Communique 4 August 2021

A half-day meeting (Meeting 12) of the Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel (the Panel) was held via videoconference on 4 August 2021. The Panel welcomed new member Professor Bronwyn Gillanders.

The purpose of the meeting was for Fisheries Queensland to provide the Panel with updates on the implementation of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017-2027 reforms and to outline the current status and next steps for key species such as scallop, snapper, pearl perch and Spanish mackerel.

The Panel noted that it had not met formally since March 2020 and that more frequent updates on fisheries issues would be of benefit, given the speed at which reforms were progressing. Fisheries Queensland undertook to provide information to the Panel on a more regular basis including early advice of working group agendas.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the quota allocation process in the crab, east coast inshore and trawl fisheries. The Panel noted that the first step in the process had been to advise fishers of their eligible reported catch history and provide an opportunity for them to amend or substitute these amounts. Allocation decisions and quota certificates have now been issued, and many fishers are contacting Fisheries Queensland seeking advice regarding their allocation.

Fisheries Queensland also advised that the catch limit summaries had been passed into legislation and published on the website. The Panel were advised that the first season for some fisheries is shorter than 12 months and some catch limits have been applied on a pro rata basis.

The Panel noted that 13 new Harvest Strategies and a Harvest Strategy Policy have been approved and will be published on the Department’s website prior to 1 September 2021 -

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the new reporting requirements that will come into effect on 1 September 2021. Details of the rules are available online - The Panel noted that work is continuing for the commercial fisheries app to be available by 1 September 2021. The Panel expressed support for systems that would provide real-time, online transactions.

The Panel was updated on the recent Scallop stock assessment that featured new fishery-independent data, which indicate low recruitment and reduced catches in the southern inshore trawl region. The assessment indicated a decline in biomass from 22% in 2018 (following recruitment) to 12% in 2020, which is below the default 20% limit reference point outlined in the Harvest Strategy Policy. The Panel agreed that the decrease in biomass appears to be both environmentally and recruitment driven and noted that scallops are renowned for large and often poorly understood variations in recruitment. The Panel discussed a range of factors that may influence stock rebuilding and noted shifts in market behaviour in response to the scallop stock declines. The Panel agreed to arrange for a Panel member to attend the next Southern Inshore Trawl Working Group meeting.

The Panel was updated on Snapper and Pearl Perch stock status in the rocky reef fishery. The newly reformed Rocky Reef Fishery Working Group met for the first time in two years to commence development of a rocky reef harvest strategy and to review that fishery’s status. The Panel noted that 2020 stock assessments for snapper and pearl perch are currently undergoing independent peer review, and they will be presented to the Working Group meeting for discussion. An FRDC Management Strategy Evaluation project was discussed, which indicated limited opportunity for recovery of snapper and pearl perch stocks without further management action. The Panel discussed the negative impacts of a potential effort shift within and between the rocky reef fishery and the reef line fishery, particularly as not all species are managed via individual quota. The ‘Switch your Fish’ campaign was highlighted as an alternative strategy that aims to change fisher behaviour and redirect effort to less vulnerable fish species. The Panel noted the danger of this strategy shifting the management problem onto other species. The Expert Panel agreed to arrange for a Panel member to attend the next Rocky Reef Working Group meeting.

The Panel noted further the difficulty of addressing over-arching issues such as effort shift among species and among regions when the management tools focus on specific species. Addressing effort creep from technological improvements in recreational vessels and gear is a similar problem, and it was noted that the difference in efficiency is not consistent across the board. These matters were raised for ongoing consideration.

Information regarding the draft East Coast Spanish Mackerel Fishery stock assessment was previously provided to the Panel out of session. Fisheries Queensland noted that a harvest strategy would be developed over the remainder of the year, in consultation with the Working Group and the broader public, with a view to implementation at the start of the 2022 season. The Panel agreed to arrange for a Panel member to attend the next Spanish Mackerel Working Group meeting.

Fisheries Queensland tabled a letter from a Working Group member in which concerns were expressed regarding the trawl allocation process and specifically requesting review by the Panel. The Panel advised that they were unable to review individual complaints or revisit a process that has already been developed, and that the most appropriate forum for such complaints is through the Department’s own complaints management framework. The Panel noted that it had provided high level advice on the various consultation options during the development of the allocation process, and consider that overall, the chosen process was the best option available.

The Panel noted that there appears to be widespread discontent in the industry and among working group members, and encouraged Fisheries Queensland to assist fishers both understand and engage in the reform processes. For example, training modules would assist fishers in the navigation of the government processes and gain a better understanding of management and assessment fundamentals. Such training would allow them to optimise their inputs to the reform.

The Panel recommended additional fact sheets or updated web content to address apparent gaps in communication, including the scope and process for internal reviews, and the role of the working groups and the Panel.

The next Panel meeting is scheduled for 1-2 September 2021. It will discuss progress on ongoing fisheries reforms, sustainability issues and response options for scallops, snapper, pearl perch and Spanish mackerel, a draft rebuilding strategy, and an update on Commonwealth wildlife trade operation approvals for all export fisheries.

The Panel had a private session and discussed a range of relevant and emerging matters. Panel members resolved to provide Minister Furner with a written update of the Panel’s opinion of the progress, achievements and limitations of the implementation of the Strategy.

The members of the Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel are: Associate Professor Ian Tibbetts (Chair), Dr Cathy Dichmont, Mr Ian Cartwright, Associate Professor Daryl McPhee, Dr Michelle Heupel (apology), Professor Natalie Stoeckl, Dr Sean Pascoe, and Professor Bronwyn Gillanders.