Communique 16 October 2018

The 5th Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel meeting was held in Brisbane on 16 October 2018.  Panel members recently attended the crab and east coast inshore working groups to provide feedback from the Panel and gain some appreciation of the key issues facing these fisheries. The Panel felt that it had improved communication and understanding between the Panel and working groups.

On the Independence of the Panel

The Panel reiterated its support for the current reform process and wishes to reassure the public, fishery sectors and the government of the independence of the Panel. Accordingly, the Panel has instigated a process whereby Panel members meet in-camera (i.e., no government representative present) before the open meeting, and will do so in each future meeting to privately discuss any pertinent issues regarding the process. Panel members will continue to ensure, as far as practicable, that at least one member attend the fishery working groups. Feedback by those Panel members at the in-camera session allows its members to discuss its broader perspectives on the process. The Panel was unanimous in its view that the information provided by Fisheries Queensland has been in no way directive, and the Panel is free to provide independent advice based on information from Working Groups, the experience of individual Panel members and scientific reports before considering its recommendations. The Panel is not able to review in depth the factual basis of every piece of evidence presented and focuses its guidance and advice on key policy issues and the reform process.

On the 5th Meeting

The Panel received an update on the progress of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy, noted the Fisheries (Sustainable Fisheries Strategy) Bill 2018 was now before Parliament and that the roll out of vessel tracking had commenced and was a current priority.  The Panel wished to reiterate their support for the timely implementation of vessel tracking as a key means of implementing more efficient and effective management.

The Panel noted with concern the sustainability issues from over-harvesting of gastropods and bivalve molluscs in Moreton Bay, including increased fishing pressure and significant non-compliance in areas such as Sandstone Point.  The Panel agreed that urgent action through a closure is needed to address immediate sustainability concerns.  Longer term, a rotational approach to closures should be considered, once monitoring shows recovery of targeted gastropods and bivalve molluscs, and that there is appropriate compliance by those accessing such resources with the regulations.  The Panel recommended that Fisheries Queensland invest in strategies to improve stewardship to support continued efforts around compliance, education and cultural liaison.

The Panel received an update following the recent East Coast Inshore Fishery Working Group. The Panel supported the range of measures identified by the Working Group to reduce bycatch and protected species interactions. The Panel supported use of Best Management Practice, including Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRDs), to drive change in the fishery and felt that an innovation challenge or award should be offered to industry to promote identification of new BRDs. The management of sharks in Queensland was also discussed. The Panel noted there were a number of higher risk species identified and supported a focus on these for appropriate management responses. The Panel also discussed shark depredation on fish from commercial and recreational fishers and agreed that this was a commonly raised issue. It was suggested there is a need to undertake research to better understand the nature and extent of the problem and, where possible, identify mitigation options.

The Panel discussed sustainability issues surrounding the increasing take of black jewfish and the vulnerability of the species to overfishing. The Panel noted that the issue extends across northern Australia, driven by the high value of swim bladders. There are numerous examples in the literature that demonstrate stocks of black jewfish can collapse quickly if overfished, and therefore the Northern Territory has already introduced management controls such as a swim bladder tagging system to manage harvest. The Panel strongly supported urgent management changes including a total allowable catch of 20 tonnes for the east coast and 2 tonnes for the Gulf of Carpentaria, a reduction in the recreational possession limit from 2 to 1 and a requirement for black jewfish to be landed whole.  Longer term, the Panel recommended looking at additional management measures, which may include temporal or spatial closures.

The Panel agreed that given sustainability concerns, urgent changes should be implemented for both black jewfish as well as gastropods and bivalve molluscs in Moreton Bay ahead of implementation of the broader reforms in 2019.

The Panel noted an update from the Crab Working Group, including proposed measures to reduce bycatch and protected species interactions. Despite concerns from the Working Group, the Panel recommended a once-off, one-month closure to identify and remove abandoned pots to address a number of ecological and social concerns associated with crabbing gear.  The Panel also strongly supported regulations to implement escape vents and restrict the use of lightweight pots.

While the Panel noted that quota is the primary management tool for the Spanner Crab fishery, it agreed there was a need to establish in regulation an appropriate maximum dilly limit for the fishery and immediate cessation of the use of General Fisheries Permits to access this fishery. In making this recommendation the Panel noted the current management arrangements in the fishery (including input and output controls), as well as biological implications, economic effect and conflict issues associated with any change to the spanner crab dilly limit. The Panel did not have sufficient economic and operational information to form a science-based view on the maximum number of dillies, but felt at least the following issues should be considered – economic impacts, discard mortality and the potential use of electronic monitoring. As previously recommended, the Panel asks the industry and government to come to an agreement on an appropriate maximum dilly numbers based on their understanding of the economics and operation of the fishery as soon as is practicable.

The Panel noted the complexity and challenges associated with allocation of ITEs and ITQs, the ramifications for industry, and individual fishers and their businesses, and the wide range of allocation options that are currently under consideration. The Panel considered it important to focus on those options that are legally defensible, equitable and achievable, given the current circumstances where access to most fisheries was already established through license codes and catch histories.

The Expert Panel also noted the status of key deliverables under the Sustainable Fisheries Strategies and the proposed implementation steps to deliver the fisheries reforms and harvest strategies.

The next meeting will be on 29 and 30 November 2018.

The members of the Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel are: Associate Professor Ian Tibbetts, Dr Cathy Dichmont, Mr Ian Cartwright, Associate Professor Daryl McPhee (apology), Dr Michelle Heupel, Dr Nadine Marshall, and Dr Sean Pascoe.