Trawl fishery working group

Communique 1-2 August 2019

The sixth meeting of the trawl working group was held in Brisbane over 1-2 August 2019. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss scallop management, the regional harvest strategies, Moreton Bay allocation and to make final recommendations to Government on the trawl fishery reform package.

The working group noted how positive the regional harvest strategy workshops had been. Regional working groups will be established in 2020 to continue to give advice on harvest strategies. The working group felt it was important to continue as a working group to provide consistency across regions until regional working groups are established.

Preliminary results from the recent scallop assessment were presented. The results suggest scallop although recovering is a depleted stock, with biomass estimated to be between 9 and 17% (up from a low of 6%).  The meeting discussed new information around rebuilding timeframes which had become available since the harvest strategy workshops. The modelling showed that rebuilding to 60% biomass by 2027 was not feasible, but that biomass could be rebuilt to around 40% by 2027 if the scallop effort cap was reduced to around 82,000 effort units.  Recent harvest strategy workshops had recommended an effort cap of 118,000 for the southern inshore region for scallop, to begin 1 December 2019. Industry preferred to set the effort cap at 118,000 effort units given the positive trajectory and the additional measures being put in place (i.e. extending the winter closure by a month). There should be a review once new information from the October independent survey is completed and if the positive trend is not continuing, the effort cap should be reduced to 82,000 effort units next season. It was noted that the conservation sector and GBRMPA representatives were concerned an effort cap of 118,000 would not rebuild the stock to 40% by 2027 and preferred setting the cap at no more than 82,000 effort units as recommended by the stock assessment. All working group members agreed that monitoring and assessment of the scallop stock must be continued to inform adjustments to the rebuilding strategy. The working group also recommended not proceeding with the proposal to ban scallop gear during the no-take period (winter closure or once effort cap reached) due to concerns about cost to industry and increased bycatch (including of undersized shell).

The working group noted feedback on the proposed regulation changes and provided some additional feedback:

  • Extend the 70 hull unit limit to 120, rather than completely removing the limit. This aimed to support an aging fleet and support fishers in responding to AMSA changes which are expected. There is still a lot of concern, especially for the Southern Offshore region, that allowing larger vessels will activate unused effort and result in effort caps being reached earlier and with fewer days fished.
  • Some adjustments to proposed strip closures based on feedback from industry. Fisheries Queensland will notify the relevant regional workshops of the working group feedback before finalising strip closures. The working group noted these would be made through declaration and could be reviewed after the initial season.

The working group discussed the timing of proposed changes and recommended the following:

  • 2019:   Scallop season and scallop effort cap start 1 December 2019. Strip closures for southern offshore introduced for 1 November.
  • 2020:   Effort units allocated to regions. 20 Sept – 20 Oct closure for southern inshore and offshore. Southern inshore offshore harvest strategies and effort caps start 20 October.  1 May to 1 December winter no take for scallop.  Scallop effort cap resets 1 December.
  • 2021:   Moreton Bay harvest strategy and effort cap January. February closure for southern inshore and offshore. Northern and central harvest strategies and effort caps start in March. Winter closure for scallop starts 1 June (rather than 1 May). Scallop effort cap resets 1 December.

The working group discussed allocation options for Moreton Bay, noting that there had been mixed feedback between the M1 and M2 fleets and a lack of consensus to date. The working group generally agreed that an allocation of 8,535 nights (based on MEY estimate) was an appropriate to ensure an economical fishery that wasn’t over-allocated. Members noted the Moreton Bay harvest strategy workshop recommended setting the Moreton Bay effort cap at 10,000 nights based on the MSY estimate. The recreational representative opposed setting the effort cap at 10,000 nights which would be a significant increase in trawl effort in Moreton Bay. A number of letters were tabled and different allocation approaches were discussed, with further consideration required:

  • M1 preferred option was to allocate 8,535 nights through a base allocation for M1 and M2 based on historical average days fished 2008-2017. Remaining nights would be equally split between the 71 licences (64 nights each). The M2 representative recommended this be discussed with the M2 fishers out of session as they had not yet had the opportunity to provided comment on this proposal.
  • M2s preferred option was that M1s are allocated their history wherever they’ve worked and any unused effort being nominated to any of the five regions (similar to the approach on the east coast).  M2s would be allocated 220 nights each.
  • The broader working group noted history based approaches were used in all other allocation approaches in Queensland and other jurisdictions and recommended M1s and M2s try to come to agreement on an approach.

The working group reviewed the draft harvest strategies and agreed all harvest strategies should use rigorous and up-to-date science. The conservation and GBRMPA representatives strongly recommended a firm decision rule of fishery closure, if the limit reference point was reached (i.e. stock is depleted below 20%), to support rebuilding of the stock. They also recommended clarifying trigger reference point decision rules to ensure stocks rebuild before a limit reference point is reached, which should help avoid any stocks falling below 20% in the future. Consideration was given to having the capacity to set aside decision rules in exceptional circumstances (e.g. major environmental drivers, emergency situation). Fisheries Queensland will establish consistent decision rules for harvest strategies across all fisheries.

The working group supported better data collection and reporting, including the collection of price and economic data. Members were concerned about how onerous the new reporting requirements would be, with accurate weights (unload) notices and catch disposal records being required. The working group recommended a simpler process for non-quota species.

The working group reviewed a new draft trawl logbook and provided advice on the additional information to be collected, particularly species being targeted and grade information. While the research member suggested shot by shot information would be useful for more accurate catch rates, the industry members preferred education material being provided to skippers. This would help to fill in the current ‘total hours trawled’ so it was written in hours and minutes based on how long the trawl gear was on the bottom.

The working group discussed a proposal from the inshore southern workshop about an industry-led adjustment process through a temporary levy (duration decided by industry) on T1s ($2000-5000) that would go towards buying back T1s. Members strongly supported this being a compulsory levy. The working group discussed the potential details of how this could work and agreed to draft up a letter and survey to go to industry to seek support. It was noted that there would need to be very strong support for government to consider introducing the new fee/levy on T1s.  The working group acknowledged the benefits in reducing the number of T1s that could be activated in the fishery and noted that remaining T1s would have greater value.

Public consultation on draft regional harvest strategies will begin later this year. Fisheries Queensland advised a range of educational workshops or materials would be produced to help fishers understand the new management arrangements ahead of harvest strategies beginning.

The trawl working group members in attendance: Fisheries Queensland (Chair – Claire Andersen), commercial fishing (Richard Taylor, Jim Newman, Barry Ehrke, Steve Murphy, Nick Schulz, Steve Andersen, Ted Woodham and Kev Adams), WWF Australia (Simon Miller), recreational fishing (David Bateman) and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Rachel Pears).