Communique 14 December 2021
Role of the panel: The Sustainable Fisheries Scientific Expert Panel (the 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 2017-2027. Its advice does not represent Queensland Government policy.
Prior to this meeting, on 8 November 2021, Professor Bronwyn Gillanders advised that she would be resigning from the Panel due to work commitments. The Panel and Fisheries Queensland thanked Bronwyn for her contributions and wish her the best in future endeavours. Appointment of new Panel members to replace both Bronwyn and Michelle Heupel will be a priority in the new year.
A half-day meeting (Meeting 14) of the Panel was held via videoconference on 14 December 2021.
The purpose of the meeting was for Fisheries Queensland to provide the Panel with updates on development of a Gulf inshore fishery harvest strategy, the recently published stock assessments for king threadfin, and the implications of export approval conditions on the coral and sea cucumber fisheries.
The Panel welcomed Dallas D’Silva, the new Executive Director, Fisheries Queensland. The Panel heard that Dallas has experience in fisheries management for multiple jurisdictions in both regulatory and industry advocacy roles and has a particular focus on improving stakeholder relationships and growing the next generation of fisheries managers, researchers and fishing sector leaders.
The Panel provided the feedback that from their perspective Fisheries Queensland has done well in terms of delivering on the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy reforms, given that the reform program was very ambitious. The Panel noted that most of the reforms undertaken to date have focussed on the commercial sector, and it is also important to ensure the recreational fishing pressure in high population areas such as south east Queensland is appropriately managed. Stakeholder engagement models from various jurisdictions were discussed.
Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the implementation of Sustainable Fisheries Strategy. The commercial fishing app was released as a soft launch last week in expectation of refinements being made prior to a full release early next year. Most fisheries other than coral and sea cucumbers are covered. Change management, particularly for those less comfortable with technology, will be required. The king threadfin and Spanish mackerel stock assessments were released 13 December 2021 and the Spanish mackerel working group members are being contacted individually to discuss. Separate meetings will be held 15 December 2021 to update the commercial and recreational sectors. A Panel member is invited to attend the next working group meeting on 7 February 2022. The quota allocation process and internal reviews are now finalised, with approximately seven matters for external review. The 1.2 tonne minimum quota holding in the crab fishery appears to be accepted although possible non-compliance may be an issue in future seasons. Mesh and ply size issues have been resolved with the East Coast Inshore Fishery Working Group. Fishers in the Reef Line Fishery are experiencing challenges associated with competition and quota availability.
The Panel emphasised the importance of focussing discussions and discussion papers on viable options for management change rather than posing open ended questions based on the management issue to be addressed.
Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the current status and issues to consider for the development of a Gulf of Carpentaria inshore fishery harvest strategy. A working group has been established to commence reforms in the Gulf, with the first meeting 18 January 2022. Sustainability concerns focus on the key species, barramundi and king threadfin (net) and Spanish mackerel (line). Most product is landed in Karumba then road freighted south. Grey mackerel is often sold locally. The Panel heard that data on customary and recreational take in the Gulf are extremely limited. The level 2 ecological risk assessment (ERA) indicated high risks for many threatened and endangered species. Future pressures such as additional development roads may improve transport logistics and increase fishing pressure from both commercial fishers and grey nomad recreational fishers. Panel members noted the importance of fishing as food security for remote indigenous communities.
Fisheries Queensland advised that a working group is being set up for the Gulf of Carpentaria that will look at economic opportunities from fishing and charter activities. Also, an indigenous-identified fisheries manager is currently being recruited for a 3-year body of work covering fishing opportunities in the Gulf. Fisheries Queensland also noted that the Queensland Government is moving down the path of Treaty which will probably be similar to Victoria’s, and that fishing has been identified as relevant to Treaty work. The Panel recommended leveraging existing relationships given the difficulty of building new relationships with limited face to face engagement. Fisheries Queensland undertook to provide an update on the indigenous fishing program to the Panel in the next Expert Panel meeting.
Fisheries Queensland also advised that preliminary discussions with the Northern Territory had resulted in an agreement in principle to ensure consistency in fishing rules where possible.
The Panel noted that the management of protected species such as scalloped hammerhead was very difficult to do piecemeal given that any management levers for one species had an impact on various other species. The Panel requested advice of the overall picture in terms of management measures – gear, closures, etc. The Panel further recommended that Fisheries Queensland review the history of previous engagement on reforms in the Gulf, for example 1999 Tropical Management Advisory Committee. Fisheries Queensland noted that the last reform was in 2012 which resulted in the consolidation of symbols and removed considerable net length.
Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the recently released stock assessment for king threadfin. Recruitment in the Gulf has been poor for barramundi and king threadfin, the cause of which is unknown but may be linked to increased siltation. It was noted that in the Gulf a shift was occurring where king threadfin are becoming more of a target species and that fishing power was improving due to improved communication among recreational fishers. Management changes would include possible reduction in the total allowable catch with possibly trip limits, and possibly spawning closures as advised by the available science.
The Panel acknowledged the Department’s process for seeking and addressing peer reviews of the stock assessments. The Panel advised it would be important to explain the catchability factor in terms of operational changes to fishing. The Panel will be provided with Gulf working group papers for the meeting 18-20 January 2022 in Cairns.
Fisheries Queensland updated the Panel on challenges associated with meeting the conditions of Commonwealth Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) approvals for export in the coral and sea cucumber fisheries.
The coral fishery received a WTO with several very restrictive conditions that many fishers advise will make their businesses unviable (https://www.awe.gov.au/environment/marine/fisheries/qld/coral). The fishery is already fully allocated under two basket quotas, which must now be managed with species-specific catch limits, to be in place ahead of the next season on 1 July 2022. Because there is a lack of scientific data that can demonstrate sustainability, the conditioned catch limits are extremely conservative. Implementing individual catch limits for 80-90 species via either competitive quota or individual transferable quota (ITQ) by 1 July 2022 will be a significant challenge from a regulatory viewpoint as well as reporting and systems capacity. In addition, the WTO requires efforts to be made in this current season to constrain catch within the new species-specific catch limits. There is no regulatory ability to constrain catch mid-season, and the harvest of many species was already close to the proposed limits when the WTO was implemented. Some fishers are seeking to meet these limits voluntarily, with reports that some fishers are likely to exit the fishery next year but continue to sell from existing holding in aquarium systems. Both the Department and the industry will need to invest significantly in order to meet the WTO conditions for next year. The Panel queried the ability to differentiate species in the field given most modern taxonomy is based on genetics.
The Panel also heard that despite these restrictions on the commercial sector, all but two coral researchers were operating without the necessary General Fisheries Permits. This has implications in terms of monitoring and constraining the total extraction of coral from the Great Barrier Reef. The Panel noted that Fisheries Queensland is reviewing its policy position and will undertake consultation in 2022 ahead of any decisions. It is recognised that more education of permitting requirements under the Fisheries Act 1994 is required across the research sector more generally.
Fisheries Queensland will seek advice from the Panel in February 2022 regarding options for reallocation of quota into species-specific ITQ for some key species, as well as the new General Fisheries Permit policy.
The Panel noted that the restrictions in the WTO conditions were clearly not based on sustainability issues and were being driven by other factors. The costs are disproportional to the level of risk and appeared to be driven by a desire to shut down the fishery. It was further noted that restrictions to Australian coral export would create a black market that would be supplied from less developed and less regulated regions outside of Australia’s jurisdiction.
The sea cucumber fishery received a WTO for species other than black teatfish just after agenda papers were circulated (https://www.awe.gov.au/environment/marine/fisheries/qld/sea-cucumber). Investment will still be required for additional studies and assessments in order to meet the new conditions. Fisheries Queensland has written to the Commonwealth with additional information in support of black teatfish approvals but this additional information has not yet been discussed.
Fisheries Queensland advised that the learnings from this process may inform the necessary revisions of the coral and sea cucumber harvest strategies. In particular, biomass-based indicators and traditional stock assessment modelling may not be fit-for-purpose for some species and fishing operations. Other indicators may be calculated with more certainty and engender greater confidence in identifying sustainable levels of take (e.g. sea cucumber and corals).
For both fisheries, the Panel recommended continued liaison with counterparts in other jurisdictions and recommended that the issue be discussed as part of the Australian Fisheries Management Forum process.
The Panel agreed to suggest dates for the next meetings in March 2022 and June 2022.
The members of the Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel are: Associate Professor Ian Tibbetts (Chair), Dr Cathy Dichmont (apology for part of this meeting), Professor Ian Cartwright, Associate Professor Daryl McPhee, Professor Natalie Stoeckl and Dr Sean Pascoe.