Environmental assessment under the EPBC Act
Department of the Environment and Heritage, December 2001
ISBN 0 642 54859 5
Contents of the report
- Principle 1
- Principle 2
- Summary table of the assessment of the Tasmanian Rock Lobster Fishery against the Guidelines
The Tasmanian Rock Lobster Fishery is managed by the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Water and the Environment (DPIWE). The fishery is in stock rebuilding phase and is subject of a management plan introduced in 1998, based on the use of individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs). The management regime consists of two items, both of which are documented and intended to be publicly available both as hard copy and on the Internet:
- Fisheries (Rock Lobster and Giant Crab) Rules 2001, made under Part 3 of the Tasmanian Living Marine Resources Management Act 1995.
- the Rock Lobster and Giant Crab Fishery Policy Document 2001.
The Fisheries Rules will be in force for a period of five years, and will expire on 21 December 2005.
Overall fisheries management objectives are established through the Living Marine Resources Act 1995. Fishery-specific management objectives are proposed through the policy document – in broad terms they address the objectives of the Commonwealth Guidelines for the ecologically sustainable management of fisheries, as well as other objectives such as cost recovery and employment. Strategies are established under each objective (a tabulation of objectives, strategies, triggers and indicators is at Annex 2).
The management regime comprises a combination of licence limitations (315 commercial licences overall, with about 254 active in 2000; and recreational fishers); a Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) set annually; minimum size limits applied across the fishery; seasonal closures to protect breeding females and to protect the predominant moulting period for males; possession limitations (a prohibition on the possession of berried female rock lobsters and dismembered rock lobsters; possession limits for recreational fishers); gear specifications (regarding the construction and dimensions of pots, and requiring tags for recreational and indigenous pots); gear restrictions for commercial and recreational fishers; closed areas; and a series of reporting requirements. The regime also has a series of performance indicators and triggers for the fishery, focused mainly on target species and byproduct species; these are contained in the policy document.
The TACC is set with the proviso that at a minimum it must be no higher than the level that will sustain the biomass at its current level.
Fishery-dependent data is obtained through compulsory logbooks completed by fishers, although DPIWE indicate that bycatch data obtained from logbooks may be unreliable.
The submission by DPIWE indicates the recreational catch has varied between 5-11% of the commercial catch in the past ten years, however Yearsley et al suggest that the recreational catch is equivalent to over 10% of the commercial catch (Yearsley et al, 1999). Recreational fishery controls include licenses for diving, potting or ringing; a possession limit of 5 per day; and a requirement that the tail be punched or clipped to reduce potential for illegal sale. Although licences are required, there is no limit on the number of licences which may be issued and the number of recreational pot and dive licences issued has increased by 40% and 43% to over 8,500 and over 4,500 respectively since 1996 (Gardner et al, 2001).
The management regime includes a number of strategies and trigger points for the target species, non-target species and protected species, but whether the same exist for the impact of fishing operations on the marine environment is not clear. The issues associated with these are discussed against the relevant part of the Guidelines.
There are subsidiary documents germane to the fishery's management. These include fishery assessment reports, which are available electronically from the Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute (TAFI). There are a number of scientific studies which also address aspects of the fishery.
The management regime was developed through several stages of consultation, including a period of at least 60 days public comment for which notices are placed in the media and on the web. The bulk of consultation, however, occurs with industry groups. There are three main committees providing advice on the fishery, addressing management advice; strategic research planning; and the assessment of the fishery and the total allowable catch (TAC). Industry, scientists and managers are represented on all, but representation for the fishery assessment process (the Crustacean Fishery Assessment Working Group) does not include conservation/community members.
DPIWE assert that the independence of the fisheries assessment is assured because the body undertaking the work, TAFI, is independent of the managers although it does receive considerable funding from the Tasmanian Government. During the public comment phase of this assessment it was suggested that independent assessments were not possible because catch and effort data were not available to non-Government people. In the view of DPIWE, because assessments require more than catch and effort data, it would be costly and time consuming to undertake an entirely independent assessment. However DPIWE indicates that the next assessment may be reviewed by scientists in New Zealand.
There are no international or regional management regimes to which Australia is a party which relate specifically to rock lobster. The prime international regime affecting the fishery is the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The management regime essentially complies with this. Australia is developing a National Plan of Action – Sharks (NPOA-Sharks) as required under the International Plan of Action – Sharks developed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation's Committee on Fisheries, which places some obligations upon managers of all fisheries in which sharks are taken. Given that the bycatch in the fishery includes at least one shark species, the NPOA-Sharks is also germane to the fishery.
