Central Trawl Harvest Strategy Workshop 19 October 2021

A workshop for the Central Trawl Regional Harvest Strategy was held online 19 October 2021. The main purpose of the meeting was to note the results from the tiger prawn stock assessment and discuss the harvest strategy implementation along with other management and reporting changes that commenced 1 September 2021.

Fisheries Queensland advised the harvest strategy has been approved for the upcoming fishing season commencing on 1 March 2022. The effort cap set in the harvest strategy (500, 711 EU) will be used to monitor effort unit usage in the Central trawl region in 2022. Over the next 12 months additional work will include the completion of a red spot king prawn stock assessment, ongoing Moreton Bay bug research and the development of further harvest strategy options for the central trawl region.

Fisheries Queensland presented the tiger prawn stock assessment (2020), and it was noted the model output recommended a reduction in effort on tiger prawns of over fifty percent. Industry members commented the central trawl fishery is a multi-species fishery and a stock assessment for tiger prawns cannot be used to set the effort cap. Industry members expressed serious concern that the reduction in the cap will have significant impacts on their businesses and will also have flow on effects to other industries, and cause effort shift to other regions. Industry members asked why the northern and central regions had significantly different model outputs from the stock assessment. It was highlighted by Fisheries Queensland the central region has been operating at above average recruitment for the past few years, but the stock model assumes average recruitment which, coupled with the fishery being below 60% biomass the model recommends a reduction of effort for the fishery.

Fisheries Queensland indicated that additional work will be completed to create data summaries to look at multi-species catch per unit effort, review concerns raised by the members regarding the stock assessment outputs and consider additional environmental factors including wind, rainfall, reports by AIMS on heavy metal contamination or other reputable data sources provided by industry. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and conservation members commented we need model trajectories and management that align with achieving the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy (the Strategy) targets by 2027. Industry requested an explanation and breakdown as to how the effort cap (500 711 EU) was set in the current harvest strategy. Fisheries Queensland was questioned as to how the 2015 tiger prawn stock assessment output was used to set this amount of effort across the region and what proportion of this effort was apportioned to tiger prawns. Fisheries Queensland explained that the tiger prawn maximum sustainable yield harvest estimate and its proportion of current harvest was used to convert all effort units used region into the proposed Central Trawl region effort cap. By using all effort units used as the conversion value in the region this caters for the multi species nature of the fishery where effort was used for other species besides tiger prawns.

Industry asked why scallop became no take in the central trawl region and why industry was not consulted about the change. Fisheries Queensland advised the scallop closure was due the uncertainty of the recruitment of scallops into the southern inshore trawl region and assist in maintaining the wildlife trade operation (WTO) for the east coast otter trawl fishery. GBRMPA added that the assessed scallop stock is below the national standard and the Strategy limit reference point of 20% biomass, to close a fishery. Industry asked when the scallop stock would be reopened in the central region. Fisheries Queensland advised the stock would reopen when the biomass reaches 30%. The workshop was also advised the next stock assessment will include scallop data from all regions.

Future management decisions for the central trawl region were discussed, all members agreed it was important to ensure sustainability of fisheries resources in the region. The option to split the region into sub-regions with effort caps for each target species was discussed. Industry members recommended a preference towards waiting for further advice about elements of the tiger prawn stock assessment before considering future management changes. Industry members are seeking a two-year moratorium on future management changes to seek independent review of the tiger prawn stock assessment. Additionally, industry commented the regions need time to settle prior to further changes to the harvest strategy. The conservation member expressed concerns about potential effort shift to red spot king prawns and potential impacts on protected species, particularly in the absence of a protected species management strategy or without an updated Environmental Risk Assessment for the trawl fishery.

The workshop discussed the potential for a temporary inshore strip closure to protect small prawn. Industry commented given the concerns with the stock assessment mentioned above, it would be unlikely to get support from industry for a strip closure at this time.

The workshop was provided an update on the commercial fishing reporting requirements that commenced on 1 September 2021. Industry members noted the requirement for CDRs is currently on hold while Fisheries Queensland looks at options. Industry commented the roll out for the new logbooks was poor and they requested training via port-based meetings to assist them to use the new logbook and new commercial fishing app. Fishers were advised the commercial fishing app had not yet been completed and that further security testing is required, however Fisheries Queensland remains committed to delivering the app to assist with reporting requirements. Fishers indicated that the logbook needed further input and refinement especially in relation to prawn grading and regionalised needs.

In general business Fisheries Queensland provided feedback on 13 additional agenda items provided by industry prior to the meeting, with issues raised including closing the scallop fishery in the central region, impacts of the reforms to the market supply of seafood, buffer zones around regional boundaries, illegal artificial reefs causing significant safety risks at sea, regional trading of effort units has significantly slowed due to people ‘drought proofing’ their businesses, and the lack of benefit from the reforms to industry. All industry members commented a government funded buyback of trawl licences is required to support implementation of the reforms. Protocols about meetings and meeting timeframes was discussed.

Fisheries Queensland provided advice about the business rules deducting effort units at regional boundaries. Effort units will be deducted in the region where the most polls are recorded (75%).

A follow-up online meeting will be scheduled by early 2022 to discuss the stock assessment and actions arising from the workshop.