Southern Offshore Harvest Strategy Workshop 29 June and 12 July 2021

Workshops for the Southern Offshore Harvest Strategy were held in Mooloolaba on 29 June 2021 and 12 July (online meeting). The main purpose of the meetings was to discuss management options for scallop in the Southern offshore trawl region, the stock assessments for scallops and Eastern King Prawns (EKP) and harvest strategy implementation and other management and reporting changes that will commence on 1 September 2021.

Fisheries Queensland presented the latest scallop stock assessment (2020) and it was noted the stock assessment excluded east Fraser Island (Southern Offshore and Hydrographers Passage). It was noted a reduction in the biomass estimate from 17% in 2019 to 12% in 2020 and indications of poor scallop recruitment.

Fisheries Queensland presented the management recommendation for the 2021-22 management of the scallop fishery, which is the same recommendation presented at the Trawl Working Group and Southern Inshore Trawl Harvest Strategy Workshop: A 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 to a minimum 40% biomass outcome from a stock assessment to reopen the fishery.

Some industry participants commented that they do not believe future closures will benefit the scallop fishery. This is in response to the current scallop replenishment areas remaining closed for five years and stock levels in these areas declining in the absence of fishing pressure. General discussion regarding the southern offshore trawl fishery region indicated industry continued to support having access to scallops in this region whilst conservation members reiterated their support of the option proposed by Fisheries Queensland to restrict the take of scallops.

Industry also raised concerns around the wildlife trade operation (WTO) approval process for the trawl fishery and the risks to this approval not being granted. Industry requested for the ability to submit regional WTO applications and have assessments and approvals at a regional level in the fishery once regional effort units and harvest strategies are implemented. This would support certain regions within the fishery having different conditions and restrictions if required without impacting other regions.

The Mooloolaba meeting closed at 1:00pm on 29 June 2020 due to the South East Queensland COVID-19 lockdown. Workshop members were asked to review the scallop management options put forward by Fisheries Queensland, other industry members and GBRPMA/conservation representatives out of session and provide feedback on management options for the Southern Offshore Trawl Region.  A follow up online meeting was held 12 July 2021 to discuss the EKP stock assessment, southern offshore harvest strategy and reporting requirements being introduced 1 September 2021

Fisheries Queensland presented the latest EKP stock assessment (2020) and it was noted the biomass estimate is 62%, indicating the stock is healthy. Effort in the southern offshore trawl region in 2020 was around 830 000 effort units and has been around 700 000 - 800 000 effort units since 2010. The stock assessment from 2020 recommended a target yield of around 2 155 tonnes of EKP for the southern offshore region to maintain the 60% biomass target under the harvest strategy. It was noted the 2019 harvest of 2 738 tonnes is well above the recommended harvest from the stock assessment. Fisheries Queensland commented this may be due high recruitment into the fishery over the past several years as a result favourable environmental conditions for the species. Industry commented the recommended harvest is potentially too low given how well the fishery has been performing in recent years and that current harvest levels (above target levels) are maintaining the stock at 60% biomass or above. Fisheries Queensland noted this for review.

Workshop members noted the proposed initial Southern Offshore Harvest Strategy effort cap for the 2021-22 season is 845 266 effort units. Industry expressed concern of potentially reaching the cap early in the season, which may create a race to fish given changes to regionalise the trawl fishery and proposed management changes to the scallop fishery. Industry was concerned about effort shift into the southern offshore trawl region.

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. Alternative trawl closures were discussed for October (4 weeks) and 20 December to 20 January (4 weeks) in the Southern Offshore Trawl region (e.g., inside and outside 50 fathoms) allowing trawling south of Point Lookout 4 days per week (6:00pm Monday – 8:00am Friday).  Industry advised the peak season for Gold Coast fishers is over the Christmas and school holiday period, between 20 December and 20 January and efforts should be made to keep this open. All industry members agreed that if these trawl closures were implemented the existing effort triggers from November to March, leading to the 24 day per month cap for May, June, July could be removed.

Some industry members discussed the use of a regional conversion factor to remove the risk of effort caps being reached early in the season and that this could be considered in future if the effort cap was reached in the 2021-22 Southern offshore trawl region fishing season. Industry commented that a reduction of 5 to 10 per cent of all current individual holdings to reduce latent effort in the fishery would increase the value of existing holdings and may also reduce the risk of reaching effort caps early in the season.

The workshop discussed the inshore strip closures to protect small prawn. Industry commented the strip closures have been well received and recommended two inshore strip closures to be amended: the strip closure off South Stradbroke Island to be extended further north to Point Lookout and the Caloundra/Moreton Island strip closure to be expanded to include the area off Caloundra and down near the Jumpinpin Bar.    Further work will be done out-of-session to map these areas for targeted consultation before being finalised with the Southern Offshore Harvest Strategy Workshop members.

The workshop was provided an update on the new standardised commercial fishing reporting requirements that will commence on 1 September 2021. Industry members noted there were additional reporting requirements they would need to comply with including a pre-trip notice for the skipper in charge of the vessel when leaving port and the requirement to complete catch disposal records when returning to port. Some Industry participants reiterated that there is no justification for the new requirements and they were unnecessarily complicated, will create additional work and may not be entirely suitable to trawl fishing operations.

In general business, the conservation member asked about work on developing a protected species management strategy, particularly for bycatch of deep water sharks and rays in the southern offshore trawl fishery.  Fisheries Queensland confirmed a workshop to discuss protected species management was still planned for later in 2021.

A follow-up online meeting is scheduled for 19 July 2021 to resolve the proposed trawl closure and strip closure recommendations from the workshop.