Northern Region Harvest Strategy Workshop 24-25 January 2019

A workshop was held in Cairns on 24-25 January 2019 to discuss the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy, the Queensland Government’s Direction Paper on Fishery Reforms and draft a harvest strategy for the Northern 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.

A number of fishing rules that have been identified for change were discussed.  The workshop was generally supportive of removing the 70 Hull Unit Limit and Horsepower Restrictions.  The workshop noted that to support these changes the existing Effort Unit Conversion Factor would be reviewed and updated. There were mixed views on a 2-for-1 boat replacement policy. Some fishers felt this would minimise the risk of increasing effort in the fishery, while others felt a boat replacement policy prohibited moving to safer and more efficient vessels, would be difficult to operationalise if T1’s are leased and under the new AMSA requirements and would also restrict positive investment in the fishery. The workshop suggested:

  • Reviewing the 2 for 1 boat replacement proposal
  • Considering a review of permitted trawl species
  • Consider re-establishing preferred access (sitting out for a specified closure period before fishing in an area)
  • Consider minimum effort unit holdings in a region to be able to fish (in lieu of preferred access)

Before discussing the Northern Trawl Regional Harvest Strategy options, the workshop was provided an overview on how harvest strategies would be implemented in Queensland.  The workshop agreed that the harvest strategy should start simple and as closely aligned to current operations as possible to enable fishers to adjust to the new requirements.  The workshop agreed that over time the harvest strategy should be able to be adjusted as more up to date and improved information is available.

One of the key components 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 northern region (289,950 for 2017 and 244,430 for 2018) and estimates that MSY for 2020 is approximately 418,657 and MEY for 2020 is approximately 345,301 for the workshop to consider. Attendees noted the Expert Panel advice was to set the effort cap at current effort levels, to begin working towards MEY by 2027. However, the workshop were concerned about a race to fish and early season closures if the effort cap was reached.

Overall, the workshop aimed to maintain current fishing effort levels and to work to address the associated risk of unused effort in the region to meet fishery objectives. Current fishing levels are estimated to be at or below MEY estimates, so would meet the 2027 target for the region. The workshop recommended, for the Northern Trawl Region, the initial harvest strategy should:

  • Set the Effort Cap based on the MSY estimate
  • Retain the existing 1 March opening & 15 December closure
  • Establish a trigger to notify fishers once 80% of the Effort Cap is used
  • Review the Effort Cap using an assessment at least every three years with the option to bring forward an assessment if effort in this region increases substantially
  • Monitor secondary species based on catch range over 10 years
  • Monitor by-product based on proportion of catch over 10 years

To support the harvest strategy the workshop recommended that logbooks be revised to include grade information, is validated and the fishery should move to electronic reporting as soon as practical.  Longer term the workshop indicated they were interested at looking at opening/closing around lunar phases, monitoring and developing strategies to reduce the number of unused effort units in the region, improving stewardship for the region and exploring third party accreditation.

To support the harvest strategy and management of the Northern Trawl Region, the workshop identified the following monitoring and research priorities:

  • Stock assessment to support the harvest strategy is the highest priority.
  • Bycatch Reduction Device & Turtle Excluder Device Research & Development
  • Analysis of grade information once available
  • Stock assessment for bugs (noting there are two different species)

Some members felt additional resourcing was required to achieve these priorities in an appropriate timeframe.

Workshop attendees reiterated Industry’s preference for a buyback of unused effort units to enhance ecological, economic and social sustainability of the trawl fishery. 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 Northern 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 Northern Trawl Region meeting to discuss fishery performance and improvements to the harvest strategy in the longer term.

Workshop Participants: Fisheries Queensland (Chair, Kimberly Foster), David Leotta, Richard Taylor, Roger Taylor, Neil Mogensen, Glen Duggan, Gary Wicks, Jim Newman, Paul Newman, Barry Ehrke, Steve Rose, Don Triplett, Jim Higgs (Conservation Sector), David McAtamney, Russell Kilfoy, Ben Heath, Ed Morrison and Rachel Pears (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority)