Rocky Reef working group

Communique 4-5 February 2019

Role of the working group: is to provide advice to the government on the operational aspects of managing Queensland’s rocky reef fishery and the development of a harvest strategy consistent with the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy. This does not represent government policy.

The second meeting of the rocky reef fishery working group was held in Brisbane over 4 and 5 February 2019, and welcomed observers from NSW fisheries and WA fisheries to contribute to working group discussions and share experiences and updates from other jurisdictions, particularly on snapper.

The working group was provided with an update on implementing the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017-2027 (the Strategy). Vessel tracking commenced on 1 January 2019. There was some debate by the working group about the benefits of vessel tracking and in particular the impost being placed on the commercial sector to pay for polling. Other Act amendments going through address a number of other issues like enforcement powers, black marketing and fishery declarations.

The members noted the government’s directions paper, released in January 2019 which will guide reform to achieve the Strategy key policy objectives for the trawl, crab and east coast inshore fisheries. Commercial working group members noted that access by line fishers needs to be maintained for inshore species going to quota, noting that many fishers in the rocky reef fishery rely on catching inshore species also.

The working group welcomed Associate Professor, Dr Ian Tibbetts, Chair of the Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel, who explained the process for providing independent advice to the government and feedback to working groups on reform options being considered. The group discussed confidence around estimates of recreational harvest, limitations on the information available and environmental drivers for snapper (e.g. current, movement and water temperature relationships).

The Fisheries Monitoring Team provided an overview of the biological data being collected on snapper and pearl perch in Queensland. Biological data is collected from recreationally and commercially caught fish, both through fishery dependent and fishery independent methods. The trends in the datasets all confirm that snapper and pearl perch stocks continue to be under significant fishing pressure and there have been no signs of rebuilding. For both snapper and pearl perch, the data shows a decline in the proportions and numbers of older/larger fish from both commercial and recreational sectors and a strong reliance on very young fish supporting the fishery. Pre-recruit surveys for snapper shows a decrease of around 80% since 2011, from 12 fish per hectare to less than four fish per hectare.

The working group heard from Fisheries WA on their demersal scalefish management and pink snapper case studies. WA used simple rules, with broad impact. It was noted that a significant package of measures was required across all sectors to get to a 50% reduction in oceanic pink snapper harvest, but that trends are now improving.

NSW commercial and recreational fisheries managers attended the meeting to provide an update on management arrangements. NSW has recently been through a commercial fishery reform and adjustment process, where the ocean trap and demersal dropline fishery linked catch with effort entitlements, to reduce the number of fishers and number of traps being used by around 40%. It was noted that the need for changes to the recreational fishing rules may be considered and that Queensland and NSW will continue to work together.

The working group focused on developing a range of options for the Queensland rocky reef fishery to be included in a discussion paper for public release.

The working group agreed, consistent with the first meeting, that there is an urgent need to take action to help recover the snapper and pearl perch stocks. The working group agreed that all sectors need to be part of the solution and contribute to rebuilding strategies. Each sector needs to share responsibility for reducing catch to rebuild stocks, noting the sectoral snapper catch shares were: recreational 50%, charter 15% and 35% commercial. The working group noted that a reduction in the total catch from 160 tonnes to 120 tonnes (a 30% reduction) was necessary for the Queensland part of the stock to achieve the objective to rebuild snapper stocks (based on the stock assessment modelling to rebuild to 40% of original biomass within 10 to 20 years).

As such, the discussion focused on:

  1. Urgent measures that will kick-start rebuilding, to be implemented by September 2019, and
  2. Longer term reforms to the fishery to be implemented by 2021/22.

Urgent measures

The working group agreed that urgent management measures were warranted for snapper and pearl perch by September 2019, as they are two stocks in the rocky reef fishery that are classified as depleted and despite past management intervention no rebuilding has yet occurred. The objectives of the urgent measures are to:

  • Reduce retained catch of snapper and pearl perch by 30% for each sector
  • Protect spawning fish
  • Build acceptance and initiate behaviour change across all sectors to be part of the solution.

The following package of urgent measures were recommended to achieve these objectives and for further consultation with other stakeholders:

  Snapper Pearl perch
All sectors
(reduce catch from 160 t to 120 t for snapper)
  • One month closure, around appropriate moon phase in July/August; OR
  • 2 x 10 day closures in July/August on full moon
  • (closure area south of coral reef fin fish fishery area)
  • Increase size limit to 38 or 40cm* to allow more 3 and 4 year old fish an opportunity to spawn
Recreational
(60 t snapper)
  • Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) could be considered to provide alternative species to target
  • Boat limit of 2-3 times the in-possession limit to reduce black marketing
  • Behaviour change program to encourage fishers to reduce their harvest of snapper and pearl perch to help recovery
  • Reduce in-possession limit from 5 to 4*
Charter
(18 t snapper)
  • Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) could be considered to provide alternative species to target
  • Remove extended charter limit (but recreational boat limits would not apply)
  • Remove extended charter limit
Commercial
(42 t snapper)
  • No commercial net catch
  • Total Allowable Commercial Catch of 42 t
  • Clear direction that any catch history after 30 June 2017 will not be considered for any ITQ allocation process
 

* One working group member did not support both increased size limit AND reduced possession limit for pearl perch.

The working group spent considerable time developing these measures, reviewing the modelling available from the scientists and managers, considering each other’s perspectives, and the impacts to each sector. The working group stressed that the urgent measures outlined above need to be considered as a package as only collectively will they act to reduce catch in each sector as required. The department undertook to collate data on likely benefits from the different timing of spawning closures. Some members noted concerns about whether the measures for the recreational/charter sector would be sufficient to achieve a 30% catch reduction.

The working group discussed the longer term reform options that would also be included in the discussion paper. This included for example:

  • Recreational and charter: Changes to bag limits if recovery is not sufficient, tags or mandatory catch reporting; general possession limit of 20 for species with no current limit (or total possession limit for deepwater/rocky reef species); in-possession limits for key deepwater species (e.g. blue-eye trevalla).
  • Commercial: Individual transferable quota (ITQ) for snapper, monitoring other species over time, establishing a Rocky Reef fishery symbol.

The working group agreed to provide comments on the discussion paper out of session in order for it to be finalised and released for consultation in the next couple of months.

The working group also identified a number of monitoring and research priorities through their discussions which would assist in updating the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy Monitoring and Research Plan. The working group would meet again mid-year to continue progressing the urgent and longer term measures.

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).