Crab fishery working group

Communique 12-13 March 2019

The seventh meeting of the crab working group was held in Brisbane over 12 and 13 March 2019. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the detail of the recommended management package, including: total allowable catch for mud crabs, finalising the regulation amendments, bycatch reduction options and harvest strategy concepts.

Working group members noted an update on delivering the SFS and the Queensland Government’s recently released Directions Paper. A number of changes were outlined for the crab fishery including:

  • three management units (east coast mud crab, Gulf of Carpentaria mud crab and blue swimmer crab all Queensland waters)  
  • individual transferable quota and commercial crab tagging
  • review recreational limits and consider a boat limit
  • measures to address bycatch, protected species and interactions with apparatus.

Allocation discussion papers for the crab, east coast inshore and trawl fisheries are expected to be released, providing commercial fishers the opportunity to review allocation proposals. Broader public consultation on all the proposed changes to the Fisheries Regulation 2008 will follow mid-2019. 

Progress on implementing vessel tracking was noted. The working group was advised that 1400 units had been purchased to date, with 1000 of these activated. The ‘fault’ rate (installation, invoicing, unit, registration issues) is considered quite low, at 5%.  Fisheries Queensland is committed to working with industry to case manage issues as they arise.

The working group reviewed information on other fisheries that have moved to individual transferable quota and noted the large change in catch and effort immediately following implementation. The reasons for the reduction are difficult to pin point and can be a combination of many factors, including: improved reporting, quota consolidation, recent entrants not receiving quota, fishing behaviour and responding to market changes.

The working group noted the draft report outlining the results of the catch-MSY modelling based on commercial catch information. Results suggested a very high confidence (over 90%) that stocks could attain 60% SFS biomass targets by 2027 with a total allowable catch (all sectors) of 1000 tonnes for east coast mud crab and 110 tonnes Gulf of Carpentaria mud crab. Taking into account the estimated sectoral allocation proportions, this means a Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) of 730 tonnes for east coast and 97 tonnes for the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The proposed mud crab TACC for the east coast stock is considered by some members to be very high, compared with information sourced through market research and transport company manifests about the quantity of Queensland crab sold. They were concerned that there would be negative impacts to the reform outcomes if the initial TACC was set too high. A harvest strategy can address these concerns in part, by reviewing TACCs within two years when validated catch is received. A minimum quota holding (fishers can only commence fishing if they hold a minimum amount of quota or units) could also be a mechanism to drive structural adjustment if necessary.

Noting the limited data and fundamental changes following management reform, the initial harvest strategy should set simple reference points based on total sectoral harvest. Once reforms are implemented, data quality (vessel tracking, quota usage and boat ramp surveys) will improve, allowing a harvest strategy to be based on biomass targets.

The working group considered the most appropriate time for the commencement of the harvest strategy, and therefore the quota season. Based on their usual life cycle and biological characteristics, the low commercial effort observed in the months September to November, the working group considered that a better annual quota season might be from 1 December each year. Fisheries Queensland will consider this along with other important implementation matters (data availability, assessment delivery and legislative processes).

Two potential harvest strategy models were considered by the working group. After much discussion, the working group identified a preferred harvest strategy framework which included annual quota setting for the first five years to ensure the TACC was set close to actual harvest levels. Longer term, the aim is to set the TAC’s regularly based on stock assessments at agreed intervals (2, 3 or 5 years), incorporating recreational catch data as it becomes available.

The working group discussed the regulatory amendments to support the crab fisheries reform and harvest strategy processes. These amendments will be released for public consultation later in the year.  A key recommendation from the working group was to look at restricting recreational collapsible pots to between 800mm and 1.2m diameter to remove small lightweight pots. Increasing the size of the steel rings (8mm) would also be beneficial. It was noted that Fisheries Queensland will likely introduce a bycatch policy that is linked to the regulation, but can be adjusted and improved if necessary.

The working group discussed the operational aspects of tagging commercial mud crabs in Queensland including: tag distribution, transferring tags to other fishers and lease holders, and compliance issues e.g. tagging crabs prior to landing point. It was noted that Fisheries Queensland is currently drafting an operational policy for tags, which will be provided to the working group for input prior to going to industry for comment.

The next meeting of the working group will be held in June 2019, and will finalise the harvest strategy framework and tagging operational procedures.

The working group members are: 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), Animal Science Queensland (Julie Robins).