Communique 20–21 November 2019

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 ninth Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel (the Panel) meeting was held in Brisbane from 20 to 21 November 2019. The meeting focused on draft harvest strategies, how to update the harvest strategy policy and guidelines, and how the management reforms will deliver a framework that can effectively implement the harvest strategies.

The Expert Panel noted that independent feedback had been sought on the draft harvest strategies following a recommendation from the Panel.

The Panel made recommendations to the draft harvest strategies generally:

  • Ensure that the objectives in the harvest strategies are consistent and aligned where possible.
  • Where access to a fishery is restricted for sustainability reasons (e.g. reaching a biomass limit reference point) all sectors should be equally restricted.
  • Economic and social objectives should be more explicit where possible. To support this the Panel have provided FQ with wording on the objectives that align with indicators that will likely be available to monitor social and economic performance.
  • Maximum Economic Yield (MEY) should be used as the target preferentially, and 60% biomass is used as a proxy for MEY, when MEY is not known.
  • Use the internationally recognised Hockey Stick Decision Rule as the approach for setting the total allowable catch (TAC) in harvest strategies where biomass estimates are available for key stocks (noting that different decision rules may be used for fisheries where this approach may be inappropriate). The hockey stick rule establishes a linear relationship between changes in biomass and the TAC i.e. the TAC is incrementally increased with improving biomass, and incrementally reduced with declining biomass. The rule is also designed to ensure the fishery is closed below the limit reference point (20%) and continues to rebuild towards the target reference point (MEY or 60%). The use of the hockey stick rule will help to avoid the large changes in the TAC that could otherwise occur when transition across reference points (i.e. when moving from bMSY to bMEY).
  • Where there is uncertainty in the stock assessment (e.g. data limited) a precautionary approach should be considered to reduce the risk to stocks. This could be included in the policy and guidelines.
  • The Panel discussed the approach to commercial and traditional indigenous fishing access, noting that the policy providing pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to access fishery resources for commercial purposes is being finalised.
  • The Panel raised the importance of data on discards from all sectors. While the challenges in capturing these data were acknowledged, Fisheries Queensland needs to continue to find opportunities to capture this in the future to inform new harvest strategies.
  • The Panel noted that control on recreational fishing effort was far harder to manage than the commercial sector, given the open access nature of recreational fishing in Queensland. The Panel noted that a variety of management tools may need to be considered.
  • The Panel discussed more broadly the concept of social and economic data and the challenges that all fisheries regulators have in defining and monitoring social and economic success, and how to manage harvest in such a way that maximises the benefits flowing to communities.

The Panel considered what should be included in the updated Fisheries Queensland Harvest Strategy Policy and Guidelines. The Panel advised that it would be highly beneficial to look for alignment with the Commonwealth policy and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 (Commonwealth) where possible and also include sections on dealing with stock assessment uncertainty, protected species interactions, detailing catch shares and explaining the categorisation of species into Tiers.

The Panel endorsed all draft harvest strategies with some minor amendments, as discussed above, and appreciated the high quality of the draft harvest strategies and how Fisheries Queensland had overcome the challenges of developing so many at one time, alongside the reform process. The Panel noted that the invaluable work and dedication of Working Group members has been critical in the development of such high-quality harvest strategy approaches for Queensland’s fisheries. At the next round of meetings, Working Groups might benefit from setting out a clear vision for the future of their fisheries.

The Panel identified that there will need to be some future work to address other issues currently not in scope for these harvest strategies and reforms. Of note was the challenge of managing recreational harvest in the mud crab fishery, due to possible improved catchability with new pot designs and the significant levels of illegal fishing.

The Panel recommended undertaking further monitoring of market demands and price trends to identify possible emerging drivers that will influence fisher behaviour, with fisher behaviour expected to change as a result of the reforms. Given the open access nature of recreational fishers the Panel advised that Queensland Fisheries be open to any unintended consequences of the proposed reforms on recreational fisher behaviour.

Fisheries Queensland presented an update on the status of the reform implementation, which the Panel supported. Fisheries Queensland gave an overview of the expected operational activities that will be rolled out over the coming months to support the reforms including communications, education and training, internal policy and procedural updates and consultation.

Fisheries Queensland presented on the ITQ and trawl effort unit allocation elements of the proposed reforms. The Panel generally supported the proposals and commended the efforts made to look at several options and select the option that is least impactful to most fishers. The Panel noted that fishers have had two opportunities to provide input and understand their indicative allocations under the proposed approaches.

Fisheries Queensland presented on the current stock assessment, ecological risk assessments and monitoring work being undertaken. The Panel was supportive of this work. The Panel recommended looking at finding ways to capture regional data on economic activity from fishers as part of the currently underway social and economic survey. The Panel also recommended the development of a decision tree to assign a risk level to stock assessments so that the urgency and frequency for assessments for individual stocks can be determined.