The fishery is subject of an agreement under the fisheries component of the Offshore Constitutional Settlement. This arrangement cedes to Tasmania management responsibility for the fishery to the outer edge of the Australian fishing zone and, in Bass Strait, to a defined line. As a consequence the fishery encompasses an area of the Commonwealth marine area as defined under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and the Commonwealth legislation relating to the impact of actions on that is in force.
The target species (Jasus edwardsii) is believed to be a single population and is taken in fisheries managed by five Australian jurisdictions. The bulk of the catch is taken in Tasmanian, South Australian and Victorian waters, with the South Australian catch the greatest (Yearsley at al, 1999). Some also is taken in Western Australian and New South Wales fisheries.
The management arrangements submitted by DPIWE do not explicitly take into account management regimes and fisheries in other Australian jurisdictions targeting the same species. The submission provided by DPIWE addresses only the fishery, not the stock. Estimates relating to the target species provided in the documentation do not take into account the harvest from the stock by operators licensed to fish in other States. As a consequence there is a risk that the data used in stock assessments underpinning management – particularly the establishment of the TACC and quotas – underestimates total removals. The degree of risk inherent in this is not clear, although it is worth noting that one estimate of the status of Jasus edwardsii as being overfished "in some localities" (these "localities" are unspecified, and may not be in Tasmanian waters) (Caton and McLoughlin (eds), 2000).
Ideally, management arrangements for fisheries affecting a single stock should be under a single jurisdiction or at least complementary. If this is not achievable, management arrangements should as a minimum take into account the harvest and management regime in other jurisdictions fishing the same population, particularly when assessing stock status and availability for harvest.
The documentation indicates a comprehensive monitoring regime involving fishers, processors and receivers that would be expected to minimise the risk of illegal harvest and commercial sale of the target species. The management strategies appear to have the capacity to control harvest in the commercial fishery, and to a lesser degree over recreational harvest. Measures also are in place to minimise illegal activity. What is not entirely clear from the documentation is the level of compliance with management arrangements, although there are few breaches recorded relative to the high number of inspections which would suggest compliance is good. A review of enforcement and compliance strategies is proposed as part of the management plan strategies.
Since introduction of ITQs in 1998 fishery assessments suggest that egg production and the biomass of legal sized animals is increasing statewide. If illegal activity is and continues to be low, expectations are that the fishery will continue to rebuild; however, there is heavy reliance on a relatively new quota system and the longer-term impacts of this system are yet to be demonstrated.
The harvest of the single population of Jasus edwardsii occurs in five Australian jurisdictions. Management arrangements in the Tasmanian fishery are precautionary and are quite solid. However, in the view of Department of the Environment and Heritage there remains a risk that activities in another fishery may adversely impact upon those management arrangements. Therefore there is a need to develop collaborative arrangements with other jurisdictions to develop joint stock assessments to ensure management arrangements are not counterproductive.
There is a strong monitoring regime in place which would be expected to detect reasonable levels of non-compliance with commercial management arrangements, and to a lesser degree recreational management. Compliance and enforcement activity could be strengthened further by undertaking regular evaluation of emerging risks. Contingency planning could take place to deal with the risk of an increase in, or the revelation of higher levels than estimated of, illegal activity.
Although the development of the management regime involves a degree of public input, the breadth of representation on consultative mechanisms should be increased to ensure all stakeholders have a significant and more or less equivalent opportunity for input. One mechanism to achieve this could be for DPIWE to indicate to the wider community that they would welcome the input of any individual who wished to be part of the assessment process
- A dialogue should commence between all fisheries jurisdictions managing Jasus edwardsii to ensure that:
- a) management arrangements are complementary in the sense that minimum levels of egg production and biomass are protected;
- b) the activities in each jurisdiction that are likely to impact on the fishery in another jurisdiction are explicitly taken into account in stock assessments and in devising the management triggers and responses for individual jurisdictions; and
- c) if feasible, working towards joint stock assessment would be a significant step towards harmonising management arrangements.
- Representation in the fishery assessment process should be increased to strengthen representation from conservation or community interests. Consideration should also be given to broader public notification of the potential to input into the assessment process. The existing stock assessment process would be further strengthened by periodic external peer review.