Trawl fishery working group

Communique 21-22 February 2019

The sixth meeting of the trawl working group was held in Brisbane over 21-22 February 2019. The working group discussed a number of letters from industry which were tabled at the meeting. The group acknowledged the concerns from some in industry about the proposed 2-for-1 boat replacement policy, the boundary line between North and Central regions and views from industry about how to allocate unused/inactive effort unit, noting the preference from some fishers to nominate which region they should be allocated to.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the implementation of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017-2027. Members noted that the Directions Paper on Fisheries Reform had been released with a number of management changes identified for the trawl fishery. Fisheries Queensland advised there would be further opportunities for stakeholders to have their say over the next 6 months during consultation on draft regulatory changes and allocation approaches.

The working group discussed the outcomes from the Northern and Central Regions harvest strategy workshops held in January. Working group members who had attended the workshops provided additional insight into some of the views shared. It was noted that some attendees were opposed to the proposed reforms in the trawl fishery. The working group agreed that reform was needed to better control effort at the stock level and maintain access to the fishery through Commonwealth export approvals under the EPBC Act. This would ensure certainty and security for fishers in the long-term. It was recommended that Fisheries Queensland continue to communicate to industry the need for the reforms.

The working group revisited the 2-for-1 boat replacement policy after harvest strategy workshops had raised a number of concerns that it may prohibit upgrading of vessels currently in the fishery and have negative impacts on people who lease T1s. The working group supported efforts to reduce the number of inactive T1s in the fishery, but generally did not think a 2-for-1 boat replacement policy was the best approach at this point in time. The working group recommended that this should be reviewed at the end of the first year after the allocation of effort units to the management regions. At this point consideration should be given to either:

  • a refined 2-for-1 policy only applied to new boats (to exclude leasing, replacement boats etc.); or
  • a latent effort removal process to remove inactive T1s; or
  • an increase in T1 fees.

Members discussed the line between the northern and central regions. The Townsville workshop did not support the current boundary (at 18° - Dunk Island) and provided options for moving the line further north (to Cape Tribulation or Cape Grafton) or for managing the north and central regions under a single zone from 22° north. The trawl working group and Cairns workshop generally supported the current boundary (at 18° - Dunk Island) which would allow management at the stock level (the northern being tiger prawn, while the central is a multi-species fishery with tiger and red spot king prawn) and also recognised the different fleet dynamics. The working group noted strong justification would be required to move the proposed line at 18°. It was noted that if fishers have operated in both regions they would be allocated effort units for both and would continue to be able to do the same thing into the future. Some members noted there were strong views from the Townsville fleet, but also that Cairns fishers would oppose moving the line. Fisheries Queensland advised that they would seek the views of all stakeholders while consulting on the regulatory reforms in May 2019.

The working group considered again options for allocating unused/inactive effort units, noting the government’s direction paper which included the proposed proportional split (36% southern offshore, 21% southern inshore, 21% central, 22% northern). The working group recommended consulting on an option to provide fishers the opportunity to nominate within a specified timeframe (e.g. 2 months) which regions they wanted unused effort units to be allocated. Where a fisher failed to nominate, their unused allocation would default to the previously agreed proportional splits. Feedback from commercial fishers on this proposal will be sought as part of the consultation on allocation approaches during March 2019, which will include individual reports for stakeholders to view on FishNet.

Fisheries Queensland provided copies of the draft harvest strategies from the Northern and Central region harvest strategy workshops. Feedback was provided on the potential indicators, triggers and decision rules to inform further refinement of the harvest strategies.  Further harvest strategy workshops for southern areas will be held in April-May.

The working group discussed the timelines associated with moving to co-management in the trawl fishery once harvest strategies are in place. This would involve fishers being more involved in real-time decision-making processes as part of harvest strategies for things like season opening/closings.

Members discussed research priorities for the fishery and identified the following:

  • Sea grass impacts from recent flooding and impacts on fisheries production
  • Economic and social information including labour force to attract and retain employees
  • Co-management models from other fisheries and opportunities for the trawl fishery
  • Benefits of line-trawling in reducing bycatch and reducing trawl footprint
  • Understanding sensitive benthic habitats in southern parts of the fishery
  • Building export opportunities
  • White Spot Disease and impacts on wild populations

Dr Roland Pitcher (CSIRO) presented on the Australian trawl footprint project, which showed that only 3.5% of Australia’s coastal waters are trawled. The working group noted the value of VMS in demonstrating that the trawl fishery was avoiding sensitive areas. The working group felt that the trawl footprint in Queensland would continue to reduce as a result of the trend over the last decade towards line trawling over the same area to improve catch, reduce bycatch and minimise benthic disturbance. Finer scale VMS data will assist in demonstrating this (15 mins instead of hourly polling from beginning of 2019). The working group recognised there were some benefits to releasing finer-scale VMS information from the project to build understanding and change perceptions of the extent of trawling on Queensland’s coast.

An update was provided on the 2018 scallop survey and some changes to the stock assessment model which is expected to be released in April 2019. The next working group meeting in June 2019 will discuss scallop management options, outcomes from southern harvest strategy workshops and consultation on regulatory review and allocation methods.

The working group recommended ongoing strong engagement by Fisheries Queensland with fishers in regional areas for development of harvest strategies.

The trawl working group members are: Fisheries Queensland (Chair – Claire Andersen), commercial fishing (Richard Taylor, Jim Newman, Neil Mogensen, Barry Ehrke, Steve Murphy, Nick Schulz, Glen Duggan, Scott McLay, Bill Marsh and Kev Adams), WWF Australia (Jim Higgs), recreational fishing (David Bateman) and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Rachel Pears).