Communique 10-11 January 2018

East Coast Inshore Fishery Working Group

Communique – 10-11 January 2018

The east coast inshore fishery working group met for the first time in Brisbane on the 10th and 11th of January.

Role of the working group: The east coast inshore fishery working group will provide advice on the operational aspects of managing Queensland’s east coast inshore fishery and the development of a harvest strategy, consistent with the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy. The working group noted that the hammerhead working group would conclude operating and shark matters would be considered as part of this working group (with Gulf shark issues to be considered separately).

The working group talked about their aspirations for the fishery and what they wanted to achieve through the working group. Members agreed that improvement was needed in management of the fishery and it was important that all sectors be part of the solution.  All members agreed that there was a need for simpler rules and greater certainty to ensure the future of the fishery. The working group acknowledged that the inshore fishery productivity is heavily affected by environmental factors like river flow and coastal habitat, which have been heavily modified.

The working group was provided with an overview of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017-2027 (the Strategy). The members discussed the key policy objectives and how their input will be used to shape the future management of the east coast inshore fishery.

The working group discussed the requirement for vessel tracking on net boats and the recently released policy and guideline. Positive feedback from commercial fishers currently trialling the systems was noted, although concerns with information privacy and ongoing costs were raised by members. The commercial sector representatives noted that most industry members are comfortable with vessel tracking as a tool, but wanted to also see improved data and information on the recreational catch to complement this. The recreational fishing representatives supported requiring vessel tracking for repeat recreational offenders. The working group agreed that vessel tracking would provide valuable information and support better compliance, but suggested consideration needed to be given to government paying for the data/polling costs and industry paying for the units, to reduce the ongoing costs to industry. Some members also questioned whether the units should be hardwired in, but others agreed that flexibility is needed, particularly with people working in multiple boats across fisheries.

Fisheries Queensland provided the working group with an overview of the current status of the fishery. The working group noted that the number of commercial net licences has reduced significantly over the last 10 years, to the point that there are now less than 200 active N1 and N2 licences. It was acknowledged that there aren’t any significant sustainability concerns about the target species (e.g. barramundi, threadfin, mackerels, whiting, mullet etc.), noting concerns about potential for localised depletion for some stocks (e.g. threadfin, grunter) which require further investigation. The working group felt one of the most important issues was the need to improve selectivity of the fishery to reduce interactions with protected species and minimise bycatch.

Fisheries Queensland also provided information on the Monitoring and Research Plan, which outlines where the initial investment in monitoring and data under the Strategy will be focused. The addition of more frequent stock assessment modelling of key species was welcomed by the working group, particularly in the face of introducing a harvest strategy and biomass targets. The working group identified the following information gaps that should be a priority to fill:

  • More detailed recreational catch and effort data;
  • Research on the dynamics of spotted mackerel (e.g. impacts of boat traffic on behaviour);
  • Better data on species of conservation interest, including improved reporting and impacts of interactions on populations;
  • King threadfin biology and stock structure;
  • Better validation of logbook data; and
  • Better information on total mortality, including estimates of discards and fate across sectors (including shark depredation, barotrauma etc).

The working group welcomed the additional investment, but felt longer term further funding will be required to fill all the information gaps and that further work is needed to fully cost a program.

The working group discussed the Queensland Harvest Strategy Policy and Guideline. The members noted that a harvest strategy would provide more certainty by outlining predetermined management actions based on agreed indicators for fishery performance. Fisheries Queensland will assist the working group with developing the harvest strategies and will undertake consultation with broader fishery stakeholders as development progresses. The working group noted that a range of indicators should be used as part of the harvest strategy (e.g. biomass where available, commercial and recreational catch rates, length and age, environment factors).

The working group members discussed current issues in the east coast inshore fisheries. This included:

  • Ecological issues: protected species interactions, sustainability of target/byproduct species, habitat, black-marketing/compliance issues, improved gear technology.
  • Economic issues: maintaining viable commercial businesses, certainty and flexibility, regulatory burden, improving the value of recreational and charter businesses.
  • Social issues: conflict, access to local seafood, public perceptions; complexity of rules, operating a fishery in the GBRWHA and other marine parks, recreational fishing satisfaction.

