Trawl Working Group Communique 27 October 2021

A trawl working group meeting was held online 27 October 2021. The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss issues raised by industry regarding reporting requirements, the no take of scallops in the central trawl region, failure to implement trawl management changes (2021), and the role of the Trawl Working Group.

Industry asked why scallops became no take in the central trawl region. Fisheries Queensland advised the decision to close the scallop fishery was made to maintain the Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) accreditation for the east coast otter trawl fishery. Industry believed the decision was politically motivated. Fisheries Queensland advised the decision to close the scallop fishery in some regions was very difficult and acknowledged the significant impact on fishing businesses, and flow on impacts to other industries. The decision to close the main part of the scallop fishery was made to ensure the scallop stock is conserved for the future. Fisheries Queensland explained further that the WTO approval not only allows fishers to export product, but it also allows interactions with protected species under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC). The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) representative commented the scallop stock is one population and it is important to prevent overfishing and rebuild the scallop stock. Industry disagreed with this comment. Industry commented the importance of the WTO needs to be communicated better to industry. Fisheries Queensland advised they will provide information to industry to help them understand the elements of the WTO accreditation.

Fisheries Queensland provided advice as to why the options raised in the southern offshore Harvest Strategy meeting were not implemented e.g. extending the southern inshore closure to the southern offshore area, and changes to the existing strip closures. Fisheries Queensland commented industry put forward two options that were consulted on and there was no preferred option supported by industry, with mixed feedback. Industry commented there was 60% support for the changes to existing strip closures and this amendment should have been implemented. Industry requested the changes to the strip closures be implemented in December 2021. Fisheries Queensland commented they would make enquiries about implementing this change.  Fisheries Queensland advised that major reforms for all our fisheries has just been completed and while it was a large body of work it would continue to improve on processes moving forward. GBRMPA commented that it is important that management of fisheries is consistent to meet the targets of the SFS (effort limits based on achieving 60% biomass by 2027) and that and this will require management actions in the short to medium term. GBRMPA commented further that effort levels need to be implemented to ensure the trawl fishery is a low ecological risk for all species.

There was a discussion about the decision-making process of working groups generally, and industry requested clear criteria be developed to inform members how consensus on management recommendations could be reached. This may involve reaching majority support for an option in a regional Harvest Strategy Workshop. This option would then be consulted with effort unit holders and other key stakeholders in the region. The Terms of Reference for the regional Harvest Strategy Workshops will be amended accordingly and provided to members ahead of 2022 meetings.

Co-management of the trawl fishery was discussed. It was highlighted that harvest strategies will streamline the approvals process for management changes in the future. Fisheries Queensland commented it remains committed to consultation on a regional basis. It was stated by Fisheries Queensland that Harvest Strategy workshops are providing recommendations only, not decisions and they need to align with the Harvest Strategy and the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy targets.

Fisheries Queensland advised no decisions have been made about the central and northern trawl regions. The effort caps have been set for the 2022 season, commencing 1 March for central (500, 711 EU) and northern (473 100 EU) trawl regions. Fisheries Queensland is committed to address the issues raised by industry about the stock assessment and relay further information to industry early 2022. Industry requested time to sit down with the stock assessment modellers to help them understand the model. Fisheries Queensland agreed to this request. GBRMPA commented some effort unit caps are much higher than recent active effort levels and that increased effort levels that increase ecological risk to the GBR ecosystem are not supported. Industry commented additional effort units may be required to address future safety concerns for an aging fleet.

Industry commented the mental health of fishers is at an all-time low and working group members are genuinely concerned about the safety of some members of the trawl fishing community due to recommended effort reductions from the stock assessment, the application of the regional harvest strategies, and the potential impacts of flow on effects to other regions. Fisheries Queensland commented they would better explain the reasoning behind management decisions and recommendations from the stock assessment and justify these decisions. Fisheries Queensland can also provide details for mental health services available to fishers and follow up assistance available through the StayAfloat program.

The workshop was provided an update on the commercial fishing reporting requirements that commenced on 1 September 2021. Industry members noted the requirement for Catch Disposal Records (CDR) is currently on hold while Fisheries Queensland reviews current requirements and looks at alternatives for data validation. Fisheries Queensland commented that it was looking for solutions to collect accurate weights for the trawl fishery to feed into the stock assessment process. Options identified by industry included allowing owners to complete pre-trip notification and catch disposal records. An annual random auditing process was also suggested by industry as an option.

In general business, Fisheries Queensland asked the working group if they had anything they would like to raise. One member reiterated the concerns about the stock assessment for the central and northern regions, including the use of historical data in the assessment, interpretation of the recommendations to reduce the effort cap for the region, and the growth parameters of tiger prawns. Industry commented an independent review of the tiger prawn stock assessment would be beneficial. The AMCS representative raised concerns about delaying management decisions to review stock assessments, ensuring regional Harvest Strategies are fully implemented to meet Sustainable Fisheries Strategy targets, including ensuring the fishery is a low ecological risk to all species. GBRMPA acknowledged the worry and concerns of commercial fishers. They commented management should focus on achieving he targets under the SFS. One member commented the scallop survey this year demonstrated better results than last year, which is promising. Fisheries Queensland commented the results of the survey are currently being complied and this will be distributed to industry when available. Industry asked why pre-trip reporting is required for commercial fishing trips as the extra reporting is unnecessary and cuts into time of commercial fishers. Fisheries Queensland commented that Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol officers (QBFP) needed to identify who is operating the commercial vessel/fishing trip for reporting and compliance purposes. Industry raised concerns that the working group process has not been honest, open and transparent. Industry raised further concerns about some members speaking to the media.

The meeting closed at 4:10pm