal to allocate effort use based on the 30-metre depth contour.

The conservation member expressed concerns that without sub-regions, multiple stock assessments may lead to higher risk to target and SOCI species and management measures need to be taken to achieve the objectives of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy (SFS).

Group members noted that management of the multi-species fishery may be improved with more efficient communication of data through the QLD eFisher app. Group members also noted that the functionality of the app would need to be improved.

Northern Region proposals

The group discussed a proposal by an industry member to manage effort in the Northern region based on fishing history. Group members advised that further discussions would be useful. The group also discussed dividing the effort cap into 3 monthly segments with 37% of the cap allocated to each of the first two 3-month segments and the remaining 26% allocated to the final 3 months of the season. This idea was to limit overfishing in the early part of the season when prawns may be smaller and limit fishing during spawning later in the season. Industry members raised concerns that prawns spawn throughout the year and this idea may not achieve the protection needed. Industry members felt that with trends in effort it was not likely that the region would see increasing effort.

The group discussed 60% target reference points for Queensland fish stocks, which FQ explained was part of the SFS and a proxy for MEY. Industry members requested an explanation for the 60% target, and the process to adjust this target, be provided.

Project team

Industry members supported the nomination of Dr Rik Buckworth and Gary Wicks for the stock assessment project team.