Environmental assessment under the EPBC Act
Department of the Environment and Heritage, December 2001
ISBN 0 642 54859 5
The fishery targets southern rock lobster (Jasus edwardsii), about 75% of which is marketed live. The species is also taken in New South Wales, South Australian, Victorian and Western Australian waters, and Kailoa et al indicate it may be the same population in Australia and New Zealand (Kailoa et al, 1993). The bulk of the catch is taken in South Australian, Tasmanian and Victorian waters. Approximately 1.75 million rock lobsters are harvested in the Tasmanian fishery annually, at a landed value of approximately A$50 million (Gardner et al, 2001). The gear used is a lobster pot placed on the seafloor and connected to a float on the sea surface.
Bycatch includes a variety of crabs including giant crab (subject of a commercial fishery), some finfish (some of which are commercial, eg morwong and wrasse), octopus and other molluscs, and some echinoderms. Entanglement may occur with seal and turtles.
The fishery is managed under an arrangement under the Offshore Constitutional Settlement that cedes management responsibility to the State to the outer edge of the Australian fishing zone. Although most catch is taken at depths 0-40m, some may be taken at depths up to 200m. The management plan consists of a policy document and the Fisheries (Rock Lobster and Giant Crab) Rules 2001, implementing licence limitation, a total allowable catch, minimum size limits, gear restrictions, closures, and a comprehensive monitoring regime.
The fishery is in stock rebuilding phase after peak catches in 1985 and effort increases up to 1992; management seeks to rebuild the biomass to 4,500t by 2010 (a 50% increase in the next 10 years, or approximately 15% of virgin legal size biomass). The fishery target is to rebuild stocks such that after 2010 the catch should be 30% of the legal-sized biomass.
The submission was received in April 2001 after a period of discussion between DPIWE and Department of the Environment and Heritage during which preliminary drafts were refined. The submission was released for a thirty-day public comment period that expired on 1 July 2001.
Notification that the submission was available on the Internet were sent to all persons on the Fisheries Public Comment Register, a register of interested persons maintained by Department of the Environment and Heritage. Notification that the submission was available on the Internet also was published in The Australian and Tasmanian newspapers. A total of four public comments were received and DPIWE provided a response on the issues raised in them. Comments also were sought from the Scientific Committee on Wildlife Use (SCWU), a body of scientists established by the Minister to provide him with independent advice.
Following the public comment period the assessment report was drafted. In addition to the submission and associated documents, public comments and DPIWE's response informed the assessment.
A draft of the assessment report recommendations was provided to DPIWE for consideration in December 2001, and the assessment finalised when their views had been received.
The Tasmanian Rock Lobster Fishery is assessed as being a relatively well managed fishery and having a low risk of being ecologically unsustainable in the short to mid term. The fishery has mechanisms in place which should control the ecological impact of the fishery. As a consequence it is recommended that the export of Jasus edwardsii taken in the fishery should be exempt from the export controls of Part 13A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), with that exemption reviewed in five years. A number of issues have been identified which would be need to be addressed prior to the next review to ensure ecological risks are contained in the mid to long term.
As the fishery area encompasses Commonwealth as well as State waters, consideration under Part 13 of the EPBC Act is required vis-à-vis the impact of the fishery on threatened species, migratory species, cetaceans and listed marine species. The submission (Ford, 2001) indicates that the fishery may interact with leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea, listed as vulnerable on the EPBC) and seals (species unidentified, but likely to be Australian fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus) (Shaughnessy, 1999) - listed as a listed marine species on the EPBC). As the level of interaction with both appears to be low, the fishery is unlikely to have a significant impact and a declaration under ss.245/265 of the Act would be appropriate.
This assessment report identified a total of eleven areas in which improvement needs to be made:
- 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.
- The compliance and enforcement strategy should be periodically reviewed to ensure emerging compliance risks are identified and addressed.
- 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.
- DPIWE should continue to monitor the situation with respect to the harvest of immature females in the northern part of the fishery to ensure any reductions in egg production or puerulus settlement are detected in a timely manner and develop a management response for implementation in the event that a major issue develops.
- In the event that a review is triggered by a breach of the performance measures, the management plan should require that action must be taken to return the fishery to a stage where it will satisfy the management objectives if the review establishes that the management regime is under-performing.
- Stock assessment processes should incorporate, if not already done, a risk assessment into the ecological impact of the potential skew in sex ratio caused by a longer fishing season on males, with a view to developing appropriate management arrangements (triggers and responses) should the skew in sex ratio present a sustainability issue.
- DPIWE should develop and provide, as part of the public review process for the management arrangements for the Tasmanian rock lobster fishery in 2005, an assessment of the options for system-based management objectives and associated biological reference, target and limit levels and performance measures for application in the fishery.
- An analysis of measures to encourage the accuracy of byproduct reporting should be conducted with a view to improving data collection, assessment and management responses.
- Mechanisms should be developed to ensure better recording of bycatch in the fishery. A more formal assessment of the risks posed to bycatch species should be carried out before the next assessment to confirm assumptions relating to low risk of having a significant impact on species making up the bycatch for this fishery. Risk assessments could include the vulnerability of various bycatch species; an qualitative assessment on survivorship of animals returned to the water; and identification of areas or times of high bycatch incidence.
- A structured reporting and monitoring program into interactions with protected species should be developed as high priority. If this program suggests interactions occur more frequently than previously thought, mitigation measures, including trigger and reference points, should be introduced to reduce interactions. DPIWE are strongly encouraged to investigate the use of seal spikes or other appropriate devices as a precautionary measure.
- DPIWE should establish a program monitoring fished and unfished areas in the fishery with a view to identifying changes in the wider marine environment which may be a result of the fishery.