Communique 19-20 October 2022

The East Coast Trawl Fishery Working Group was held on 19 and 20 October 2022 in Brisbane.

Day 1

Industry reported that market demand for seafood is high, which has supported industry recovery following COVID-19 disruptions. The price of fuel remains a major concern for industry. The Working Group noted the success of the ‘Taste the Wild’ campaign by the Australian Council of Prawn Fisheries and supported further public awareness campaigns.

Members requested that Fisheries Queensland send out the agenda and papers two weeks from the meeting, to allow sufficient time for members to consult with stakeholders.

Fisheries Queensland congratulated industry members on contracting independent scientific expertise to value-add to the stock assessment process. The Working Group expressed support for greater co-management in the future.

Fisheries Queensland presented on management changes made following a discussion paper released for consultation in July 2022. Members expressed the need for a more flexible and responsive regulatory change process.

Members noted their concerns that some of the recommendations by the harvest strategy workshops were not weighted appropriately against responses received by stakeholders from the consultation. Members noted that the small number of responses (59 submissions) to the discussion paper may not reflect the views of the working group or the industry in general. Members requested that the role of the harvest strategy workshop groups and the Trawl Working Group is clarified, and that the process of consultation with the Working Group and stakeholders be reviewed and enhanced.

Fisheries Queensland noted that changes supported by consultation in July 2022 were not in place for 20 September 2022, and suggested that any recommended changes from the working group moving forward be given a 12 month timeframe for consultation and implementation. Members noted that this would not allow for responsive and timely decision-making to address issues that may arise in the fishery. Some members raised concerns regarding potential timing of harvest strategy meetings in 2023 and recommended that meetings dates are timed to logbook data availability.

The Working Group discussed a proposal for management of scallops for when the population would hit 30% unfished biomass. Industry members also expressed concerns that the scallop survey did not measure scallop abundance in the right areas and at the right times.

The group discussed a proposal from the harvest strategy workshop to manage scallop stocks when 30% biomass is reached. The Working Group noted that 30% is only the initial target for a rebuilding strategy, and 60% or MEY is the final objective to rebuild the stock. Fisheries Queensland agreed to host a separate workshop with interested stakeholders to discuss future monitoring, assessment and management of the scallop fishery. 

Fisheries Queensland presented on the Ecological Risk Assessment being conducted pursuant to condition 8 of the Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) approval for the fishery.

The Working Group discussed WTO conditions for the fishery. Members noted that condition 6 was unclear and Fisheries Queensland noted they will clarify their obligation under the condition. Fisheries Queensland agreed to update the Working Group on discussions with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to develop a review for the effort cap for the World Heritage Area.

The Working Group also discussed the requirement for a statistically robust data validation regime, including issues around use of cameras on boats, percentage coverage, and the use of observers for the whole fishery. Fisheries Queensland noted that they will develop a policy around personal and data privacy to support the data validation regime. Fisheries Queensland encourages any interested trawl operators to come forward to participate in a voluntary, Fisheries Queensland funded trial of cameras on boats and thanked the Working Group members for their interest. Several industry members on the working group offered to participate in the field trial as soon as it is ready to commence.

The Working Group accepted an offer by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) to facilitate a webinar with fishers with experience operating on-board cameras in the Gulf of Maine.

The Working Group discussed the Great Sandy Marine Park Zoning Plan Review. Fisheries Queensland recommended that industry make a submission to the Department of Environment and Science to address the impact on trawl fishing by the proposed changes to the zoning in the marine park.

There was a discussion around reducing and consolidating effort in the fishery. Working Group members tabled the following options for further discussion:

  • a 2 for 1 boat replacement policy
  • a joint industry and government-funded buyback
  • preferred access arrangements
  • implementation of an effort unit multiplier (‘conversion factor’)
  • minimum effort holdings to participate in the fishery
  • a mechanism to consolidate small effort holdings and waive fees for transfers of less than 1000 effort units.

Fisheries Queensland are seeking feedback from industry for a boat replacement policy.

Day 2

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on action items from the 2021 Working Group. The Working Group also discussed developing a handbook for each region including closure areas, timing and net sizes.

The Working Group was joined by James Cook University PhD candidate Blanche d’Anastasi as part of a workshop to develop a Protected Species Management Strategy. The Working Group discussed sea snake biology distribution and conservation status, and noted risks posed by fishing and other impacts. The group was advised on sea snake handling, safe release and safety around bites from sea snakes. Ms d’Anastasi agreed to organise an online training session for handling and bite procedure, and the group agreed on the importance of getting proper snake bite kits on trawl boats. The Working Group noted concerns about data regarding trawl interactions with sea snakes and sawfish, and noted the need to improve reporting and obtain accurate data. The group also discussed options to reduce bycatch and various BRD and research from other jurisdictions and fisheries.

The Working Group discussed the draft Protected Species Management Strategy framework. Members recommended expanding the Protected Species Management Strategy to encompass a broader risk mitigation strategy. Fisheries Queensland noted that a draft strategy will be presented to regional harvest strategy workshops in 2023.

The group noted the difficulties around getting crew members to report interactions and discussed ways to incentivise reporting. It was noted that the fishery’s WTO accreditation permits interactions with protected species under the condition that these interactions are reported. Fisheries Queensland noted that any video footage from data validation will be subject to Queensland’s information privacy laws.

Industry members recommended that Fisheries Queensland pursue a government and industry-funded buyback scheme to remove latent effort, improve economic performance and bolster ecological resilience. Industry members agreed to write to the Minister responsible for fisheries on this matter.

The Working Group and FRDC agreed on the following research and development priorities:

  • a joint project to understand sea snake and sawfish population and conservation status, and trial gear modifications for further bycatch reduction, including trialling BRDs which have been effective in the Northern Prawn fishery
  • trialling different gear and configurations, including different TED bar spacings and use of lights and droppers
  • investigating environmental factors on scallop recruitment
  • building industry capacity and understanding of the harvest strategy process as an extension priority.

FRDC agreed to organise and facilitate regional workshops to deliver information and training to industry in collaboration with the Working Group.

Fisheries Queensland will advise the group on suitable dates for the next meeting.

The meeting closed at 3:20pm.