Sustainable fisheries expert panel

Communique 4-5 July 2019

Role of the panel:  The Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel was established to provide independent expert advice to the Minister responsible for fisheries and Fisheries Queensland on best practice fisheries management and implementation of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy. Its advice does not represent Queensland Government policy.

The eighth Sustainable Fisheries Strategy Scientific Expert Panel (the Panel) meeting was held in Brisbane over the 4th and 5th of July 2019. The Panel welcomed new member Professor Natalie Stoeckl, who replaces Dr Nadine Marshall. The Panel wished to formally thank Dr Marshall for her advice and contributions over the past 18 months.  The meeting focused on the proposed fishery reforms and harvest strategies for each fishery.

The Panel reiterated their support for the progress made on the fisheries reforms and the considerable investment in stock assessments, drafting of harvest strategies and the development of underpinning policy to support improving fisheries management in Queensland.  The Panel noted that while there are still a few implementation issues with vessel tracking, largely it has been successful, with Queensland’s small vessel inshore commercial fisheries now setting an important benchmark for other Australian fisheries where vessel tracking is yet to be introduced.  While acknowledging the cost impact on fishers, the Panel members felt that the flow of benefits to fisheries management and better community understanding of commercial fisher’s compliance and resource stewardship will outweigh these costs.  The achievement of comprehensive vessel tracking is something that commercial fishers in Queensland can be proud of.

The Panel was updated on implementation of the urgent management action to reduce the impact of fishing on gastropods and molluscs in Moreton Bay and on Black Jewfish.  The Panel noted that the competitive total allowable commercial catch (TACC) for black jewfish had been reached and the fishery had been closed to commercial fishing for the remainder of the 2019 fishing season. The Panel discussed the released Discussion Paper on proposed changes to fisheries regulation and was briefed on the proposed changes.  The Panel noted that this was a wide ranging and comprehensive set of changes that were necessary to give legislative support to the proposed reforms. Feedback to date had generally been in relation to allocation impacts on commercial fishers, some of the proposed recreational fishing changes, streamlined reporting, moving away from the use of lightweight crab pots and setting new catch limits.  At the time of the meeting more than 400 online surveys, 56 submissions and more than 10,000 Net Free North campaign emails had been received. It was noted that consultation would close on the 19 July 2019.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the Stock and Ecological Risk Assessment programs and outcomes delivered to date.  The Panel noted the recent release of a number of stock assessments (published on the eResearch Archive available at https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/monitoring-compliance/data/sustainability-reporting/fish-stock-status-reports), which will inform harvest strategies and initial catch limits for a number of important species. Panel members were keen to understand the prioritisation process and schedule for the assessment program and strongly recommended that a risk-based, cost-benefit approach be used to ensure a programmed delivery of stock assessments and/or other performance indicators to support the implementation of robust harvest strategies.

Fisheries Queensland provided a briefing on the draft harvest strategy approaches and how harvest strategies would work in Queensland now that amendments to the Fisheries Act 1994, formally recognising harvest strategies, have been implemented.  The Panel noted that Fisheries Queensland is currently working with the various Working Groups on 14 harvest strategies to manage the harvest of all sectors.  The Panel noted that stakeholders may require additional briefings on the proposed management changes, and the role and purpose of  harvest strategies. The Panel recommended that such information, including clear articulation of the objectives of fisheries management be included early in the briefing process. To clarify and provide more certainty around future decision making in accordance with the harvest strategies, the Panel recommended a number of format changes and the use of a hierarchical decision making process for adjusting catch limits.  The Panel also recommended that wording of the decision rules around maintaining catch shares be clearer and that all harvest, recreational and commercial shares would be adjusted proportionately based on the adjustment of the global (all sectors) catch/effort limit for the species.  The Panel noted that the draft harvest strategies would be released for public consultation later this year before being finalised for approval by the Minister responsible for fisheries.

For the trawl fisheries, the Panel reiterated their earlier advice that the effort caps should be set no higher than current effort levels in each region because it is well known that trawl fisheries are not economic at maximum sustainable yield (MSY) and moving towards maximum economic yield (MEY) is important to moving to profitability for the harvesting sector.  If this was not achievable at this stage the Panel strongly recommended that the harvest strategies at least set out a structured transition to a lower effort cap to align with the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy target of moving to MEY. The Panel support the approach proposed for the crab fishery to validate and improve catch information across all sectors before moving to biomass-based assessments, noting that research would be required before biomass could confidently be determined in the crab fisheries.

The Panel discussed the draft bycatch and species of conservation interest (SOCI) management strategy approach for the East Coast Inshore Fishery.  It reiterated strongly that both SOCI and bycatch management are critical issues for this fishery and that a proactive commitment by fishers and managers to improved netting practices and the collection of more accurate information was required.  Panel members supported commencing with approaches that would escalate action based on individual fisher accountability, reinforced by best management practice in this fishery. Caution was expressed around using other approaches that would result in full regional closures to net fishing as more information would be required to fully understand the impact and benefits of closures before being able to successfully implement them. The Panel reinforced that this matter would require continual improvement and commitment from commercial fishers to meet community expectations. To do otherwise would only encourage community pressure to reduce the available fishable area or fishing techniques available to commercial fishers.

Fisheries Queensland provided an update on the proposed reporting requirements, supporting system development and the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to develop high-tech systems to monitor commercial fishing location, effort and catch.  The Panel continue to support approaches to improve the accuracy of fisheries information in Queensland and apply innovative automatic data collection approaches.  The Panel suggested that until some of the supporting digital technology is ready, it is likely that commercial fishers will need to implement quite different reporting requirements and supported the development of a commercial fishing app to enable fishers to complete this more efficiently.  The Panel felt strongly that education and training needed to be central to implementation of the reform process in subsequent years, including supporting access to digital literacy and remote access to electronic systems.  To support commercial fishers, the Panel also recommended that Fisheries Queensland consider developing readily accessible factsheets, checklists, “how to” videos and where possible small group meetings to assist transition to the new management requirements.

The Panel had a private session and discussed progress on the fisheries reforms. While recognizing the likely impact of the proposed reforms and that further analysis was still required following the final round of public consultation, the Panel continues to support the process.  Given the importance of moving to harvest strategy-based fisheries management and the associated setting of initial catch limits, the Panel recommended that Fisheries Queensland engage an independent review of the draft harvest strategies before they are released for consultation later this year.  Because of the critical stage the fisheries reforms are at, the Panel agreed to meet in early September (ahead of the original schedule) to provide advice on the results of consultation, allocation approaches and draft harvest strategies.

The members of the Sustainable Fisheries Expert Panel are: Associate Professor Ian Tibbetts, Dr Cathy Dichmont, Mr Ian Cartwright, Associate Professor Daryl McPhee, Dr Michelle Heupel, Prof Natalie Stoeckl and Dr Sean Pascoe.