Communique 6 March 2018

The third meeting Expert Panel meeting was held in Brisbane on 6 March 2018 and included a joint session with the fisheries working groups.

The Panel was provided an update on implementation of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy (the Strategy) and noted that 6 of the 33 actions under the Strategy have been completed. The Panel was impressed with the progress to date and noted that there had been significant stakeholder interest and debate over the past couple of months on a range of issues such as vessel tracking and reforms to the trawl, crab and inshore fisheries.

An update was provided on the fishery working groups for east coast inshore, trawl and crab. Panel members were very encouraged by the progress of the working groups and agreed that the communiques have been a great way to disseminate the outcomes of each meeting. The Panel was impressed by the progressive and open minded thinking from the working groups around the reforms required to enable each of the fisheries to demonstrate best practice. The Panel also received an update on the progress of the reef line fishery working group and the quota process for 2018.

The Panel noted information on the state of the scallop resource and received a brief verbal summary of the latest data on catch and independent survey results. The Panel felt that additional steps will likely be required to rebuild the stock given the very low biomass and is awaiting recommendations from the trawl working group. The Panel agreed to hold a teleconference meeting in 4-6 weeks to review the data in more detail and to evaluate the recommendations from the working group. The Panel noted that there was sufficient time to consider the issues given the next season will not start until the end of the year. The Panel also acknowledged the economic importance of scallop to regional communities.

The proposed principles for implementation of the Indigenous fishing policies were outlined to the panel. The panel suggested that there should be a focus on where Indigenous commercial fisheries have worked in the past. This includes looking at other jurisdictions (e.g. Torres Strait Regional Authority, other countries). The panel also recommended giving consideration to more formal licensing arrangements for commercial Indigenous fishing and setting aside a formal allocation of quota for key fisheries as part of this. The Panel acknowledged the importance of addressing these principles and the significant complexity and challenges they represent.

The Panel received a copy of the draft stock assessment for snapper for preliminary review. The meeting provided an opportunity to clarify some of the model parameters and data used. The Panel gave some commentary on model inputs and outputs, and then recommended that the stock assessment also be reviewed by an external stock assessment expert.

A summary of the proposed amendments to the Fisheries Act 1994 were presented to the Panel for feedback. It was noted that current arrangements are increasingly ineffective and that they require updating to enable a responsive fisheries management system. The Panel strongly welcomed the proposed changes and agreed they were well overdue. It was noted that a discussion paper on the proposed amendments to the Act is expected to be issued soon for public feedback, with the intent to introduce a Bill to Parliament by the end of the year.

An amended version of the Ecological Risk Assessment Guideline (ERA) was presented to the panel for endorsement. Panel members noted that a number of recommendations relating to the structure of the Guidelines and methodology have been adopted which align them with the national ERA framework. A few additional references were provided and will be incorporated. The Panel endorsed the Guideline, which will be published in the near future. The Panel also recommended seeking data from other jurisdictions and AFMA to fast-track the process.

The Panel endorsed the Reallocation Policy subject to a few suggested changes, including the Minister to have an option for establishing a Reallocation Panel to provide independent advice to inform his decision. The Panel also provide advice on different allocation approaches for allocating access (e.g. quota). They acknowledged a number of options such as equal allocation; history-based allocations, nominations, auctions, or a mix of those options, and discussed the pros and cons of each model. The Panel noted that common practice is to use history, but data need to be validated (e.g. dockets). The Panel also noted the concerns from industry about quota consolidation. The Panel discussed different approaches taken internationally to this issue (e.g. maximum holdings), but recognised in most cases these are business decisions.

The Panel endorsed the Data Validation Plan, and agreed it would improve the confidence in the data that underpin decisions. The Plan includes a range of measures such as: education programs, a commercial app / electronic logbook; cross-checking data with all available information including quota reports, catch disposal records and vessel tracking; investing in novel technologies such as cameras / digital observers. The Panel felt that further work should be done to validate the gear used, as this information is crucial for stock assessments and understanding ecological risks. The Panel also felt consideration should be given to training fishers in species identification (including for protected species).

The meeting was closed by a joint session with the fisheries working groups and Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel. This session involved a workshop on research priorities under the monitoring and research plan, and allowed members to engage in a Q&A session with the Expert Panel.

The Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel will meet again in Late July and October 2017.

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.