Southern Inshore Trawl Harvest Strategy Workshop 27-28 May 2021

The Southern Inshore Trawl Region Harvest Strategy Workshop was held 27-28 May 2021 in Hervey Bay, workshop members were welcomed. The main purpose of the workshop meeting was to note the latest scallop stock assessment and discuss the proposed management options for scallops put forward by Fisheries Queensland and the additional options identified through the Trawl Working Group. The purpose of the meeting was also to note harvest strategy development and other management and reporting changes, which must be in place by 1 September 2021.

Fisheries Queensland presented the latest scallop stock assessment (including data up October 2020) and it was noted the stock assessment excluded east Fraser Island (southern offshore and Hydrographers Passage). It was noted the assessment output was a reduction in the biomass estimate from 17% in 2019 to 12% in 2020 and indications of poor scallop recruitment in the most recent fishery independent survey.

Fishing industry members raised concerns about the stock assessment including:

  • The use of meat weights in the data and how the stock assessment converts baskets of scallops to meat weights, as this can vary considerably between fishing areas/vessels. Industry offered to supply more data on scallop weights and meat weights.
  • How human behaviour, weather and environmental influences were factored into the standardised catch rates. Industry members raised concerns about the impact of environmental and habitat influences on scallop stocks in the Southern Inshore Trawl Region and felt that this information has not been given sufficient consideration in the assessment and in the context of the results.
  • Data around separating bug and scallop effort data and the influence of commercial catch per unit effort data used in the stock assessment model.
  • Underlying environmental problems (e.g. water temperature) and coastal development impacts (e.g. dredging) potentially causing high scallop mortality. Fishing is not the only factor impacting on scallops.

Fisheries Queensland advised that uncertainty is part of any stock assessment model and this is demonstrated in the error ranges presented around the biomass estimate at 8-18%. This uncertainty is reduced through the long data series of harvest and effort data, catch standardisation procedures and the use of fishery independent information in the modelling.  Fisheries Queensland is always looking to improve the model and welcome industry feedback/input/data about ways catches may be standardised better or additional variables which need to be considered in the assessment.

Fisheries Queensland presented the management recommendation for the 2021-22 management of the scallop fishery, consistent with what was presented to the Trawl Working Group in April 2021.  Full no take scallop closure for the three regions southern inshore, southern offshore and Swain Reefs/Hydrographers Passage. The scallop replenishment areas (SRAs) to remain closed, and the Southern Inshore and Southern Offshore Trawl Regions closed 20 September to 1 November (all species). An independent scallop survey to monitor biomass to allow re-opening at a minimum 40% biomass outcome from a stock assessment. This is a result of the estimated stock biomass being below the limit reference point of 20%, which is required to support viable recruitment into fisheries. Industry wanted to know why its proposed to close all scallop take given some areas are not part of the surveys and stock assessment.  Fisheries Queensland advised that the full closure was due to uncertainty around recruitment dynamics of scallops and the possibility for stock in these areas to be important to rebuilding. It also simplifies enforcement with a consistent rule for all regions.

Industry asked if there was any flexibility in what was presented to government. Fisheries Queensland advised that feedback is being sought and all feedback on management options will be provided with a recommendation to be considered by government.

Workshop attendees asked if Fisheries Queensland can write to commercial fisheries to inform them the scallop biomass is below 20% which is the limit reference point to close the fishery. Given nomination of unused effort units is currently underway, this will help commercial fishers make an informed decision about where to nominate their unused effort units. Industry members advised the combination of the fishery reforms and the uncertainty around the future of the scallop fishery is having serious impacts to fisher’s mental health. Closing the scallop fishery will also have serious socio-economic impacts to the community. Industry members also asked Fisheries Queensland to escalate this message through Government.

Industry members put forward a revised option for the Southern Inshore Trawl Region (region 3) for the 2021-22 season to below:

  • Independent pre-season survey to determine biomass (current survey and funded by Government)
  • If the stock is above 22%, open the take of scallop in Southern Inshore Trawl Region from the 5 January with an effort cap to be determined from the assessment
  • If below 22% the Southern Inshore Trawl Region remains closed to scallop  
  • Southern inshore closures to align with southern offshore closure
  • Christmas closure to remain (23 December to 5 January)
  • East Fraser Island (southern offshore trawl region) and Hydrographers Passage scallop stocks to remain open. Industry reasoned that these areas should remain open as they do not form part of the stock assessment. (Industry commented that Fisheries Queensland has advised over many years that these areas do not likely contribute to recruitment in the southern inshore region).
  • Adjust Southern Inshore Trawl Region effort cap to reflect current effort in the fishery (215 000 effort units), excluding banana prawn effort (24-hour fishing area)
  • Fishing for Moreton Bay bugs to continue 1 November to 20 September as bugging has very limited impact on scallop mortality.

For the 2022-23 season, industry recommended creating a scallop symbol using fishing history. Fishers that wish to keep fishing for scallop in Southern Inshore Trawl Region must nominate to purchase the symbol and agree to an annual fee. Funds generated under the scallop symbol fee would be used to fund future independent scallop surveys. There was further discussion about developing a grid reference based rotational harvest strategy based on future surveys.

A workshop member provided an alternative proposal to allow harvest of east Fraser Island (Southern Offshore trawl region). This will be discussed in greater detail in the Southern Offshore Trawl Region Harvest Strategy Workshop in late June 2021.

The GBRMPA and conservation members acknowledged the economic and social impact in closing the fishery. However, they highlighted the long-term depleted nature of the stock and that continuing fishing of scallops together with other factors is contributing to concerning declines in the biomass. They expressed support for Fisheries Queensland’s proposal as a responsible starting point, rather than the industry proposal as that is unlikely to recover scallops within the appropriate timeframe. Given uncertainty about the environmental influences on the stock, there is need for caution and to build resilience into the stock, particularly given scallops are vulnerable to ongoing climate change. The scallop biomass rebuilding timeframes from the stock assessment model assume that there is no fishing mortality, but as bugs and scallops co-occur, trawling can’t be separated, and continued fishing for bugs will lead to ongoing scallop fishing mortality. They therefore suggested the following proposal, which also addresses bycatch of scallops:

  • As Fisheries Queensland: Full no take scallop closure in the southern inshore, southern offshore, and Swain Reefs/Hydrographers Passage regions. The SRAs to remain closed and the southern inshore and southern offshore trawl regions closed 20 September to 1 November (all species). An independent scallop survey to monitor biomass to allow re-opening at a minimum 40% biomass outcome from a stock assessment. Additionally:
  • Bugs become a no-take species in the Southern Inshore Trawl Region until the scallop biomass recovers above 20% to give the best chance of recovering scallops.
  • Trawling for banana prawns to continue in 24hr fishing area in the Southern Inshore Trawl Region – advice is this would not result in mortality of scallops.
  • When bug fishing commences, reduce the Southern Inshore Trawl Region overall effort cap to a lower, precautionary level that will limit mortality of scallops.
  • Develop and put in place in 2021 a formal scallop rebuilding strategy.

The Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) approval for the East Coast Trawl Fishery was discussed, and it was noted that the WTO application is currently out for public consultation. All T1, M1 and T2, M2 fishers were sent a link to the application and were encouraged to put in a submission. It was noted decisions about the management of scallop could have serious implications for the WTO which includes the whole Queensland coastline. Industry members commented that they want to have separate WTO approvals for each management region in the fishery (5 regions).  Fisheries Queensland advised until the reforms are fully implemented on 1 September 2021, full regional management is not yet in place.

The members noted an update on the harvest strategy consultation, and the final draft southern inshore harvest strategy is being submitted for approval. The members noted that if the southern inshore harvest strategy was approved in its current state, the scallop biomass would be below the limit reference point of 20% and targeted fishing for scallop would stop to allow rebuilding of the stock within 3 generations. Members discussed that pending a decision on the management of scallops, the harvest strategy needs to be reviewed to ensure it remains relevant for targeting other species (e.g. Moreton Bay Bugs) without creating new sustainability issues for the region. 

Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol (QBFP) provided an update on compliance in the Southern Inshore Trawl Region fishery. Generally, compliance in the regions is good (84%), but it was noted there is a target of 90% compliance rate. QBFP commented that compliance issues generally increase when there are management changes as it takes time for people to understand the requirements. The working group noted southern inshore had several reported non-compliance issues around closure areas, but these are picked up quickly by QBFP through automated notifications and follow up investigations. Daily logbook reporting was another area where compliance could be improved. Industry asked for a review of the ability to steam through the Scallop Replacement Areas, Fisheries Queensland agreed to the review.

The working group was provided an update on the new standardised commercial fishing reporting requirements that will commence on 1 September 2021.  Fishing industry members did not support the new general reporting requirements and commented that some are unnecessarily complicated, will create additional work and may not be entirely suitable to trawl fishing operations.  

In general business, GBRMPA and conservation member asked about work on developing a protected species management strategy.  Fisheries Queensland confirmed this was on the forward work program once the fisheries reforms were implemented.