Communique 9 April 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 seventh Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel meeting was held in Brisbane on 9th April 2019 and focused on the implementation of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy, draft harvest strategies and the Indigenous fishing policy.

The Panel received a general update on the recent activities and achievements outlined in the Strategy, including the release of allocation discussion papers for Inshore, Crab and Trawl fisheries. The Panel considers that while the timeline for implementing the Strategy remains ambitious, there was also a requirement to ensure momentum is maintained and the period of uncertainty for fishers is minimised. It was noted that a survey is currently underway to gain public feedback on the allocation policy, and that some fishers in these and other fisheries are understandably becoming anxious about their potential allocation.

The Panel was also updated on the implementation of vessel tracking systems and the Fisheries (Sustainable Fisheries Strategy) Amendment Bill 2018 that was passed in late February. It was noted that while there have been some issues around the installation of some vessel tracking units, Fisheries Queensland (FQ) are individually case-managing these to ensure they are resolved. The Panel noted that experience in other jurisdictions has shown that once the initial concerns were overcome, the benefits of VMS far outweighed costs and was pleased to be briefed on a number of positive stories that have already emerged related to the use of vessel tracking data and their expectation that these will be circulated to stakeholders.

The Panel noted the results of an independent study by the Institute for Sustainable Futures (University of Technology Sydney) to assess FQ’s current state of stakeholder engagement and directions for future improvement in external communication. Barriers to engagement included fractured stakeholder networks and a perception of ‘not listening’ as part of the decision making processes. The Panel were encouraged that the outcomes of the research are being used to increase engagement; this will be particularly important as fishers come to terms with the individual implications of harvest strategies, allocation and other key outcomes of the Strategy.

The Panel also noted an update on the state-wide recreational fishing survey, which is used to estimate the number of recreational fishers, take and effort regionally throughout Queensland. For this survey the Department has implemented a new sampling frame to engage with anglers and to date over 2000 anglers have signed up to undertake a 12-month angler diary program.

The Panel was provided with an update on the current progress of fisheries reforms, harvest strategies and bycatch management strategies. The Panel reiterated that the fisheries reforms are occurring at a fishery level so will affect commercial, recreational and charter fishers. The intention being that most of the regulatory reforms will be in place by September 2019. It was noted that feedback from the current stakeholder survey on allocation will be used to inform a final allocation model, and considerations on treatment of suspicious data, logbook validation, minimum holdings and reporting are also being progressed. In addition to the reforms, the Panel also discussed the progress of harvest strategies and noted the framework being proposed for the mud crab harvest strategy. It was noted that industry should be aware that slowly adapting to an over allocated TAC through a harvest strategy may slow stock recovery and be more economically painful in the long-term than making larger downward adjustments to TAC early on.

An update on the progress of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people draft commercial fishing development policy was presented to and discussed by the Panel. Key elements from the policy include the need for an Indigenous Commercial Development Allocation in harvest strategies, which would be allowed under a temporary permit to facilitate a transition to commercial viability. Members also heard that the strategies developed to support indigenous commercial access to a fishery will need to consider the sustainability, cultural and economic aspects of the activity. The Panel acknowledged issues around managing expectations from commercial fishing and Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander stakeholders, and the need for ongoing engagement.

The Panel discussed progress and issues identified at the recent Moreton Bay Working Group meeting. That habitat damage and pollution negatively influence the sustainability of Moreton Bay’s fisheries resources was acknowledged and the Panel suggested addressing these issues is a high priority, however noted that this included management action not in the control of fisheries. The Panel provided a number of approaches that would support the protection and rehabilitation of Moreton Bay, including the need for a broader strategic approach that included all interested groups and regulators. It was also mentioned that looking at the Healthy Land and Water report cards, including the health of fisheries resources and expanding the scope to include upper catchment management, should also be considered.

The Panel was provided a review on the Queensland Coral Fishery and the associated draft harvest strategy. It was outlined that the focus of the harvest strategy is to address localised concentrations of fishing effort and monitoring species risk. The Panel discussed how triggers might be set to identify and deal with localised depletion issues or to identify new species at risk from increased harvesting practices. It was discussed that economic information on shifts in market prices of corals could also provide an effective indicator for identifying shifts in fishing behaviour (e.g., the targeting of new species).

An overview of the spanner crab harvest strategy was delivered to the Panel, following outcomes from the management strategy evaluation on the decision rules and advice from industry. The results of the simulation testing of the draft harvest strategy were noted. The Panel considered and endorsed the harvest strategy for the spanner crab fishery, noting that a key objective was to rebuild the stock. The spanner crab harvest strategy would be released for public consultation. The Panel advised that getting the right format of harvest strategies now will speed the processing of further harvest strategy recommendations in what is likely to be a busy period of assessment by the Panel.

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 and Dr Sean Pascoe.