Southern Offshore Harvest Strategy workshop 21-22 April 2022

A workshop for the Southern Offshore Harvest Strategy was held in Mooloolaba on 21 and 22 April 2022. The main purpose of the meeting was to provide an update on stock assessment processes, review harvest strategy decision rules, implementation of Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) conditions and discuss other management proposals for the 2022/2023 fishing season that could proceed for targeted consultation.

Commercial fishing members requested that the terms of reference included the need to recognise industry preference for co-management as part of future fishery reform processes.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on stock assessments currently underway and a summary of the 2020 eastern king prawn stock assessment results. Stock assessment results indicate the eastern king prawn stock is at 62% of unfished biomass and at a sustainable level.

It was noted that Fisheries Queensland is seeking an industry representative to join the stock assessment project team and provide expert advice and fishing knowledge to inform the next eastern king prawn stock assessment. Workshop participants were supportive of including industry members on stock assessment project teams, with industry members suggesting that an independent fisheries expert or consultant should also be included.

Industry members reviewed the decision rules under the Southern Offshore Harvest Strategy and discussed possible management changes, particularly regarding a deepwater closure and the need to address the risk of excess effort in the region. Industry members discussed options for addressing this excess effort including the application of conversion factors to effort units, staged effort caps, industry and government funded buybacks and the use of preferred access arrangements after the 6-week southern offshore trawl region (region 4) closure.

Members requested that the development of a boat replacement policy to reduce the number of T1 symbols in the fishery be discussed at the next trawl working group meeting in 2022.

The management of the Southern Inshore trawl region was discussed, and commercial fishing members raised concerns about the risk of reaching the effort cap in this region prior to the season concluding on 20 September and effort shift into the southern offshore trawl region. Current effort unit usage is at 80% of the regional effort cap. To reduce the risk of reaching the cap early commercial members requested that the inshore banana prawn area be excluded from the effort cap monitoring area and that the total effort cap be set based on a three-year average annual effort usage for the years 2018-2020 in lieu of a current stock assessment for Moreton Bay bugs. 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 southern inshore trawl region and the risks to scallop recovery. Fisheries Queensland advised that the exclusion of the banana prawn area from effort usage calculations in the southern inshore 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.

Workshop participants discussed the implementation of WTO conditions, including:

  • progress on formalising a rebuilding strategy for saucer scallops as part of the existing harvest strategy (Condition 5)
  • the requirement to implement independent data validation in the Queensland East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery (ECOTF) by May 2024 through the use of electronic monitoring (cameras on boats), onboard observers or other means
  • an updated Ecological Risk Assessment for the fishery by November 2023, which will be informed by fine-scale trawl footprint data derived from fishing effort signatures that are currently in the early stages of development by Fisheries Queensland.

The workshop discussed several options for fishing closures to help manage effort in the southern offshore trawl region, minimise the risk of the effort cap being reached early and protect small prawn and the spawning stock. Commercial fishing members agreed with the following proposed management changes to be released for further consultation with fishers in the region:

  • continue the existing closure period of 20 September to 1 November (6 weeks) and apply this to the entire Southern Offshore Trawl Region (inside and outside 50 fathoms)
  • removal of the existing 24 day per month effort restriction (May, June, July) in the southern offshore trawl region.
  • amend the current inshore strip closures (20 September to 1 March annually), including:
    • expansion of the Caloundra/Moreton Island strip closure
    • expansion of the closure off South Stradbroke Island and amending the closure period to be from 1 January to 1 March
    • introduction of an additional closure near North Reef.

Fisheries Queensland advised that recommendations from the working group would require consultation with relevant stakeholders prior to implementation. Members requested that any changes supported should be made as soon as possible and prior to the start of the next fishing season starting 1 November 2022.

Industry members raised concerns about the excess effort in the region and the risks this effort poses in reaching the effort cap prior to 1 November. Options in the agenda papers were discussed and the following options to address excess effort in this region were supported by commercial members for further consultation:

  • Option 1: apply a multiplier of 1.2 to the Effort Unit Conversion factor when Southern Offshore A and B trawl effort units are used. e.g., a boat using 60 effort units per night would now use 72 effort units per night.
  • Option 2: apply a multiplier to the Effort Units Conversion Factor based on the days fished per boat e.g., 0-15 nights 1:1, 15-24 nights 1.5:1, 24+ nights 2:1.

The multiplier would only apply to individual effort unit usage and would not be used to count effort units used against the regional effort cap.

It was noted by the working group that any reforms applied in the southern offshore trawl region will be reviewed at the 2023 harvest strategy workshop and adjusted if required.

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

  • a January/February closure in the southern offshore region,
  • Industry members were concerned 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
  • Future scallop management options involving dividing the fishery into five management areas (including scallop area offshore of K’gari/Double Island Point) and the possible removal of the existing scallop replenishment areas

Additional discussion also occurred regarding the identification of research priorities for the southern offshore trawl region, and it was identified by members that the existing fishery independent scallop and eastern king prawn surveys should be continued and are a high priority for future funding. BRD research and testing was also discussed and was identified as a high priority for future work and investment.