Crab fishery working group

Communique 9-10 July 2019

The eighth meeting of the crab working group was held in Brisbane to consider feedback, to date, on the Discussion Paper on proposed changes for the Fisheries Regulation, review draft harvest strategies for mud crab and blue swimmer crab and provide advice on implementation of catch reporting and tags. The meeting welcomed observers from New South Wales Fisheries, who are embarking on their own harvest strategy journey shortly.

Fisheries Queensland provided information on the Discussion Paper on proposed changes for the Fisheries Regulation (Discussion Paper) which outlines a number of proposed reforms and changes to the management of the crab fisheries. Consultation is open until 19 July 2019, and members noted this is the last chance for stakeholders to comment on a number of regulatory matters before they are considered by Government.

The working group noted that the indicative individual allocations released with the Discussion Paper, were calculated on a revised allocation formula based on the seven calendar years 2011 to 2017. This varied from the initial allocation approach released in March 2019, which was based on the seven financial years 2010/11 to 2016/17. The working group compared the allocation modelling results from the two scenarios, and noted that more licence holders would receive less quota under the calendar year model. Considering this, it was recommended that the crab fishery allocation be based on the best six years from the seven year financial year period 2010/11 to 2016/17. This was supported by all working group members.

There was considerable discussion how the proposed 1.2 tonne minimum holding in the mud crab fishery could be implemented. The working group were concerned that there may be ways to circumvent the proposed requirement which would reduce the effectiveness of the measure – to drive consolidation in the fishery. Because the crab fishery is a low operating cost but high value species, it is possible that not as much consolidation would occur as a result of introducing an ITQ system compared to other fisheries. Given this, the minimum quota holding was identified by the working group as a critical part of the reform. Fisheries Queensland will take into account the concerns identified by the working group, and consider how these could effectively addressed to best meet the objective of improving the economic viability of the industry. 

Working group members were presented with the details and rationale behind the proposed reporting requirements outlined in the Discussion Paper. Improved catch data and validation has been a common theme in this fishery and is constraining confidence in stock assessments and making meeting Commonwealth environment legislative requirements difficult.  Fisheries Queensland advised that it is a critical component of management going forward. A number of scenarios were worked through with the working group to explain the proposed reporting requirements. Members noted further consultation with industry was required and that considerable transitional, lead-in time and education would be critical to the successful implementation.

Other proposed regulation amendments discussed included: requirements for buying and selling quota, restrictions around crab meat, transhipping, vessel size, apparatus and tagging. The working group discussion regarding bycatch devices centred around the practicality of a single definition of a suitable bycatch reduction device that can cover the commercial and recreational mud crab and blue swimmer crab fisheries throughout Queensland. The working group noted that this operational detail will be considered as part of the current consultation process. The working group recommended that Fisheries Queensland should invest in significant education activities for all sectors to implement the proposed reforms. 

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 working on an operational policy for tags, based on learnings from the Queensland kangaroo harvest tagging program. This will be provided to working group members prior to broader education with industry.

The working group revised the recommended quota season based on the likely start date of 1 July 2020. Rather than adopt a complicated pro-rata approach to establish a calendar year quota season, the working group agreed on a financial year quota season.  The working group spent considerable time reviewing and debating the details of the draft harvest strategies, and provided the following feedback:

  • Supported the proposed timeframes for reviewing rules that will trigger changes in the total allowable commercial catch (TACC) and recreational in-possession limits (Year 3)
  • Noted how and when sectoral catch shares between the recreational and commercial sectors would be calculated (updated information by Year 5)
  • Noted the proposed TACC’s for the east coast mud crab (730 t), Gulf mud crab (97 t) and blue swimmer crab (325 t) Towards an initial quota for the Qld mud crab fishery, Northrop, A., O'Neill, M. F. and Robins, J. (2019):
  • Noted the amount to be provided for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander commercial fishing development opportunities (10 t) through indigenous fishing permits
  • Supported harvest rules for ensuring trawl harvest of blue swimmer crab remains within their sectoral allocation (maintain 10% commercial harvest)
  • Supported options and timing for triggering spatial management (from Year 3)
  • Wanted to see options to ensure adequate structural adjustment to improve commercial viability (target catch rates and/or active licence numbers)

The working group noted the Expert Panel recommendation that harvest strategies should be clear about the decision rules to be applied to ensure commensurate management responses for the recreational and the commercial sector alike and catch shares are maintained. Members agreed in principle that this be adopted, so that if the commercial sector quota was reduced, the recreational sector catch also be restricted in a commensurate manner. It was noted for recreational harvest, these would be determined using a number of indicators including the State-wide recreational survey, participation rates and boat ramp survey information.

The next meeting of the working group will be held in October 2019, and will finalise the harvest strategy, consider tagging operational procedures and reform implementation matters.

Fisheries Queensland (Chair – Mark Doohan), commercial fishing (Keith Harris, Anne Tooker, Ben Day, Peter Jackson), recreational fishing (David Bateman, George Bennetts, Michael Detenon), Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (James Aumend), Animal Science Queensland (Julie Robins).