Coral reef fin fish fishery working group

Communique 30-31 July 2019

The coral reef fin fish fishery (CRFFF) working group met in Cairns to provide advice in relation to proposed regulation amendments, consider harvest strategy approaches and reform implementation details.

The working group noted that the Regulation Discussion Paper consultation closed on 19 July 2019, and a report on the results of consultation will be published shortly. Members noted many of the key aspects of the reforms receiving good levels of support, noting the detailed comments are still being collated and analysed.

Fishers noted their concerns about when some of the rules would commence, noting the second closure in 2019 coincides with the planned withdrawal of Cathay Pacific from Cairns, and the difficulty complying with them until the amendments are finalised later this year.

The commercial and charter sector members discussed the challenges associated with implementing vessel tracking on tender vessels, and the difficulty many commercial fishers are having in keeping units operational and complying with the regulations. The working group acknowledged the lengths to which the commercial industry members have gone to comply with vessel tracking requirements and independently find innovative workable solutions to fix vessel tracking units. There is considerable concern about the ability for the prescribed units to operate in the way they are required on tender boats, needing significant power and airtime. The costs of purchasing, maintaining, sourcing and then initialising units is prohibitive from having many spares. Notwithstanding the above, all members of the working group supported the vessel tracking initiative but acknowledged the current units prevent industry from being compliant. Urgent action is required until technical issues can be resolved. Fisheries Queensland have agreed to explore short term and longer term solutions identified by the working group.

Members provided a briefing on key aspects associated with their interests in the fishery. The ceasing of Cathay Pacific flights from Cairns to Hong Kong (28 October 2019) was noted, and processors explained what steps they had been taking to minimise the impacts on their operations. Other matters discussed included the positive initiatives associated with the Cairns Recreational Fishing Forum and funding grants, application and development of digital observer programs in other fisheries and the trial led by WWF in the reef line fishery, and opportunities they may offer in the future. The charter sector expressed concern regarding the introduction of mandatory vessel tracking and recommended it should not apply to charter dories. Fisheries Queensland will continue to work with the charter sector to finalise vessel tracking requirements ahead of implementation on 1 July 2020. The speed of reforms was noted and some members felt many aspects feel rushed. The GBRMPA member advised that the next five-year Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report release is due in 2019.

Regional management

The coral reef fin fish fishery is managed at the scale of the whole east coast for all species. Over a number of years, the matter of finer spatial scale management of the coral reef fin fish fishery has been raised and discussed. The intent of the SFS is to manage each species at the stock level, and the working group noted that there may be some uncertainty in the science of the stock structure for coral trout, and some key ‘other species’. Red throat emperor is thought to be a single genetic stock on the east coast.

Fisheries Queensland will explore the available scientific literature for coral trout stock delineation and bring a report back to the next working group meeting. Members noted that finer spatial management could offer a number of benefits, including: the ability to respond at a finer localised scale, respond appropriately to severe weather or environmental events and address shifting or displaced effort. Industry concerns were acknowledged about the implications of regional or finer spatial scale management on economic opportunities and restricting business operations.

Working group members noted that finer spatial scale management was not limited to simply zoning and dividing quota into zones, there are other options available such as specific triggers in the Harvest Strategy to respond to localised depletion or events, scaled quota unit conversion factors for some regions (i.e. each quota unit converts to less weight) or competitive TACC’s. The working group agreed to explore further opportunities and options to inform regional management in the context of the harvest strategy.

Harvest strategy development

The working group spent considerable time reviewing the draft harvest strategy.

The working group discussed the following issues in relation to the draft harvest strategy approach:

  • Ensuring the objectives are appropriate for all sectors
  • The frequency of setting and reviewing total allowable commercial catch (TACC) and recreational in-possession limits
  • How and when the sectoral catch shares between the recreational/charter and commercial sectors would be calculated
  • Ensuring response is appropriate when biomass is lower, and measures to build stock abundance are effective and precautionary
  • Buffers to minimise drastic changes in TACC, but ensure response is scaled appropriately
  • Appropriate decision rules and biomass targets and corresponding and commensurate increases and decreases in both the commercial TACC and recreational in-possession limits
  • Avoiding ambiguous language and being clear on timeframes which will provide certainty to all stakeholders

The working group discussed what an appropriate biomass target for coral trout might be, noting that it already exceeds the 60% biomass target objective under the Strategy. The uncertainty and error in the stock assessment is still being determined, and this should help inform how to incorporate the stock assessment results and yield estimates into the decision rules.

For the red throat emperor and ‘other species’ (OS) quota categories the harvest strategy needs to ensure adequate control at the species level. The working group supported the concept of a species harvest reference that once reached would trigger stock assessment and a commercial allowable catch limit while the formal stock assessment is completed.

The working group acknowledged the catch of saddletail snapper (also referred to as large mouth nannygai) would have been triggered if the harvest strategy proposed decision rules were in place. Further, on the basis that recreational catch of saddletail snapper likely exceeds that of the commercial sector, the working group agreed the adequacies of the existing combined recreational possession limits for crimson and saddletail snapper, should be reviewed up front in the draft harvest strategy.

Other matters

The working group received briefings and discussed a number of other matters including the following.

  • Data team provided an overview of changes to data collection for all commercial fisheries, such as making logbook requirements consistent across fisheries, recording accurate weights for all species at the end of a trip (catch disposal), and future app development.
  • Filleting was discussed in light of proposed changes to reporting at species level and the implications for the OS quota category.
  • Environmental risk assessment approach and the results of the assessment, including the next steps to review risks in detail as a working group.
  • Species biological monitoring activities, and activities to collect fish measurements, otolith samples and fish frames from recreational and commercial fishers to enhance stock assessment veracity.
  • State-wide recreational survey update, improved methodology and timeframes for delivering results.
  • Economic survey being conducted independently by BDO Econsearch.

The next steps will be to develop draft harvest strategies for independent review, expert panel consideration and formal public consultation phase, prior to their being considered and approved ahead of the 2020/21 fishing season.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the working group toured Kingdon Fisheries and the Australian Reef Fish Trading Company. Members appreciated the high level of professionalism and significant investment required to operate in the fishery, and the dedication and commitment of industry members as ambassadors for the Queensland industry.

The Coral Reef Fin Fish Working Group members are: Fisheries Queensland (Chair- Eddie Jebreen), commercial fishing (Will Neil, Sean Stiff, Jake Kingdon, Chris Bolton) marketing/export (Jono Leahy, Michael Wakeling), recreational fishing (Dan Kaggelis, Jason Bradford, John Robinson), charter fishing (Soozi Wilson) and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Darren Cameron), and Conservation sector (Simon Miller)