Communique 29-30 November 2018

The sixth Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel meeting was held in Brisbane on the 29th and 30th of November 2018 and was focused on discussion around ecological risk assessments for priority fisheries and the development of harvest strategies.

The Panel had a private session and discussed the progress of the fisheries reform process and agreed that it was proceeding largely on schedule, despite the need for some Fisheries Queensland resources to support the response to recent tragic incidents in Cid Harbour.

The Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, the Honourable Mark Furner MP joined the meeting and discussed implementation of the Strategy. He thanked the members for their independent advice and outlined that the government was considering the major fisheries reforms and a direction would be communicated with stakeholders in early 2019. The Panel supported the work being progressed and welcomed the government’s commitment to important reforms such as vessel tracking, which the Panel noted is rapidly becoming the standard in all other states and internationally. The Panel acknowledged the concerns from stakeholders and reflected on reforms in other states and lessons that can be taken from them. The Minister also discussed the proposed closure to the take of non-cephalopod molluscs in Moreton Bay, which the Panel supported given the sustainability concerns for the species affected. The Panel reiterated the importance of being clear about decisions on catch sharing among sectors and for all sectors to be managed through harvest strategies and other management tools. The establishment of catch sharing arrangements gives each sector clear rights, obligations and benefits to sustain, and benefit from their share of Queensland’s fisheries resources. Where one sector wishes to increase their share of the resource, there are provisions to do so under the fisheries resource reallocation policy.

The Panel pointed to the important community role of commercial fishers in using their skills to harvest our wild fisheries on behalf of all Queenslanders. In that sense, Fisheries Queensland is in the process of allocating to the commercial sector what should be regarded as the Queensland community’s quota. The Panel also noted that recreational fishers have an important economic role in coastal communities and supported catch sharing decisions that consider their interests as well as those that provide Indigenous Australians opportunities to continue traditional fishing as well as economic development opportunities through commercial fishing.

The Panel reviewed draft harvest strategies, provided feedback on their layout and content, and suggested that consistency across fisheries is important. It was noted that the harvest strategies would cover target species, as well as byproduct, bycatch and protected species. The Panel recommended that harvest strategies be simple, easy to understand, with clear decision rules. It was noted that not every objective will have a prescriptive decision rule and that one decision rule may cover a number of ecological, social and economic objectives. The Panel also recommended that Queensland start with simple harvest strategies and improve them over time.  The Department agreed to develop a consistent template for harvest strategies on which the Panel would provide feedback.

The Panel also noted an update on the social and economic monitoring under the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy and the proposed implementation steps to deliver this. The Panel highlighted the importance of ensuring that the information collected informs indicators that are aligned with the harvest strategy objectives across fisheries, are relevant for decision making and are consistent across objectives. The Panel supported the early commencement of economic data collection and suggested there may be a need to further consider the collection of social information once indicators and objectives of the harvest strategies have been more clearly defined.

The Panel noted the completion of the draft whole-of-fishery (Level 1) Ecological Risk Assessments (ERA) for the east coast inshore fishery, blue swimmer and mud crab fishery and the reef line fishery.  The potential for effort to transfer between regions or species was noted as a concern for all three fisheries, and was influential in increasing the relative risk rating for each of the fisheries. The Panel cautioned that Level 1 assessments are a preliminary filtering process to identify species groups that require a detailed evaluation of their risks and that it is often very conservative. The Panel anticipates some risks will be reduced or removed in Level 2 assessments where more detailed information is considered. The Panel also recommended looking at ‘residual’ risks after management measures are applied, and provided some technical advice on the Level 2 assessments and best-practice methodological approaches. The Panel noted that, when completed, the ERAs will be important in allowing fisheries to maintain Commonwealth export approval.

Panel members that attended the recent East Coast Inshore and Trawl Fishery Working Groups as observers, provided an overview to the Panel on the feedback and some of the key issues raised. All members attending working group meetings felt it had been valuable and they had achieved a better understanding of some of the challenges faced by stakeholders.

Members were provided with an update on the proposed management measures to combat the black marketing of black jewfish, primarily for their high-value swim bladders. The Panel noted the large increases in catch reporting for black jewfish, which is concerning, and that a TAC could drive a race to fish. The Panel noted that black jewfish is highly susceptible to over-exploitation due to its biology and aggregation patterns. There is currently a consultation process underway to gain feedback on the proposed changes. The Panel reaffirmed the need to take urgent action to prevent overfishing of the stock, particularly given the significant increase in catch.

The Panel considered the draft framework for the blue swimmer crab harvest strategy. In determining the resource sharing arrangements between the commercial and recreational sector it was noted that a weight of evidence approach would be adopted to address the discrepancies in historical recreational catch information. The existing stock assessment can provide some insights into the state of the stock and, when combined with empirical data from the fishery, can be used to inform the TAC setting.

The Panel noted an update on implementation of the data validation plan and discussed proposals for progressing forensic auditing, logbook designs and data range checks.  The Panel felt it was important to ground truth new rules with fishers to ensure that they are practical.  The Panel felt that over time it was important to ensure that data could be used for research and management of fisheries while still maintaining privacy. The Panel also felt that it would be extremely useful to collect data on price to better inform some of the social and economic objectives.

The Panel reviewed a draft grey mackerel harvest strategy and discussed an analysis of co-harvested species for the east coast inshore fishery. The Panel reiterated that only a small number of species should be managed through quota to avoid too much complexity and costs while still positively influencing sustainability, fisher behaviour and effort.  The Panel discussed options about how discards could be best minimised within the context of quota management, and suggested some management options.

The Panel received an update on the progress of the spanner crab and coral reef line harvest strategies and provided feedback on some of the technical details.

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 (Absent), and Dr Sean Pascoe.