Southern Inshore Region Harvest Strategy Workshop 23-24 May 2019

A workshop was held in Hervey Bay on 23-24 May 2019 to discuss the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy reforms and to draft a harvest strategy for the Southern Inshore Trawl Fishery.  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.

The workshop discussed the proposed reforms, particularly the process for nominating which region unused effort units should be allocated to. Participants had some concerns about what that may mean for the southern offshore fishery if everyone nominated there. Some members supported an equal allocation to regions (25% each region), while some supported the original proposed split, while others supported nominating into the regions. It was noted that the recent consultation process suggested the majority supported nomination.

The workshop put forward a proposal to introduce a levy on T1s which would go towards financing a buyback of latent T1s and/or effort units. Fisheries Queensland agreed to assist in working up a proposal for how the funding could be collected and held for industry and consulting with all T1 licence holders to determine whether they would support:

  • Paying a levy (e.g. $1000-$3000 to be determined) on each T1 to the Fisheries Fund; and
  • Using the funds to finance a buyback of latent effort through purchasing of T1s, effort units, or T1s with a minimum holding of effort units.

Workshop participants unanimously supported progressing this to reduce the risk of latent effort in the fishery. A number of members agreed to work with Fisheries Queensland to come up with a proposal to progress, noting a high level of industry support would be needed to progress this.

The workshop received a presentation on preliminary results from the updated scallop stock assessment.  The last assessment was in 2016 and suggested biomass was around 6%.  It was noted that the updated assessment includes data up to April 2018 and takes into account spatial variations and environmental influences (e.g. sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies). The various models show a recovering scallop stock biomass (ranging from 9% to 17% of virgin biomass), suggesting that the current management arrangements are assisting in rebuilding the stock. Participants raised concern in the way which scallop effort days were calculated for the purposes of the model and also suggested undertaking at least two independent surveys (e.g. pre-season and late-season (either February or May/June)) each season to improve understandings of stock fluctuations. The workshop also recommended moving towards live-data through electronic logbooks to ensure that management decisions can be made based on real-time information. The assessment is still to be finalised and further work to be done determining the likely recovery timeframes depending on different catch/effort scenarios.

The workshop discussed what management changes may be required to allow further rebuilding of scallop, support the harvest strategy for the region and improve the economics of the fishery.  Following significant discussion of the various options, the workshop recommended:

  • Proposed effort cap of 118,000 for scallop and 246,000 for whole southern inshore region. Once the scallop cap is reached, scallop will become no-take south of 22°, but fishing can continue on other species (e.g. prawn, bugs) until the regional effort cap is reached. The workshop discussed a potential slow down trigger (e.g. 20 nights a month after 75% of scallop cap is reached), but felt that the closures below would help spread the catch out more effectively so was not necessary. Additional work will be done to model rebuilding scenarios to assist with confirming the effort cap. The conservation representative felt the effort cap should be lower to help rebuild the stock faster and also consider the fishing power increases in the region.
  • No take for scallop from 1 June til 1 December. The workshop supported opening the scallop season on 1 December and extending it to 31 May to aim to continue rebuilding of stock and increase value of product and marketing opportunities. The conservation representative did not support extending the season through May due to spawning.
  • Seasonal closure for the whole region to align with southern offshore 20 Sept – 20 October and all of February. Hydrographers Passage should also be closed in February. This would effectively see the entire east coast closed to trawling (except Moreton Bay) in February. This would give the area a break in September / October and also reduce pulse fishing in February.
  • Keep SRAs temporarily shut. Until the stock has recovered it is proposed to keep the SRAs temporarily shut, but look at the options to re-open or adjust once the stock has rebuilt in the future as part of the harvest strategy.

Participants provided advice on the implementation timetable for reforms and recommended that the scallop winter closure should be extended to 30 November 2019, ahead of other management changes. The following timetable was recommended:

  • 2019: maintain current 20 September – 1 November regional closure; extend winter no take scallop so it opens 1 December (instead of 1 November).
  • 2020: implement initial harvest strategy; 1 May-30 November scallop no take period; implement 20 September – 20 October regional closure; introduce effort caps for the region starting 20 October (scallop effort cap 1 December).
  • 2021: continue effort caps; introduce February regional closure; introduce scallop no take from 1 June to 30 November.  

The workshop discussed the draft harvest strategy that was circulated prior to the meeting. The main indicators and decision rules would be focused on:

  • An annual or bi-annual stock assessment to estimate scallop biomass and adjust the effort cap to rebuild stock to 40%. A decline in biomass, catch rates or index estimates from the independent survey would trigger a reduction in scallop effort cap or other changes (e.g. extending no take until January).
  • Establish a trigger to notify fleet once 80% of scallop effort cap is reached with no immediate management action to slow-down effort.
  • Monitor secondary target species (e.g. bugs and prawn species) to ensure catches are within historical ranges and review where there are substantial increases.
  • Monitor by-product species (e.g. blue swimmer crab, cuttlefish) to ensure catches are within historical ranges and review where there are substantial increases.

The workshop identified a number of additional regulatory changes they would like to see considered such as allowing a 1kg/day limit for cutting shell on board to estimate meat count, and shifting the daylight closure to allow fishing from 17:00 – 07:00 year round for the southern inshore region (the southern offshore region should also consider a daylight closure for scallop gear for the Fraser area). Participants raised a range of other management options which could be considered for future versions of the harvest strategy such as temporary closures for small scallop areas, a different season opening time for the Yeppoon scallop area, rotational harvest or re-opening of SRAs, and reviewing shell size rules. The workshop committed to working towards co-management for the fishery.

The majority of participants were concerned about the potential impacts of removing the 70 hull unit limit and extending it to allow bigger boats to enter the fishery. However, they were potentially open to extending the 70 hull unit limit in the future once latent effort in the fishery had been managed (e.g. through levy buybacks).

The workshop recommended further work should be done to identify potential changes to the management of permitted species (e.g. grinner, goatfish). Fisheries Queensland advised this had been raised by the Southern Offshore workshop too, and agreed the process through which permitted species rules are decided could be reviewed alongside a risk assessment to ensure increased catch would not impose a risk.

The workshop noted that a first draft of a harvest strategy for the Southern Inshore Trawl Region 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 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 Southern Inshore Trawl Region meeting to discuss fishery performance and improvements to the harvest strategy in the longer term.

Workshop participants: Fisheries Queensland (Chair, Claire Andersen), Kev Solway, Stephen Murphy, Randall Owens, Paul Newman, Barry Ehrke, Craig Dean, Ed Morrison, Andy Redfearn, Leigh Slade, Leigh McJannett, Noel Cattell, Kev Reibel, Nick Schulz, Steve Taylor, Simon  Miller, Darren Flaherty, Tony Sterling, Scott Hodgetts.