Southern Offshore Region Harvest Strategy Workshop 2-3 May 2019

A workshop was held in Mooloolaba on 2-3 May 2019 to discuss the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy reforms and to draft a harvest strategy for the Southern Offshore 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.

Fisheries Queensland presented an overview of how harvest strategies would be implemented in Queensland and what can be expected for the future management of this fishery. While a number of participants still opposed splitting the trawl fishery into regions and allocating effort units, participants agreed there was a need for change, and felt a harvest strategy could help ensure sustainability and improve the value of the fishery. In particular, all members were keen to ensure that juvenile prawns were protected to better maximise the value of the catch.

The workshop discussed the initial effort cap for the region, noting that it would be adjusted over time as more up to date stock assessments become available. The workshop agreed the initial harvest strategy would set an effort cap based on maximum sustainable yield. The workshop agreed that a new EKP stock assessment should be prioritised and would be used to adjust the effort cap (up or down) once available.

Current effort in the region is around 800,000 units a year, which has been maintained at or around this level since 2010. In 2017 effort was slightly higher, mostly attributed to increased scallop catches around Fraser Island. The stock assessment from 2010 suggested a maximum sustainable yield of around 2,371 tonnes of EKP for this region. Since 2010 harvests have been consistently at or around this level. Using 2018 data the MSY cap was estimated at 799,124 effort units to catch this 2,371 tonnes of EKP. Incorporating fishing power increases would reduce this effort cap to around 750,000 effort units for 2020. The GBRMPA and Conservation representatives noted the importance of accounting for fishing power increases over time but given the uncertainty around fishing power estimates from 2010, the workshop agreed to use the 2018 effort cap estimate of 799,124 effort units, with a commitment to account for fishing power when the effort cap is set for the next fishing period. The workshop discussed how T2 symbols and effort units would be treated under a regionalised fishery. The majority of members recommend to retain the current restrictions that allow T2 symbols and effort units to be used south of Sandy Cape only. The majority of the workshop also supported retaining the existing surrender provisions whereby T2 units are halved if converted to T1 effort units and the T2 symbol is surrendered.

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

  • a stock assessment every three years to estimate biomass and adjust the effort cap to ensure the fishery is operating at or above MSY;
  • monitoring of fishing power and adjustment of the effort cap to incorporate power changes;
  • closures to protect small prawn that could be adjusted over time; and
  • monitoring of secondary and permitted species catch ranges over time

The workshop discussed at length options for fishing closures to protect small prawn. There was consensus that a 20 Sep- 20 Oct and February closure of the whole region (inshore and deep) would help prevent the effort cap being reached, protect smaller prawn and improve the value of the catch. The workshop noted that scallop catches in November, December and January would need to be considered and ideally be consistent with the harvest strategy being developed for the southern inshore region. Participants suggested an increased size limit for scallop in November-December (e.g. 105mm) returning to 90mm on 3 January and sought advice from the Southern Inshore Workshop.

The workshop also agreed that a number of small spatial ‘strip’ closures (from Sandy Cape south) were needed inshore from October to last quarter moon in March to prevent targeting of small prawns. This included:

  • Tweed to Pt Lookout;
  • East of Cape Moreton 36Ftm north past Flinders to northern point Flinders Reef, then west/northwest to a point east of Currimundi Lakes;
  • Old Woman Island north to Noosa Headland;
  • Area north of Sandy Cape.

Further work will be done out-of-session to identify and map these areas for discussion.

There was some discussion on preferred access and questions as to what that would look like within and across regions. Participants agreed that a conversion factor may achieve the same objective and could be considered for the following year if the effort cap was hit in a season. Some members also supported a levy on T1s to fund a buyback of latent T1s. This could also contribute towards additional monitoring or third party certification in the future, once T1s and effort units were at a suitable level.

The workshop recommended further work should be done to identify potential changes to the management of permitted species (e.g. grinner, cuttlefish, goatfish, tongue sole). Participants felt that with changing markets it was a waste to discard species which could be utilised, when caught while targeting other species. Fisheries Queensland 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. Participants also identified a need to investigate the reason a maximum mesh size is in place for the trawl fishery, with a view to removing it to improve selectivity and reduce bycatch.

The workshop reviewed triggers for bycatch and SOCI and agreed a bycatch management plan would be useful to identify changes that have already been made to reduce risk and identify additional changes that may be required to reduce any remaining risk. This would be reviewed by the Trawl Working Group.

Participants agreed that electronic reporting and grade information would support the development of the harvest strategy.

The workshop noted that a first draft of a harvest strategy for the Southern Offshore Trawl Region (and maps for defining strip closure areas) 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, along with the other regional trawl workshops 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 Offshore Trawl Region meeting to discuss fishery performance and improvements to the harvest strategy in the longer term.

Fisheries Queensland will provide information on what can be achieved in 2019 and 2020. 

Fisheries Queensland advised that a Memorandum of Understanding with MSQ had been executed. This will enable MSQ to access vessel tracking information in real-time to assist with search and rescue.

Workshop Participants: Fisheries Queensland (Chair, Claire Andersen), Kev Solway, Darren  Ward, Stephen Murphy, Rachel Pears (GBRMPA), Andrew Barr, Tony Sowten, Barry Ehrke, James Day, Kev Baker, Scott McLay, Leigh McJannett, Noel Cattell, Kev Reibel, Nick Schulz, Steve Taylor, Simon Miller (Conservation), Tony Sterling.