Communique 30-31 July 2018

Role of the panel: The Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel was established to provide independent expert advice to the Minister responsible for fisheries and Fisheries Queensland on best practice fisheries management and implementation of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy. Its advice does not represent Queensland Government policy.

The fourth Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel meeting was held in Brisbane on 30 and 31st of July 2018 and focused on providing advice on the reform options for the Trawl, Crab and East Coast Inshore fisheries. The meeting was presided by Associate Professor Ian Tibbetts after his formal appointment as Chair of the Panel.

The Panel received a report on the progress of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy and noted that we are now one year into the reform process. The Panel was impressed with the progress that had been achieved in a relatively short period of time; particularly in the areas of enforcement, monitoring and engagement, and congratulated the working groups on their strong commitment to the process. The Panel reinforced the importance and benefits of vessel tracking, which would be rolled out at the end of the year to crab, net and line fishers.

The meeting focused on the reform proposals developed by the fishery working groups, particularly those provided by priority fisheries of trawl, crab and east coast inshore. The Panel welcomed the significant progress achieved by the working groups, the high quality of their recommendations and incisive questions, as well as their clear engagement in the reform process, which was obvious to the Panel from the communiques and supporting papers provided to the panel.

The Panel recognized that there was still much work to be done in analysing the preferred approach for each working group (particularly modelling different allocation scenarios and considering impacts on fishers), but felt that all of the working groups were heading in the right direction. The Panel supported the broad reform packages offered for comment by each of the working groups to address fishery specific objectives in alignment with the objectives and principles expressed in the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy. While the Panel appreciated that each of the working groups had been focused on the structural reforms to their fishery, the Panel suggested that subsequent meetings should also give additional focus to measures that would reduce fishery interactions with protected species as well as mechanisms that encourage innovation and best practice within their fishery (e.g. reducing by-catch).

The Panel reviewed and discussed the reform options for the Queensland Trawl Fishery, including the results of public consultation and recommendations from the Trawl Working Group (TWG). The Panel noted the issues raised by the TWG included a lack of effective control on effort at the stock level and management of excess capacity. The Panel supported segregating the fishery into management regions based on a clear preference to manage fisheries at the level of stock, thereby facilitating the setting effort caps. The Panel felt that the allocation of existing effort units to management regions is essential to ensure the success of this reform. It was noted that this would likely result in greater stewardship by fishers in the regions in which they hold effort units and actively fish. In response to questions provided by the TWG, the Panel recommended that trawl harvest strategies be developed for target species, rather than by attempts to directly manage all of the by-product and by-catch species in the fishery. The Panel supported TWG recommended removal of the 70 hull unit limit, and extending and revising the effort unit conversion factor (EUCF), with a view to also consider increasing the maximum length of vessels to 25m once the effort caps are shown to be effective. The Panel advised that to achieve this, the existing hull unit and effort relationship would need to be updated for each management region (based on fishing power and effort standardisation). The Panel felt that effort caps should be set based on current effort levels in each region and that the regions ideally would move towards maximum economic yield (MEY) expeditiously rather than set caps based on maximum sustainable yield (MSY) as proposed, particularly as the available estimate suggested that an MSY target is likely to be above current effort levels and the effort levels needed to meet MEY in longer term.

The Panel considered the proposed management reform package suggested by the Crab Working Group (CWG). The Panel supported the CWG recommended transition to a quota-managed fishery, which would be made more robust by the source tagging of commercially caught crabs. It was highlighted that a dynamic Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) could be effective in the crab fishery and the working group could consider in-season changes to the TACC to take advantage of a strong season to increase the TACC when driven by favourable environmental fluctuations. It was suggested that moving to an ITQ should largely eliminate the take of C-grade crabs and would further consolidate the number of fishing platforms over time. It was recommended that, should a more rapid reduction in fisher numbers be required to reduce competition within the fishery, then the CWG might examine a requirement for minimum quota holdings. The Panel strongly supported a reduction in the recreational bag limit for mud crabs to an appropriate level in order to combat black marketing and allow for it to be set at a level where it can more effectively control the recreational take through a harvest strategy. The Panel suggested that the CWG might consider a reduced recreational bag limit of either 5 or 6 crabs per person (in conjunction with a boat limit), given that available data on recreational catch rates suggest that very few recreational fishers will be adversely affected under such a regulation.