To start the harvest strategy process, the working group was asked to identify key fishery objectives to set out the direction and aspirations for the fishery. The following draft objectives were recommended by the working group to:

  • Ensure sustainability: ensure sustainability of target and byproduct species; set appropriate biomass targets; demonstrate no unacceptable risk to populations of protected species from the fishery; minimise localised depletion; rehabilitate fisheries habitat; maintain spawning aggregations; encourage innovation in gear technology to promote greater selectivity and reduce protected species interactions; maintain world heritage values.
  • Enhance economic performance: high catch rates commercially; high return on investment; move to maximum economic yield (MEY); excess capacity minimised; no nett loss of boat and tackle stores; reduce waste and maximise value.
  • Maximise social outcomes: increase recreational satisfaction; minimised conflicts; maintain diverse access to local inshore seafood; improved perception and understanding of fishery by public; presence of large fish.
  • Enhance management performance: reduce complexity of rules; flexible and cost effective management system; better data and regular stock assessments; manage to the appropriate stock or regional level; flexible closures; improved research.

The working group was asked to identify management units which will define the scope of the harvest strategy, but felt that a decision was needed on reform options first. In the interim, the focus was on managing at the stock or species level, but some sort of regionalisation was expected.

The working group discussed the range of management options, noting that the Strategy preferences quota where possible. The group noted the pros and cons of a range of options and recommended that Fisheries Queensland further analyse the following options for consideration and consultation with the wider industry

  • Option 1: Individual Transferable Quotas: TACCs for key species or groups of multiple species, allocated to individual fishers. Pros: Greater certainty, ability to remove input controls, simpler to enforce, have some TACCs already that can be built upon, no race to fish, allows clearer catch shares with recreational sector. Cons: May limit flexibility, questions around how to allocate quota, potential waste when quota is reached on some species, potential for consolidation of quota.
  • Option 1a: Total Allowable Commercial Catches with regional triggers: TACCs for all major species but without an individual allocation. Pros: More flexibility, no allocation, some TACCs already. Cons: Race to fish, not as much security of access.
  • Option 2: Individual Transferable Effort Units: Total allowable effort (e.g. days, net length and soak time etc.) allocated to individuals. Pros: Reduces effort/nets in water so reduces risks to protected species, species flexibility, less waste, vessel tracking to deduct days, can adjust up/down. Cons: Have to maintain input controls, less gear flexibility, not constraining the catch itself, difficult to manage species in trouble without reducing effort overall, more complex monitoring, can’t consider recreational catch shares.

The working group had a general preference towards option 1, but there was not a consensus position particularly from some commercial representatives. The working group agreed to look in more detail about which may work best and talk further with stakeholders about the options. This included looking at costs, practicality, how it will work with other fisheries (e.g. crab).

Management reform options for the recreational sector was also discussed, noting that reforms would be run concurrently across the fishery. Reform options included reviewing size and possession limits to simplify them and reduce them where necessary. Some members suggested exploring a tiered approach which allowed most fishers a small limit, but requiring those who wish to take a higher limit a permit or tag or something similar. Some members had concerns about this approach.

The working group discussed in some detail the options for addressing issues around protected species and agreed the following should be considered:

  • Reducing species risk:
    • Undertake ecological risk assessment as a priority
    • Review of minimum and maximum size limits to protect large fecund species and ensure individuals reach sexual maturity
    • Investigate a tagging program for critical protected species populations, such as the snubfin dolphin, with information to be available in real time on an app available to fishers
    • Consider additional training, codes of practice
    • Further work on shark species identification to identify those which are high risk and should be protected, while allowing for low risk to potentially be harvested.
    • Innovative use of technology (e.g. digital observers/cameras) to validate logbook information and interactions
  • Reducing gear risk:
    • Innovative gear technology e.g. bycatch reduction devices, use of underwater acoustic devices, net strength and net sizes. Further research into what innovations have been trialled or successful in the past.
    • Consider alternative netting practices such as ring netting, tunnel netting or fish traps for use in other regions provided it delivers a nett benefit to protected species.
    • Improving practices (e.g. attendance, soak times, mentoring/training new entrants)
  • Spatial risk:
    • Investigate a mechanism to allow for flexible closures to improve protection of protected species, spawning aggregation sites and critical populations.
    • Based on ERA, review existing closures to determine where the best nett benefit to protected species can be gained through trade-offs at fine scales (note: this would not include reviewing marine park zones)

The working group was concluded with a discussion around the steps that need to be taken for transitioning the east coast inshore fishery to a harvest strategy framework.

A further working group meeting was scheduled for March to refine the objectives, units and reform options.

Fisheries Queensland will be seeking the views of all stakeholders throughout the process, including face to face meetings and surveys about reform options.

The East coast inshore Working Group members are: Fisheries Queensland (Chair – Claire Andersen), commercial fishing (Ben Gilliland, Mark Ahern, Nathan Rynn, Margaret Stevensen and Allan Bobbermen), recreational fishing (Steve Morgan, John Bennett and Nathan Johnston), seafood marketing (Matthew Vujica), conservation (Nick Heath – interim member while expression of interest is undertaken), research (David Welch) and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Thomas Hatley).