Northern Trawl Harvest Strategy Workshop 22 October 2021

A workshop for the Northern Trawl Regional Harvest Strategy was held online 22 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 (418 657 EU) will be used to limit effort unit usage in the Northern trawl region in 2022.

Fisheries Queensland presented the tiger prawn stock assessment (2020), and it was noted the model output from the stock assessment recommended an effort cap of 3824 boat days to rebuild the stock to the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy (SFS) target of 60% biomass. This effort level is similar to effort usage in 2019 and would equate to approximately 230 000 EU, noting that this is higher than the 2020 effort usage in the Northern region. Industry members commented they do not believe the accuracy of the historical data (1941 to 1988) used in the harvest reconstruction as part of the stock assessment. Industry believe fishing effort was very small, unverified and possibly even non-existent during this period and the data used in the stock assessment should begin from 1988 with the introduction of commercial fishing logbooks. Fisheries Queensland will review the early data used and its effect on the stock assessment outputs and provide advice back to meeting participants.

Industry members expressed serious concern that a reduction in effort caps will cause significant effort shift into the northern region through the displacement of fishers from the central and southern regions. Industry commented this effort shift will have detrimental impacts on their businesses and will also have flow on effects to other industries including processors, vessel support industries, and tourism/restaurants especially if the fishing season is shortened as a result of reaching effort caps. Industry commented that reduced access to the fishery will drive boats out because they will be no longer have adequate access to the fishery. Fisheries Queensland indicated that additional work to review the concerns raised by the industry members regarding the stock assessment will be undertaken and advice will be provided to meeting participants.

The workshop discussed the overarching objectives of the SFS which require rebuilding the tiger prawn stock to 60% biomass by 2027. It was noted that the stock is currently at 49% biomass in the northern region. Industry members are disputing the assessed biomass level of 49% and believe the biomass is higher than the assessment states. All members agreed it is important to use the best available science at the time to feed into the harvest strategy. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and conservation members commented that the best available science should be used in setting effort caps that are consistent with meeting the 60% biomass target of the SFS by no later than 2027. They also said that effort levels need to be sustainable and low risk for all species including bycatch.

Industry members asked how the tiger prawn and endeavour prawn stocks are separated under the effort cap. Fisheries Queensland advised that the current effort cap is not separated by species and covers effort unit usage for the region. Industry requested consideration of the influence of endeavour prawn catches on the estimates of tiger prawn CPUE and addressing the effects of targeting behaviour on the catch rates of tiger prawns used in the assessment.

Industry asked why scallop became no take in the Central trawl region. Fisheries Queensland advised the scallop closure decision was made due to the uncertainty of the recruitment of scallops into the southern inshore trawl region and to assist in maintaining the wildlife trade operation (WTO) for the east coast otter trawl fishery. Industry members disputed the influence of recruitment of scallops into the southern inshore trawl region and believe the decision was politically motivated and not based on science. Industry requested that a boundary at Hydrographers Passage to allow the take of scallop north of this line should be implemented.

Future management decisions for the Northern trawl region were discussed, and industry members recommended a preference towards waiting for further advice about elements of the tiger prawn stock assessment before considering future management changes. It was highlighted by industry that endeavour prawns and tiger prawns are co-caught and this should be considered in the tiger prawn stock assessment. Industry suggested a separate stock assessment for endeavour prawn may be beneficial to help inform management options for the region.

Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol provided an update on compliance within the fishery. Generally, compliance in the north is good. Industry advised that some operators only allow fully vaccinated people on their vessels and QBFP will need to think about addressing this requirement. Fisheries Queensland advised they had the power to board vessels and that there was no vaccine mandate in place at this time. Fisheries Queensland will seek further advice for members.

The workshop was provided an update on the commercial fishing reporting requirements that commenced on 1 September 2021. Industry members noted the requirement for Catch Disposal Records (CDR) is currently on hold while Fisheries Queensland reviews current requirements and looks at alternatives for data validation. 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 requested training be made available on how to use the commercial fishing app prior to roll out. Fishers commented CDRs and transhipment notices are totally unworkable for the trawl fishery. Transhipment in the northern region would require satellite phones and submission of paper-based transhipment forms that they are unable to send in the required timeframes.

The trawl footprint for the fishery was discussed and industry members asked if there are estimates for the footprint in the northern region. Fisheries Queensland commented work is underway to quantify the swept area of the trawl fishery as part of the harvest strategy process. All members supported this research to improve the public’s knowledge about the scale of the trawl fishery in the northern region.

Industry members are seeking a two-year moratorium on future management changes to seek independent review of the tiger prawn stock assessment. Industry proposed re-visiting the effort unit nomination process in light of the stock assessment outputs. Industry commented effort shift from other regions is the biggest concern and also larger boats potentially coming into the fishery that will use more effort units per trip. Industry suggested a co-funded voluntary buyback should be considered by governments or NGO’s.

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