Communique 27-28 April 2021

The Trawl Working Group met on 27-28 April 2021 in Brisbane. This is the first meeting of the newly appointed working group. Former members were thanked for their contribution and new members were welcomed. The purpose of the working group meeting was to make a recommendation on the future management of the scallop fishery and note harvest strategy development and other management and reporting changes, which must in place by 1 September 2021. This is in line with the Queensland Government’s announced fisheries reforms.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the implementation of the Queensland Sustainable Fisheries Strategy: 2017-2027 more broadly, and the working group noted the key dates for allocation (22 April for allocation of existing effort units, and 16 July for nominating unused effort units).

The working group was updated on the status of the wildlife trade operation accreditation for the east coast trawl fishery, which will expire in August 2021, noting a submission for re accreditation is currently being drafted.  Fisheries Queensland will advise industry when the submission is out for public consultation and encourages industry to make submissions directly to the Commonwealth Government consultation process. Any draft conditions, in agreement with the Commonwealth, will be put forward to the working group once available. Industry suggested it may be better for each region to have their own accreditation, particularly given the concern around the biomass of scallops. Fisheries Queensland advised that a request had been made to delay the reassessment in order to consider the fishery on a regional basis.  However, this was not approved by the Commonwealth Government.

Members were invited to provide a general update from their region or sector they represent. Some commercial industry members commented how the lack of motherships in the Northern trawl region is impacting businesses. Other members commented on the negative impacts of closing the scallop fishery, if that is decided. The conservation sector noted that the trawl fisheries remain a priority for improving sustainability and impacts on non-target species (bycatch, protected species) and reiterated their concerns for the scallop stocks and the need for the proposed management action. An issue that was raised by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), but not discussed in detail, is the close monitoring of trawl effort levels moving forward, to ensure effort levels do not increase significantly above recent levels associated with the ecological risk assessments. This risk needs to be considered in the context of new regional management arrangements and effort shift following any scallop management action.

Fisheries Queensland presented the revised scallop assessment (2020) and it was noted there was a reduction in the biomass estimate from 17% in 2019 to 12% in 2020. This trend was reflected in the 2020 fishing year data that showed commercial harvest declines, reduced commercial catch rates and a significant decline in the abundance of scallops in the 2020 fishery independent survey. Fishing industry members raised concerns about the data underpinning the stock assessment especially around separating bug and scallop effort data and the influence of commercial catch per unit effort data used in the stock assessment model. Fishing industry members also commented that the scallop survey is conducted at the wrong time of year (due to various biological and climatic variables) and therefore provides an inaccurate reflection of the scallop stock on the ground. As a result, Industry do not agree with the biomass estimate.  Noting the concern from industry and the significance of the management decision for 2021, Fisheries Queensland agreed to ask whether these data inputs could be reviewed ahead of a management decision. Members would be advised out of session.

Given Fisheries Queensland’s advice, outlined in the meeting communique from June 2020 flagging a potential fishery closure until the stock recovers to a biomass that supports Maximum Sustainable Yield, Fisheries Queensland presented the option for the 2020-21 management of the scallop fishery. This included a no take scallop closure for three management regions (Southern inshore trawl region, southern offshore trawl region and Swain Reefs/Hydrographers Passage) for up to 13 years or until the stock reaches 40% biomass. This recommendation is a result of the estimated stock biomass being below the sustainable fishery strategy limit reference point of 20%, which is required to support viable recruitment into fisheries. Industry wanted to know why the proposal close all scallop take given some areas are not part of the surveys and stock assessment.  Fisheries Queensland advised that closures extending to both the southern offshore region and Hydrographers Passage were due to the uncertainty around recruitment dynamics of scallops and the possibility for stock in these areas to be important to contribute to rebuilding the existing biomass

Industry did not support this option given their belief that there is uncertainty with the data. Industry raised ongoing concerns about the way scallop effort is measured, the closure of the Scallop Replenishment Areas (SRA) not working and that a different approach is needed.  Members raised serious concerns about the impact of this option to market access; effort shift into other trawl regions where fishers hold relevant effort units; socio economic concerns such as unemployment, particularly in the processing sector of up to 60%; and a significant reduction in return on investment for those fishing businesses that would normally rely on access to scallops. Discard mortality for scallops and changed risks associated with effort shift on the trawl footprint, including target species, bycatch and protected species interactions, are also considerations.

Given Industry is not confident in the biomass estimate, they recommended an alternative option which would enable continued access. Other longer term options could be established, including a new scallop fishing symbol (which may be based on historical access) to limit the number of boats accessing the stock, with a revised independent survey and opening triggers. The Industry members recommended for the Southern Inshore trawl region:

  • Southern Inshore region closed to all fishing from midday 1 August to midday 5 January (excluding the 24hr prawning area).
  • Conduct a pre-season survey (prior to 5 January) to determine if a pre-determined abundance trigger is reached before scallop take can commence, noting Industry would likely need to fund the additional survey proposed.
  • If the abundance trigger is reached, allow the take of scallops between midday 5 January and midday 1 May with a scallop effort unit cap to be decided based on biomass targets. If the cap is reached, scallop will become no-take (or the season will expire, whichever comes first).
  • If the pre-season survey trigger is not reached, the take of scallops would not be allowed.
  • Other species (excluding scallops) will be open to fishing from midday 5 January to midday 1 August, subject to regional effort cap.

Part of alternate options discussed was to reopen the SRA as industry commented they are not working or set aside alternate areas as possible SRAs. If these alternatives are not achievable, another option proposed was for east Fraser Island (Southern Offshore trawl region) and Hydrographers Passage scallop stocks to remain open.

The GBRMPA and conservation members acknowledged the economic and social impact in closing the fishery. They reiterated the poor state of scallop stocks meant that urgent responsible management action is needed to address the depleted nature of the stock and support rebuilding. They recognised the stock assessment has been previously independently reviewed and has been used in subsequent management decisions and provides the best available information on the status of the scallop stocks in the southern inshore region. Conservation and GBRMPA expressed concern that the industry proposal may not recover the scallop stock within the appropriate time frame, and they supported a closure of the stock. The GBRMPA member also recommended that a scallop rebuilding strategy be put in place, and minimising bycatch of scallops and flow-on transfer of effort.

The working group discussed that there may be a number of other factors that may impact the scallop stock (e.g. water temperature, dredging). Industry members believe non industry members underestimate the ability of scallop stocks to recover quickly.

Recognising the significance of the scallop management decision, Fisheries Queensland advised communiques from the Trawl Working Group, Southern Inshore and Southern Offshore Harvest Strategy Workshops along with feedback from all T1/T2 fishers and targeted stakeholder consultation, would be provided to Government for consideration when making the final decision.  Fisheries Queensland will be sending a letter seeking the fishing industry’s feedback views on the proposed management action in May/June 2021 after the meeting communiques are published. Targeted consultation to other groups would also be considered at this time. Working group members asked that Fisheries Queensland provide information about the steps required to enable the Queensland Government to make a decision on scallop management.

The members noted an update on the harvest strategy consultation, and the final draft trawl harvest strategies that are being submitted for approval, in accordance with the Fisheries Act 1994.  Members discussed that pending a decision on the management of scallops, the Southern Inshore Trawl Region effort cap needs reviewing to check it remains relevant for targeting other species (e.g. Moreton Bay Bugs) without creating new sustainability issues for the region.  The members noted that new stock assessments on Eastern King Prawn and Tiger Prawn would be presented at the regional harvest strategy workshops and would inform the setting of effort caps under the harvest strategy and transitioning to MEY targets.

