Rocky Reef working group

Communique 12-13 August 2019

The third meeting of the Rocky Reef Fishery working group was held in Brisbane over 12 and 13 August 2019, and welcomed observers from NSW fisheries as part of harvest strategy discussions, research collaboration and managing shared stocks.

The working group heard an update on implementing the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017-2027 (the Strategy). Regulation Discussion Paper consultation closed on 19 July 2019 and a report on the results of consultation will be published shortly.

Members noted preliminary consultation results on the urgent measures for snapper and pearl perch. While there was mixed feedback, overall there were good levels of support for these proposals. Based on the feedback received, consideration is being given to adjusting the time of the snapper and pearl perch seasonal closure to avoid school holidays (mid-July to mid-August).

Working group members raised the following concerns about the proposed Regulation amendments:

  • some members did not support the seasonal closure applying to both pearl perch and snapper, or including the northern area of the fishery in the seasonal closure;
  • commercial members did not support the seasonal closure applying to commercial fishers as the necessary catch reduction could be achieved through the total allowable commercial catch (noting that the closure was also about protecting spawning fish);
  • the commercial sector was concerned that a pearl perch TACC of 15 tonnes was not discussed at the previous working group meeting, and did not support its implementation;
  • the charter sector member did not support the proposed one month seasonal closure, as it would significantly impact the charter sector during their peak season (also felt that the stocks were recovering and a closure wasn’t warranted);
  • A recreational member felt that there should be no boat limits.
  • The commercial sector suggested considering a total closure for an area south of the Great Barrier Reef indefinitely until stocks improve.

The working group discussed the status of snapper and pearl perch and made the following comments:

  • There was some concern over the trends suggested by the catch and effort data,  particularly with fish not being able to be landed due to shark depredation
  • The accuracy and confidence in the recreational harvest estimates and potential increase in catch as a result of the increase in the number of recreational fishers from 640,000 to 943,000
  • Members queried how influential and important the environmental factors and drivers are on recruitment success (temperature, currents, climate)
  • Snapper are a shared stock with NSW, and while the condition of the NSW part of the stock is in better condition than the Queensland part, changes in Queensland management will provide local benefits given the limited movements of snapper.

It was noted that the snapper stock assessment showed 10 - 23% biomass for Queensland and that management action was required to recover stocks. In addition, pre-recruit surveys of juvenile snapper showed the lowest recruitment in ten years.  The commercial sector indicated a willingness to reduce the commercial harvest but wanted assurance that the recreational sectors harvest would also be reduced.

Recreational catch data indicates that a one month seasonal closure and boat limit should reduce the recreational catch by around 30%, which would be equivalent to the reduction of the commercial sector harvest if a TACC were introduced. It was agreed that changes in recreational harvest should be monitored carefully and consideration given to introducing mandatory reporting (e.g. tags or reporting through app) to better quantify the recreational catch in more real time given that the recreational sector takes 65% of the total catch of snapper.

The working group discussed a future management framework for the rocky reef fishery, with a focus on species other than snapper and pearl perch. It was agreed that a tiered species structure would be an appropriate framework in this fishery, for example having proposed ITQ species as tier 1 (snapper and pearl perch), any TACC species in tier 2 (to be determined) and set up a monitoring strategy for tier 3 species (e.g. grass emperor, yellowtail kingfish etc.). The working group discussed monitoring changes in species harvest as an effective way to monitor any future effort shift into tier 3 species. The commercial sector supported future management through changes in the TACC, while the recreational sector identified bag limits as their most effective management tool for tier 3 species (noting that for species with low bag limits i.e. 2, other options may be more suitable).

An update on the management strategy evaluation research project was provided to the working group. This project will test the most effective management strategies for continuing to rebuild snapper and pearl perch stocks into the future. The working group provide a range of management strategies to be tested including varying size limits, spatial closures, TACs and bag limits etc. The working group also recommended incorporating a range of different post-release survival rates (including depredation) as well as climate effects (e.g. sea surface temperature). It is anticipated that the model will be developed to start testing each management strategy by early 2020.

NSW Fisheries provided an update on their reform process, but noted there would be limited changes to snapper given the stock assessment suggests the NSW part of the snapper stock is in better condition. Working on ongoing in NSW to review the depleted status of pearl perch.

The working group considered changes to commercial reporting requirements and generally supported a system like that applied in the reef line fishery. Commercial fishers asked to keep it simple and also keep the same terminology as currently (eg prior notice, unload notice and catch disposal records). The commercial sector requested that there be no extra requirements in the reporting system.

The working group received an update on the fisheries economic and social data collection program, being conducted by BDO EconSearch. Commercial and charter fishers may be contacted in October 2019, and are encouraged to take part in the research. Working group members noted that there could be considerable benefits in understanding the contribution to the Queensland economy.

Update on Statewide recreational fishing survey was provided to the working group, including information on the increased participation rate and an overview of the diary program that is being conducted over the next 12 months. It was also noted that the recreational fishing survey will include some economic analysis of recreational fishing.

The working group noted an update of the $1m commitment to roll out Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) in south east Queensland, and that the government would work with stakeholders over the next 6 months to finalise the locations and details.

Members of Rocky Reef fishery working group: Fisheries Queensland (Chair – Claire Andersen), Commercial fishing (Christopher Hain, Michael Thompson, Steven Campbell), Recreational fishing (Jeffrey Ahchay, Lachlan Reed), Charter fishing (John Gooding), Science/Conservation (Nils Krueck), Science (Paul Hamer), Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Randall Owens). Working group observers: Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol (Simon Harmon), NSW Fisheries (Phil Bolton/Julian Hughes), WA Fisheries (Shane Walters), Animal Science Queensland (Michael O’Neill, Matthew Campbell), Fisheries Monitoring (Anna Garland).