East Coast Inshore Fishery Working Group

Communique 6-8 August 2019

The eighth meeting of the east coast inshore working group was held in Brisbane from 6-8 August 2019. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss recent stock assessments, make recommendations on catch limits for the fishery, review the draft harvest strategy and bycatch management strategy and make a final recommendation to Government on the east coast inshore fishery reform package.

The commercial fishing industry expressed concerns about the potential impacts of the reforms, but also acknowledged that change was needed, particularly in relation to managing bycatch and protected species interactions. The working group generally felt that there would be benefits from a structural adjustment package to assist with the reform process and further reduce the number of platforms, noting that the government does not have any funds at this stage for buybacks or adjustment.

The working group worked through the reform proposals outlined in the recent discussion paper and recommended a number of changes:  

  • Management regions: The working group discussed reducing the number of management regions from 6 to 5. Some members (commercial fishers) supported this proposal to make regions more even in size, while others (conservation, recreational) felt it would limit effective management at local level. Further discussion on management regions below.
  • Amend maximum mesh size under N1 and N2 fishery symbols: The working group recommended that the maximum mesh size for nearshore and river-set mesh nets should be reduced from 8½ inch to 8 inch (with no max. ply rating) and that the maximum mesh size for offshore waters should remain at 6½ inch (with a max. ply rating of line 50).    
  • Definition of rivermouth: The working group and compliance officers agreed that discussions need to occur to identify a better way to determine the location of river and creek mouths. However, members noted this may be a lengthy process.
  • Black jewfish: The recreational sector did not support making black jewfish a no-take recreational species once the commercial catch limit is reached. This would only apply to black jewfish until a swim bladder tagging system was in place.
  • Barramundi size limit: While not in the discussion paper, the majority of the working group recommended reducing the maximum size limit on barramundi from 120cm to 110cm to protect more breeding females, particularly in response to the stock assessment which suggested egg production was lower than desired.

The working group provided advice on the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) setting process for Tier 1 and Tier 2 species. Members noted that initial TACs were proposed to be set using current stock assessments, where available, or a five year catch average or current catch (2018) where not available.

The following provides a summary of the discussions and recommendations:

Species

Current estimated biomass^

2018 catch

Proposed TACs

Current rec limit

Notes

Grey mackerel*

48% NE stock; 51% SE stock

NE Comm 77t

SE Comm 64t

Rec 15t

TACC 129t

TARC 13t


5

Two stocks: north east (NE) and south east (SE)

Whiting*

29%

Comm 168t

Rec 50t

TACC 162t

TARC 48t

30

Productive species. Modelling suggests could be rebuilt to 60% biomass in around 5 years

School mackerel*

65% SE stock; NE stock not assessed

Comm 102t

Rec 17t

TACC 80t

TARC 18t

10

Proposed as an ITQ species in MA6 with TACCs in other MAs

Barramundi *

53-71% but with egg production ranging 25-50%

Comm 182t

TACC 243 t

5

No TACs identified in stock assessment, only TACCs

King threadfin*

NA

Comm 72t

Rec 76t

TACC 72t

5

No stock assessment. Working group noted there is currently no maximum size limit to protect females

Bream#

34%

Comm 67t

Rec 57t

TACC 81t

TARC 69t

30

Proposed TAC will rebuild stock to 60% in 12 years. Conservation preferred lower TAC to rebuild more quickly.

Flathead#

36% Moreton; 70% Hervey Bay

Comm 41t

Rec 21t

TACC 61t

TARC 35t

5

Working group recommended to instead set TAC limit using five year average given difference between Moreton Bay and Hervey Bay stocks biomass, noting some risk to Moreton Bay stock recovery.

Sea Mullet#

~50%

Comm 1671t

TACC 1614t

20

Proposed TACC would maintain biomass at 50%. Noted this is an initial TACC and future TACC will be informed by discussions with NSW.

Rebuilding to 60% requires joint management with NSW to cut catch in both states, which was supported by majority of working group.

Recreational members were concerned and recommended a lower catch limit. Conservation sector strongly recommended a reduced TACC.

Spotted mackerel#

21-41%

Comm 34t

Rec 28t

TACC 48t

5

Concern from commercial members about the distribution of TACC across regions resulting in very small regional TACCs.

Tailor#

50%

Comm 57t

Rec 75t

TACC 120t

20

Recreational fishers take majority of catch. Current stock assessment does not provide 60% rebuild targets.

Black jewfish#

NA

Comm 136t


TACC 20t

1

Hay Point closure and swim bladder tagging also proposed.

Shark and ray#

NA

156 t

TACC 400t (reduced from 500 t, allowing for removal of 100t of hammerhead shark TACC)

1

Working group agreed to reduce total catch temporarily on the basis that more species-specific TACCs will be set in the next few years as more information is available (e.g. ERAs) 

Hammerhead shark#

NA

17t

100 t

1

Proposed to become a no-take species for recreational fishers

Note: * Tier 1 species to be managed under ITQ; # Tier 2 species to be managed under TACC; ^ Estimates the current biomass compared to unfished biomass. The SFS sets a target of 40% biomass by 2020 and 60% biomass by 2027.