The working group noted the forward schedule of harvest strategy workshops to be held in each region.  Members agreed to discuss out of session the need for a dedicated online scallop meeting following the Southern Inshore and Southern Offshore harvest strategy workshops.  Noting the priority to address identified ecological risks, Fisheries Queensland advised it would look into options for either a workshop or regional sessions later in 2021 about ecological risk assessment and protected species management strategies. The working group also requested items on co-management and ecological risk assessment mitigation to be on the next agenda.

Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol provided an update on compliance within the fishery. Generally, compliance in the regions is good. The working group noted all sectors have had several reported non-compliance issues around closure areas, but these are picked up quickly by QBFP through automated notifications and follow up investigations.

Fisheries Queensland provided a presentation on the methodology and outcomes from the BDO Social and economic report for the trawl fishery. The working group noted the social and economic dashboard that is available on the department’s website as an important tool for businesses to view performance of the fishery.

The working group was reminded of the importance of participation in the survey going forward to improve the accuracy of the data. The working group requested that BDO and Fisheries Queensland look at ways to make participating and submitting data easier for fishers. Fisheries Queensland commented the next survey will help measure the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic for the 2020 fishing season.

The working group was provided an update on the new standardised commercial fishing reporting requirements that will commence on 1 September 2021, which includes the following reporting requirements:

  • Pre-trip notice (including amended and limited pre-trip notices)
  • Transhipment notices
  • Emergency notices
  • Catch disposal records
  • Logbooks (including Threatened, Endangered and Protected (TEP) Animal Logbook)

Fishing industry members did not support the new general reporting requirements in relation to pre-trip reporting and catch disposal records. They felt that Fisheries Queensland has not justified how pre trip reporting would provide any benefit to the management of the fishery or aid compliance activities. They also noted that the proposal for catch disposal records did not provide a platform for data validation because it aimed to collect the data before an alternate source of data was available (ie weigh-in dockets or sales dockets). Industry members also said these measures also fail to recognise that many trawlers are dynamic operations that may include holding catch between trips, partial transhipment (motherships) and skipper/crew changes mid-trip. Industry members commented there was no consultation about the reporting changes and they are more suitable for the line fishery and other quota managed fisheries. Fisheries Queensland stated the new reporting will help standardise reporting across all our fisheries, facilitate compliance operations, and validation of commercial catch data.  Fisheries Queensland to arrange engagement and instruction for the trawl industry regarding these changes and look at issues raised re their practical application by the industry members.

In considering the introduction of the TEP animal logbook, the conservation and GBRMPA member noted their concern that no take species that are not listed as TEP animals are not required to be reported in any logbook. Fisheries Queensland noted this will need to be discussed internally and will be added for discussion at the next working group meeting.

The working group noted a presentation and update on the new commercial fishing smartphone application (the app). The app will cover a range of fisheries, including the trawl fishery, and is designed to encompass the new reporting requirements coming into effect from 1 September 2021 (including the pre-trip notice, logbooks and catch disposal records). The app also provides functionality to check whether vessel tracking units are operating as well as manual reporting functionality if a unit fails at sea. The working group noted the app will evolve over time with additional fisheries and enhanced features added. Fisheries Queensland outlined that engagement with industry through development of the app is a big focus and is seeking working group input on an engagement strategy. Digital literacy was raised as a broader issue when introducing new technology and Fisheries Queensland will provide further information on how fishers can seek help in improving digital literacy. The conservation member stressed the importance of future proofing the application, for example potential inclusion of discard reporting in future. The working group endorsed the introduction of an electronic reporting tool via the commercial fishing app.

The working group were asked to raise any concerns during the general business discussion. The M2 working representative tabled to the chair correspondence regarding concerns with the Moreton Bay Effort Unit allocation discussion and the perceived bias towards M1 fishers in Moreton Bay.  This will be addressed via departmental correspondence and the technical components of the submission and response provided to the Expert Panel for comment. A working group member tabled a submission to the Chair from a Tin Can Bay commercial fisher, which the department reviewed and noted it has previously been received.

The meeting concluded at 3:30pm.