T4 Fishery Workshop 9 June 2021

A workshop was held with T4 fishery stakeholders on 9 June 2021 in Brisbane and online. The purpose of the workshop was to note the latest stock assessment results for the eastern Australian stout whiting (Sillago robusta) stock and to discuss requirements of a data collection and validation plan to meet Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) conditions. The workshop also discussed harvest strategy development and improved reporting requirements for 1 September 2021 and discussed future management changes.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the implementation of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017-2027 and harvest strategy development. Industry provided a general update and were generally pleased with fishery operations but identified shark predation as a significant fishery issue with reports of entire bags of fish being lost.

Fisheries Queensland presented the latest stock assessment (including data up to June 2020) for the eastern Australian stock of stout whiting. Fisheries Queensland advised that the base scenario estimates spawning biomass to be 42% of unfished biomass (scenarios between 36% and 48% for different T1 bycatch and values for natural mortality). Members noted that the model suggests the stock has rebuilt since 2016 and that biomass had not been above 40% since the late 1990s. Members noted that the trends in biomass generally aligned with industry experience on the water.

Estimates of T1 bycatch were explained and included as a source of fishing mortality and were estimated to be responsible for 43% of total fishing mortality (with T4 retained catch responsible for 46% of total fishing mortality). Industry noted that this was a significant source of mortality on the stock and identified reducing T1 bycatch of stout whiting as an important research priority. Industry was supportive of providing in-kind support to undertake research to identify a suitable bycatch reduction device for use on T1 vessels when operating on stout whiting grounds. Fisheries Queensland will work with industry to progress this as a research priority for the fishery but advised that there would be significant resourcing involved. It was noted that external funding options or linking with Animal Science Queensland could be explored.

Industry made other comments about the stock assessment including:

  • Preference to look at hours fished rather than days fished in future assessments, as it would be more reflective of actual fishing operations and industry provide a start and finish time for each shot.
  • Support for recommencing age and length sampling for stout whiting for inclusion in future stock assessments.
  • Support for progressing research on bycatch reduction devices to reduce bycatch of stout whiting by T1 operations and inclusion of any additional research in future bycatch mortality estimates.

Industry discussed the recommended biological catch (RBC) outputs from the stock assessment and noted that the RBC for 2022 is 2786 tonnes to rebuild to 48% biomass by 2027. The workshop engaged in preliminary discussions about how this may be used to inform the 2022 TACC, in-line with draft harvest strategy decision rules and noted that this would involve adjusting the RBC to Queensland’s average proportional harvest of the stout whiting stock (i.e. 46% of the RBC). The workshop noted that this would be discussed further once the harvest strategy has been approved.

The workshop discussed the Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) condition to implement an ongoing independent data collection and validation program for the T4 fishery. Industry noted that DAF had prepared a Data Collection and Validation Plan that will sit as an attachment to the stout whiting harvest strategy and outlines key areas for improved data collection and validation such as independent validation of fishing activity to collect information on bycatch.

Fisheries Queensland presented information on historical fishery activity to inform discussion about requirements of any observer program. This identified historical fishing activity between the northern and southern fishery areas, between Danish seine and fish trawl gear and between seasons. Industry was supportive of working further with Fisheries Queensland to develop an observer protocol. However, noted that implementation would be a significant cost to industry and reiterated that the level of coverage should be appropriate to the low-risk ratings identified through the Level 1 Ecological Risk Assessment (ERA).

The workshop noted an update on the harvest strategy consultation and the final draft stout whiting harvest strategy that has been submitted for approval. Members noted the key changes from the consultation version included revising the biomass target for stout whiting to 48%. This change was made because the stock is a shared resource with New South Wales where a lower biomass target is being pursued through their current harvest strategy process. Members agreed that management of a single stock should have agreed targets to ensure that consistent decisions are made between jurisdictions and to maintain historical catch shares. Maintaining historical catch shares, where Queensland harvests about 80% of retained stout whiting caught each year, was important to industry.

The workshop was provided an update on the new standardised commercial fishing reporting requirements that will commence 1 September 2021. Commercial fishers in the T4 fishery already use the Automated Integrated Voice Response (AIVR) but as of 1 September 2021 will be required to submit a pre-trip notice before undertaking a trip. Industry was concerned that some of the changes, such as requiring weights notices and retained fish notices within 24 hours of landing, may not be suitable for T4 operators, given the complex logistics due to their high volumes of catch (e.g., need for refrigerated containers, weight bridge access).

Industry expressed support for progressing further reforms for the T4 fishery such as transitioning trip limits for threadfin bream, octopus, cuttlefish and squid into annual quotas; expanding the fishery area to within 20 fathoms; and introducing the southern fishery closure into legislation. Fisheries Queensland agreed to work to prepare consultation on these proposed changes but advised that legislative timeframes and processes would need to be followed.

The workshop agreed to meet again once the harvest strategy has been approved to recommend a TACC for the 2022 fishing season and further develop the observer protocol. Industry considered inviting the Trawl Working Group recreational member and conservation member to future annual meetings, in addition to raising non-commercial issues through the broader Trawl Working Group.