The conservation sector welcomed the leadership shown by the working group industry members to reduce the shark and ray TACC given the community interest in this fishery.

Generally the working group were comfortable with splitting TACCs across the management regions according to 2013-17 catch history. For Tier 2 species with very small TACCs in a region, it was recommended that undercatch should be accrued over a number of years to allow for overcatch in future years where catches are seasonal/patchy. This would not apply to black jewfish.

The working group discussed the rollout of vessel tracking and discussed why inshore line fishers couldn’t use the SPOT device. The working group also sought advice on what was happening with refunds and encouraged Fisheries Queensland to resolve those issues quickly to ensure all fishers were compliant. Fishers also sought clarification on the rules around SMS to confirm a unit is working. Fisheries Queensland advised a newsletter answering a number of common questions will be distributed to industry shortly.

The working group reviewed the harvest strategy and recommended consistent rules for building and maintaining biomass towards 60% as well as decision rules for when biomass falls below 50%, 40%, 30% and below 20%.

The working group discussed quota monitoring and reporting and recommended:

Quota management:

  • No minimum quota holding. The conservation and recreational members supported holding a minimum quota to be able to fish.
  • Species becomes no-take when TACC reached.
  • Waive transfer fees for 6-12 months to encourage trading.
  • Allow quota-balancing before landing (can trade with other fishers on the water before landing).
  • Monitor discards and incorporate into stock assessments.
  • Consider additional quota management rules if needed in the future to manage risk.

GBRMPA communicated concerns regarding the adoption of this quota management system and requested that planned mitigations (e.g. monitoring discards, electronic observers, additional quota rules) remain a priority focus and are regularly scrutinised. 

Reporting:

  • Should be consistent reporting across fisheries, but ensure flexibility for different fisheries and fishing practices.
  • Estimated weights and accurate numbers (of fish or containers) on landing.
  • Accurate weights after landing, but allow time to get to the wholesaler to weigh large volume product.
  • Allow multiple trips to be accumulated before completing a catch disposal record.
  • Catch disposal records but don’t require buyer’s signatures (logistically difficult to obtain from interstate, especially with paper records) without compromising traceability of product.

The working group reviewed the bycatch management strategy and commended all involved at the recent workshop and the solutions put forward. This would be a significant step forward for the fishery in addressing some of its key risks and in meeting the community’s expectations. The working group made a number of comments including:

  • Ensure cameras are in place from January 2020, regardless of the outcomes of the innovation trial currently underway. Fisheries Queensland to communicate the WTO requirements to fishers in preparation for 2020. The working group noted the bycatch workshop recommendation to move to 100% coverage, with an initial focus on offshore nets. Fisheries Queensland would work through further details over the next 5 months.
  • Consider a smart gear competition.
  • Supportive of individual responsibility for interactions and mortalities.
  • Suggested better communication with fishers and the community about interactions and mortalities that have occurred in a region in more real-time. This would mean some changes to reporting requirements.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority showed some initial mapping results and agreed to work with researchers and Department of Environment and Science (DES) to finalise mapping of key locations for dugong, inshore dolphins, sawfish (excluding narrow) and four priority turtle species by the end of 2019 to inform the bycatch management strategy.

The working group discussed the criteria for allocating quota and the feedback from consultation. Many fishers preferred going back to five years rather than 6 out of 7. The working group discussed the eligibility criteria and agreed that there should still be an eligibility criteria, but it should be 250-500kg over the whole east coast over 2013-17. This would aim to ensure it is fair for smaller scale fishers, but doesn’t result in excessive numbers of small allocations. The working group also suggested waiving transfer fees and considering some form of online trading site to promote trading between fishers in the first twelve months.

The working group also discussed their desire for some form of structural adjustment longer-term to reduce the number of fishing platforms and improve viability of the fishery. However, members felt that this could be considered after allocation had occurred and there had been a period of time to allow for natural consolidation.  The working group discussed learnings from previous buybacks and adjustment processes in other states (e.g. NSW) and considered a range of alternative structural adjustment models to support fishers wishing to exit the fishery. The working group agreed to consider this further next year.

The working group discussed the regional boundaries and noted that there was a desire to promote regional management, but also needed to be flexible for fishers and compliance. The commercial sector preferred moving to 5 regions rather than 6. The recreational and conservation sector supported retaining the 6 regions, but suggested some changes to the boundaries. Both conservation and recreational sectors were concerned about the imbalance of barramundi and grey mackerel catch across regions, and not reflecting the grey mackerel stock boundaries. All members supported moving towards stronger regional management and a move to greater stewardship and co-management at a community level. The working group noted that a regional management trial is currently underway for Moreton Bay. To be discussed further at the next meeting.

The East Coast Inshore Working Group members in attendance: Fisheries Queensland (Chair – Claire Andersen), commercial fishing (Ben Gilliland, Mark Ahern, Nathan Rynn and Allan Bobbermen), recreational fishing (Steve Morgan, John Bennett, Mick McDade), seafood marketing (Matthew Vujica), conservation (Nick Heath), research (David Welch) and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Thomas Hatley).