Communique 12-13 December 2018
The sixth meeting of the crab working group was held in Brisbane over 12 and 13 December 2018. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss implementing the recommended management package, total allowable catch limits, ecological risk assessments, bycatch reduction options, quota allocation principles, and harvest strategy concepts.
Working group members noted the expert panel feedback to harvest strategy development was simple decision rules are preferable, and objectives that are measurable are critical for an effective harvest strategy. The expert panel also clarified that a fishery-wide one month closure is not the only way to achieve abandoned pot clean ups, and that alternative solutions, such as coordinated rolling regional closures, may be more appropriate.
The Queensland Government is currently considering the recommended management package and a direction will be communicated with stakeholders in early 2019. Following this, Fisheries Queensland will undertake targeted consultation with commercial fishers on fishery specific allocation principles (if required). Broader public consultation on all the proposed changes to the Fisheries Regulation 2008 will follow. Taking into account consultation results, government will consider the changes to the Fisheries Regulation 2008 by September 2019 with implementation of the reforms to commence from 2020.
The working group noted the information from the blue swimmer crab workshop held on 9 November including allocation principles, options for a blue swimmer crab harvest strategy, total allowable catch and regulation amendments.
Total Allowable Catches
Agri-Science Queensland (ASQ) presented an analysis of crab harvest to inform initial total allowable catches (TAC) for the Gulf of Carpentaria and the East Coast mud crab fisheries.
East Coast Mud Crab
Under the various catch model scenarios presented, 1000 tonnes (recreational and commercial combined) was considered the most appropriate TAC for the East Coast mud crab fishery to achieve the Sustainable Fishery Strategy (the Strategy) target of 60% biomass by 2027. Given the estimated recreational proportion of 27% for the east coast total mud crab catch, this equates to:
- Total allowable commercial catch of around 730 tonnes
- Total allowable recreational catch of around 270 tonnes
Gulf of Carpentaria Mud Crab
For the Gulf of Carpentaria mud crab fishery, a TAC of 110 tonnes (recreational and commercial combined) was considered the most appropriate to achieve the Strategy target of 60% biomass by 2027. Given the estimated recreational proportion of 12% for the Gulf of Carpentaria total mud crab catch, this equates to:
- Total allowable commercial catch of around 97 tonnes
- Total allowable recreational catch of around 13 tonnes
To achieve the 270 tonnes (east coast mud crab) recreational total allowable catch, a reduction in the current in possession limit of 10 will be required, alongside a boat limit. For consistency, these same limits will be applied to the Gulf of Carpentaria recreational sector.
Overall, the working group noted that the mud crab fishery was on track to achieve the Strategy targets, if the commercial catch was capped and appropriate recreational in possession and boat limits were implemented. The working group has requested some additional TAC modelling for the next meeting to determine the feasibility of setting a slightly higher TAC and how much confidence there is in the modelling that this would meet the Strategy targets by 2027.
Blue swimmer crab
The working group noted that 2014 BSC stock assessment is an age based simulation model and the Expert Panel recommended it may be more appropriate to simply set the blue swimmer crab commercial total allowable catch based on the last 5-year average catch of 325 tonnes (all regions).
The working group had previously considered 20 crabs recreational in possession limit for blue swimmer crabs appropriate, but is keen that a boat limit of 40 also be considered as a means to pre-empt black-marketing risks.
While a total allowable commercial catch is primarily introduced to address stock sustainability, it can also impact on other management objectives. The working group noted the recommended commercial total allowable catch will drive structural adjustment in the commercial sector resulting in a reduction in commercial fishing platforms. Given economic viability in the crab fishery is a key issue, this is ultimately a desirable outcome. All members were mindful that implementation of a commercial total allowable catch may have a financial impact on those fishers who may need to adjust their quota holdings.
