Central Region Harvest Strategy Workshop 31 January - 1 February 2019

Given the significant weather event that occurred in Townsville, the workshop was interrupted on the final day due to flood evacuations and the agenda was cut short by an hour. This created some time pressures in order to complete all agenda items.

A workshop was held in Townsville on 31 Jan – 1 Feb to discuss the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy, the Queensland Government’s Direction Paper on Fishery Reforms and draft a harvest strategy for the Central Trawl Region.

The workshop noted the proposed management changes for the East Coast Trawl Fishery, outlined in the Directions Paper, including splitting the fishery up into five management regions, allocating effort units to each region, establishing an effort cap for each region and developing harvest strategies.

There were mixed views on the proposed regional boundaries, with participants suggesting a number of options for moving the boundary between northern and central regions (currently at 18° - Dunk Island) to better allow flexibility, and reflect current fishing practices. The workshop suggested additional feedback from central and northern fleets be sought on the following options:

  • Boundary at 22° (combined northern-central region): Reflecting the common stock, shallow water, quad-gear fishing area. View that this is the current management region which is working well.
  • Boundary at 16° (Cape Tribulation): Would allow more ground for the central region. Exists at an existing green zone which separates the two fishing areas.
  • Boundary at Grafton: Still south of Cairns and allows two regions to exist for different management rules. A sensible geographic split between the ports.

Participants noted that if north of 22° was managed as a single region, it may make individual rules between areas within this region more difficult to implement. Fisheries Queensland will seek the views of all commercial stakeholders on where the boundary between the northern and central regions (if any) should be set.

Participants discussed a number of fishing rules that had been identified for change. The allocation of effort units to the regions was not supported by the majority of workshop participants, who were more comfortable with harvest strategy rules being set for each region but allowing fishers to freely move between them with the a single pool of effort units. If effort units are to be allocated to regions (as proposed by the Directions Paper), other methods of allocation of unused effort units were put forward for discussion, with particular emphasis on fishers being able to nominate where unused effort units could be allocated. Fisheries Queensland advised that consultation on allocation methods to seek the views of all commercial stakeholders is expected for April-May.

There was general support for removing horsepower restrictions. However there were mixed views on repealing the 70 hull unit limit in this region. The Workshop considered the introduction of a 2-for-1 boat replacement policy and advised it requires further review to ensure it does not prohibit upgrades of vessels currently in the fishery. The consequences of this on investment and people who lease T1s also needs to be considered further.

Before discussing the Central Trawl Regional Harvest Strategy options, the workshop was provided an overview of how harvest strategies would be implemented in Queensland. The workshop noted and agreed with Expert Panel advice that the harvest strategy should start simple and closely aligned to current operations to enable fishers to adjust to the new requirements. Participants noted that the harvest strategy can be adjusted as more up-to-date and improved information is available.

One of the key components of a harvest strategy is to set an effort cap for the region. The Sustainable Fisheries Strategy requires it to be at least Maximum Sustainable Yield by 2020 and then moving to Maximum Economic Yield by 2027. Fisheries Queensland presented historical effort unit usage information for the central region (346,342 for 2017 and 298,227 for 2018) and estimates that MSY for 2020 is approximately 500,711 and MEY for 2020 is approximately 400,905. Participants noted that the Strategy requires that the effort cap should be set at least MSY at this point in time.

For the initial central region harvest strategy, the workshop discussed the following:

  • Set the effort cap based on the MSY estimate (500 711 effort units)
  • Retain existing 1 March opening & 15 December closure
  • Establish a trigger to notify fleet once 80% of effort cap is reached, with no immediate management action to slow-down effort
  • Review the effort cap using an assessment at least every three years with the option to bring forward an assessment if effort in the region increases substantially
  • Monitor secondary target species to ensure catches are within historical range (looking to review where there are substantial increases)
  • Monitor by-product species to ensure catches are within historical range (looking to review where there are substantial increases)

Some research priorities were identified including logbooks with grading information and stock assessment for bugs.

Participants reiterated a preference for a buyback of unused effort units to enhance ecological, economic and social sustainability of the trawl fishery particularly given current effort levels in this region are sustainable. Fisheries Queensland advised that under the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy no funding has been provided for buybacks.

The workshop noted that a first draft of a harvest strategy for the Central Trawl Region and data modelling would be provided to workshop participants out of session for further feedback.  The workshop also noted that the recommendations and feedback would be provided to the Trawl Working Group, along with the other regional trawl workshops as part of the implementation of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy.  Individual fishers will have the opportunity to provide feedback on the draft harvest strategy later in 2019 as part of the consultation process. At a minimum, there will be an annual Central Trawl Region meeting to discuss fishery performance and improvements to the harvest strategy in the longer term.

Workshop Participants: Fisheries Queensland (Chair, Kimberly Foster), Danny Bell, Greg Brooking, Mark Millward, Bill Williams, Neil Mogensen, Jim Armitage, Ed Morrison, Jim Saverin, Noel Cattel, David Leotta, Jim Higgs (conservation sector), Randell Owens (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority).