Southern Inshore Trawl Harvest Strategy workshop 28-29 April 2022

The Southern Inshore Trawl Region (SI) Harvest Strategy Workshop was held on 28 – 29 April 2022 in Hervey Bay. The main purpose of the meeting was to consider an update on the 2021 scallop stock assessment, discuss management options in the region for the 2022/23 season to address concerns about an increase in current effort use, the risks associated with excess effort in the region and future scallop management options. The meeting   also reviewed current harvest strategy decision rules and discussed Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) conditions.

Fisheries Queensland updated members on changes to the Terms of Reference (TOR) and clarified procedural matters including the purpose of the regional harvest strategy workshops and the role of the Trawl Working Group (TWG). Members were advised the TOR for the workshop prohibit the recording of meetings. Members noted they had previously raised the issue of meeting minutes and the accuracy of recordings in previous workshops and were seeking detailed meeting minutes in lieu of meeting recordings. The working group discussed the definition of co-management and asked that the definition in the TOR be amended to be clearer.

Scallop Stock Assessment

Fisheries Queensland presented the latest scallop stock assessment for region 3 and 4 combined (including data up October 2021). Members noted the 2021 stock assessment result that estimated the scallop biomass to be 15% (Region 3 and 4 combined). The assessment also estimated the biomass for region 3 to be 9%.

Fishing industry members raised the following concerns about the stock assessment:

  • The use of meat weights in the data
  • Data separation for bug and scallop effort and the influence of commercial catch per unit effort data used in the stock assessment model
  • Underlying environmental change (e.g., water temperature) and coastal development impacts (e.g. Gladstone Harbour dredging) potentially causing high scallop mortality.
  • The design of the fishery independent survey not being reflective of scallop distribution
  • The validity of the virgin biomass year being 1956
  • The validity of data used to estimate the effects of fishing between 1956 and the 1970’s and what the impact on the current biomass estimate would be if this data was not included.

Fisheries Queensland advised that uncertainty is part of any stock assessment model, and this is demonstrated in the error ranges presented around the biomass estimates in the model. 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 advised that it is always looking to improve how the data is used in the model and welcomed industry feedback on assumptions in the model. The working group discussed the potential for further standardisation, and additional variables or data that could be considered in the assessment.

Fisheries Queensland advised that it was seeking industry representation on the stock assessment project teams to provide industry expertise and feedback into the assessment process. Industry indicated a preference for several fishers to be on project teams. Fisheries Queensland indicated it would consider options for participation and would prepare a document on purpose of the project teams and the role of an industry representative(s) on the project team to assist industry members in identifying appropriate representatives. Members also expressed interest in taking part in broader conversations about survey design with Fisheries Queensland scientists and noted the existing survey design missed key scallop populations.

Effort caps in the Southern Inshore Trawl Region

The management of the SI trawl region was discussed, with industry members raising concerns about the risk of reaching the effort cap in in region 3 prior to the season concluding on 20 September including effort shifting into all other trawl regions increasing the risk of reaching effort caps in these regions. Current effort unit use is at 74% of the regional effort cap. To reduce the risk of reaching the cap early in the season, industry members noted that the inshore banana prawn area will be excluded from the effort cap monitoring area and requested that the total effort cap be reset based on a three-year average annual effort use for the years 2017-2019 (approximately 204,000 effort units), recognising that 2020 was affected by COVID-19. Industry members commented that a small increase in the current regional effort cap would be a low risk to the recovery of the scallop biomass.

The conservation member and GBRMPA member raised concerns about potentially increasing the effort cap in the SI and the risks to scallop recovery. Fisheries Queensland advised the exclusion of the banana prawn area from effort use calculations in the SI trawl region is being progressed according to recommendations from the previous southern inshore harvest strategy workshop. This would better reflect actual fishing effort for target species.

Industry members noted there was an undertaking by Fisheries Queensland at the previous harvest strategy meeting to notify licence holders when effort milestones were reached which was not met. Members discussed how to amend or deal with the probable closure of the SI trawl region at the existing effort cap.

Industry members emphasised the risk of effort shift and pulse fishing at the start of the next season (1 November 2022) caused by the predicted extended closure of the SI trawl region and expressed concerns on the impact on scallop recovery from increased fishing effort. Industry also indicated that the current effort cap was incorrectly set based on a single effort year impacted by COVID -19 and that this, coupled with higher fuel costs and the recent introduction of the effort cap system, should be considered in any decision to close the region to fishing.

Industry members recommended Fisheries Queensland brief the delegate, the Deputy Director General, on the reasons why the region should remain open and further that a change to the existing effort cap should be made for the following fishing season. Industry members expressed their preference for effort caps to be based on 3-year averages, not including the data for 2020 and 2021, which was impacted by COVID-19. The harvest strategy working group recommended that if a decision was made to keep the region open despite the current cap being exceeded that an effort cap of 204,102 units be set for the current fishing season. This cap is representing the 3-year average of effort use in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Latent effort

Fisheries Queensland presented several options for managing latent effort in the SI Trawl Fishery, including suggestions provided by industry members.

Members discussed the option of implementing preferred access arrangements for the SI trawl region that requires fishers to sit out the 20 September -1 November closure period to be able to fish in the region on the 1 November opening. It was discussed that this option may reduce the likelihood of additional vessels fishing in the region following a long closure period. Industry members noted that if the SI trawl region implemented this system, other regions would likely follow suit. Members requested that Fisheries Queensland investigate methods to prevent licence or entitlement transfers that would circumvent the preferred access arrangements.

Working Group members requested the Trawl Working Group discuss the development of a new Boat Replacement Policy in the East Coast trawl Fishery to address excess T1 licences.

In lieu of preferred access arrangements, most members expressed preference for either a set conversion factor applying to all units, or a scaled conversion factor based on days fishing (with reservations noted about the capacity of the Vessel Tracking System to deduct effort units accurately). Other options including recognising historical effort only, quarterly effort caps, minimum quota holdings and industry funded buybacks were considered, with a government and/or industry funded buyback preferred to be pursued (Including GBRMPA).

Scallop fishery

As part of future management arrangements to improve scallop sustainability in region 3, an industry proposal was presented for consideration to allow limited fishing in smaller subregions within the SI trawl region when acceptable scallop density levels are reached. Members discussed the proposal including a new fishery symbol for scallop with a fee that will raise funds for an additional scallop survey. This proposal will be further developed for public consultation. Fisheries Queensland advised the rebuilding strategy would only allow fishing when the stock level reaches 30%.

Harvest strategy

The workshop discussed the existing harvest strategy decision rules noting the need to amend the target species in the SI Trawl region to Moreton Bay Bugs given the current no-take restrictions on scallops. This change will allow the effort cap for the region to be set based on recommendations from future bug stock assessments and, in lieu of an assessment being available, a 3 yearly average effort level could be considered.

The Harvest Strategy will be amended to formalise the rebuilding strategy for scallops. The revised HS will be presented to the Minister for approval.

The Harvest Strategy decision rules relating to catches of tiger prawns were discussed as catches for two consecutive seasons had fallen outside historical catch ranges. It was identified that the targeting tiger prawns had reduced and as a result catches recorded were lower than those observed historically.

General business

Several issues were raised in general business by an industry member:

Industry members expressed concerns about the transparency of the Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel, raising issues about access to meeting minutes and a lack of industry members on the panel. Fisheries Queensland advised   members were independent of any interest groups and provided advice for consideration by Government.

Industry members requested consideration to allow vessels to steam (above 5 knots) through the scallop replenishment areas given existing management arrangements and increased vessel tracking polling rates.

Industry members also proposed that if future SI trawl region effort caps reached 70%, then a limit of 24 days per month per boat be put in place for the remainder of the effort season until the cap is reached and the region is closed.

Industry members requested that the Effort Unit Conversion Factor relationship between hull units and effort units be investigated. Industry members requested that Fisheries Queensland provide information on the newly adopted AMSA measuring system to licence holders.

The next meeting of the Southern Inshore Harvest Strategy Workshop will be held in April 2023 with dates to be confirmed.

The Chair closed the meeting at 2:06pm.