Economic and Social Monitoring
The crab working group noted an economic and social monitoring project is currently underway as part of the Strategy. Possible economic and social indicators were presented to the working group that can measure economic performance and social factors about fisheries in Queensland. A third party will be contracted in 2019 to begin collecting data and will be rolled out to all major commercial fisheries in Queensland. Commercial fishers will be asked to participate in the project on a voluntary basis. The project is likely to have strong benefits to industry in providing economic and social information to improve management decisions. Economic and social data is also being collected in the recreational sector under a range of recreational fishing surveys.
Ecological Risk Assessment
Fisheries Queensland presented the draft whole-of-fishery (Level 1) Ecological Risk Assessment for the crab fishery for the working group to provide feedback on. The working group noted that the current (pre-reform) management high/intermediate risks related to the inability to control total catch, inability to effectively track spatial shifts in effort, unreported/illegal harvest and interactions with marine turtles. The working group expect that the proposed reforms in the crab fishery will address all key risks and should result in a reduced risk rating across for the high and intermediate risks identified.
Bycatch Reduction Devices
The working group considered the use of bycatch reduction devices (BRD) in the crab fishery. The specifications and effectiveness of BRD’s for pots used for mud crab is documented, but not known for blue swimmer crab. Given that commercial and recreational fishers target blue swimmer crab and mud crabs with the same pots, mandating BRD use across all crab sectors is not feasible. The working group considered two options – either regulate the use of BRD’s in commercial mud crab pots only, or promote their use voluntarily through a code of conduct. Working group views were varied as to the preferred approach.
The working group discussed a number of regulatory amendments to support the crab fisheries reforms and harvest strategy processes, including:
- a ban on the use of lightweight pots to prevent loss, with a five year transition period;
- defining ‘actively worked pot’ and when commercial pots must be removed;
- tagging commercial mud crabs (next meeting will focus on operational procedures);
- abandoned pot definition;
- boat size requirements for the commercial sector; and
- crab meat issues.
The working group noted that under the Fisheries (Sustainable Fisheries Strategy) Amendment Bill 2018, being considered by Parliament, there are a range of proposals to strengthen the enforcement powers of fisheries inspectors and penalties to address serious fisheries offences such as black-marketing. The Bill can be downloaded at: https://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/view/html/bill.first/bill-2018-047
The working group reviewed its previous recommendations in relation to proposed allocation formula and principles for mud crab (east coast and Gulf of Carpentaria) and blue swimmer crab. The working group affirmed and recommended the following principles:
- A C1 symbol attached to a commercial fishing boat licence is necessary to be eligible for an allocation.
- Only annual mud crab catch history up to a maximum of 6 tonnes (1 x C1) or 12 tonnes (2 x C1) should be taken into account for any allocation process as this represents a limit of how much can be feasibly caught in 1 year for 1 x C1 symbol (50 pots) and to address past over-reporting.
- Consideration needs to be given to a similar blue swimmer crab reported cap for the purposes of addressing over reporting or catch history that includes illegal product.
- To be eligible for the higher level of annual catch history (e.g. 12 tonnes for mud crab) the 2 x C1’s must have been written on the licence during the year/s (2014/15 to 2016/17) for that higher cap to apply.
- To be eligible for the higher catch history, 2 x C1’s must be written on the commercial fishing boat licence on the quota allocation date also.
- The seven financial year period from 2010/11 to 2016/17 is an appropriate period to establish fisher’s relative economic position for the purposes of allocation. The best 6 years from the 7 year period (2010/11 to 2016/17) is preferred.
- No eligibility criteria should be used to reduce the number of fishers initially eligible for an allocation – fishers would receive whatever level the final quota allocation formula calculates
- A base equal allocation is not considered necessary as a C1 will continue to provide access to a 50 pot entitlement
- Minimum unit holdings after the initial allocation could be used to facilitate consolidation of quota and to ensure autonomous restructuring occurs to improve economic viability and achieve the targets in the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy.
Fisheries Queensland (Chair – Mark Doohan), commercial fishing (Keith Harris, Anne Tooker, Ben Day, Peter Jackson), recreational fishing (David Bateman, George Bennetts, Wayne Bonham, Michael Detenon), Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (James Aumend), Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol (David Kahler), Animal Science Queensland (Julie Robins).