The Panel discussed the reform options for the East Coast Inshore Fishery to identify a suitable management framework that would improve stewardship in the fishery, improve recreational fishing satisfaction, maintain a supply of wild locally-sourced seafood and reduce protected species interactions. It was noted that an important step forward in this fishery is moving towards the Inshore Working Group’s recommended management regions, which will provide for greater stewardship of the resource and deliver benefits to all users of the fishery, including local communities. It was noted that any management reforms need to be considered as a package that includes opportunities for gear innovation, as well as better access to training and the collaborative development of best management practice guidelines (particularly from experienced fishers). The Panel discussed a broad range of potential management controls for the fishery ranging from input controls to individual transferable quotas (ITQs). The Panel supported moving immediately to ITQs for a limited number of key primary target species, with secondary commercial/by-product species being regulated through either TACCs or catch triggers until there are strong indications to suggest that they may require an ITQ. This advice from the Panel to the Inshore Working Group involved careful consideration of lessons learned from other multi-species fisheries where too many species were managed under an ITQ and the quota species often remained under-caught, as well as the potential resourcing commitments of managing and setting ITQs for each region. While the Panel considers this is a sound fisheries management approach, other proposals will be required to further address the protected species and by-catch risks. The Panel is conscious that if the Inshore fishery does not explicitly address these issues then the value of the reform process will not be fully realised. By wisely transitioning to regional management, protected species and by-catch issues can be better dealt with through tailored management for each management region with appropriate levers delivered through the harvest strategy.

The Panel considered the snapper stock assessment and the ensuing independent review, which will be released soon. The Panel agreed with the findings of both the review and the original assessment, which acknowledged the concerns about the status of a stock that data clearly indicates has been overfished for many years. The Panel felt that urgent and decisive management action would be needed to rebuild the snapper stock and that such advice would be welcomed from the new Rocky Reef Working Group. It was noted that while snapper is a slow growing species and is likely to be slow to recover, it would be irresponsible for managers to avoid further and urgent action.

The Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, the Honourable Mark Furner MP, joined the meeting and outlined his aspirations for the process and his expectations of the Panel. He clearly reiterated the importance of independent knowledge and expertise-based advice in progressing the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy. The Minister expressed his confidence in the Panel and that the knowledge and experience of Panel members would help to ensure that his decisions around fishery reforms are guided by best practice management.

Following the Minster’s departure from the meeting, the Panel discussed a proposal from the Sea Cucumber Working Group (SCWG) to explore renewed access to the black teatfish fishery, which has been closed since 1999. It was clear from recent surveys that the stock of this resource has since recovered to a state where sustainable levels of fishing pressure could cautiously be supported. The Panel were supportive of reopening commercial access to black teatfish based on the available science, noting some concerns remained among some stakeholders and so they recommended a focus on developing a robust and well considered precautionary harvest strategy. The Panel also suggested that recommendations from previous management strategy evaluations of the fishery should be adopted where possible to ensure a robust and sustainable harvest strategy for the fishery.

An update on the development of harvest strategies for several other fisheries was provided. The Panel noted that the Coral Reef Finfish Fishery Working Group had been working with the CSIRO, to develop a harvest strategy for the Coral Reef Finfish Fishery, and how the release of the harvest strategy was planned for 2019. In addition to this, progress had also been made with establishing a harvest strategy for the sea cucumber, tropical rock lobster, marine aquarium fish and coral fisheries, with harvest strategies expected to be viewed by the Panel in December 2018 for each of these. The Panel also acknowledged that a draft for the harvest strategy of the Spanner Crab Fishery is planned for release in 2018, after the appropriate amendments had been evaluated and made following earlier meetings with stakeholders. In addition to this, current amendments were also underway for Spanish mackerel to be added to the Coral Reef Finfish Fishery, establishment of a Rocky Reef Fishery Working Group is underway, and a regional management trail is being developed for Moreton Bay.

The Panel noted a lack of adequate information available to inform stock management was a risk that could jeopardise timely delivery of the reform process. The Panel supported moving towards well-tested off-the-shelf assessment models (routine assessments) to ensure the delivery of regular information to support effective harvest strategies. The Panel recommended that reduction on the number of customised models sought could allow some resources to be redeployed to deliver routine assessments and further retrospective analysis work to support initial harvest strategy development.

Allocation principles and initial stakeholder feedback were discussed. It was noted that a ‘Fish Hack’ initiative would be run next month with the aim to seeking from non-fishery resource sectors novel ideas for considering approaches to allocating Queensland’s fisheries resources for the benefit of all Queenslanders.

The next meetings will be in October and November 2019.

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