Coral Sea Fishery

Ministerial Decision
Ian Cresswell, Delegate for the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, 25 October 2004

The Hon Tony Rundle
Chairman
Australian Fisheries Management Authority
Box 7051 Canberra Mail Centre
Canberra ACT 2610

Dear Mr Rundle

In August 2003, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) submitted the document - Environmental assessment report - Coral Sea Fishery (CSF) for assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the Act).

The fishery has been strategically assessed against the Terms of Reference - Environmental Assessment of the Coral Sea Fishery, including the Australian Government's Guidelines for the Ecologically Sustainable Management of Fisheries, for the purposes of Part 10 of the Act. The fishery was also assessed in accordance with the wildlife trade provisions of Part 13A of the Act, and to determine whether the fishery should be accredited for the purposes of the protected species provisions of Part 13 of the Act. I am pleased to advise that assessment of the fishery is now complete. Once decisions are finalised, the assessment report will be available on the Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH) website through the following address:

http://www.deh.gov.au/coasts/fisheries/index.html

I am satisfied that AFMA has provided an adequate report on the current and likely impacts of activities taken in accordance with the management arrangements for the CSF. There are some environmental risks associated with the fishery and I have made a number of recommendations (at Attachment A) relating to their management. I understand that these recommendations have been agreed by officials in our two agencies. Subject to our agreement on recommendations, I am satisfied on the following matters.

I am satisfied that actions taken in accordance with the management arrangements are unlikely to have an unacceptable or unsustainable impact on the environment in the Commonwealth marine area. Accordingly, I am prepared to endorse the Coral Sea Fishery Statement of Management Arrangements 2004/05 (the management plan) for the purposes of Part 10 of the Act and will table a notice of intent to accredit the management plan as soon as possible after we have agreed on the recommendations.

I am also satisfied that it is unlikely that fishing operations conducted in accordance with the management arrangements will adversely affect the conservation status of protected species, or affect the survival and recovery of threatened species. I am satisfied that the management arrangements for the CSF meet the requirements of Part 13 of the Act, that all reasonable steps are taken to ensure that protected species are not injured or killed, and that the level of interactions with such species in the fishery is not likely to adversely affect the conservation status of protected species or the survival and recovery of listed threatened species. I propose to accredit the management plan accordingly. Accreditation will ensure that individual fishers operating in accordance with the management plan are not required to seek permits in relation to interactions with protected species.

The assessment found a significant difference in the extent of precautionary management and level of concern regarding target stocks between the sea cucumber sector and the other trawl, line, trochus and rock lobster, aquarium and trap (trial) sectors. I have concerns regarding the capability of existing management arrangements to detect, respond to or guard against overexploitation of vulnerable sea cucumber stocks. In contrast, the management arrangements for the remaining sectors, while not without some areas in need of improvement, are more precautionary and have no great sustainability concerns.

In addition, I understand that discussions are underway with the Queensland Government regarding the possible re-negotiation of the 1995 Offshore Constitutional Settlement (OCS) agreement with respect to future management responsibility of the hand collection sectors, with a possibility that management of the sea cucumber sector will be turned over to Queensland in the near future. In view of the management and sustainability concerns and the possible OCS re-negotiation, I consider it appropriate to make separate export decisions for the sea cucumber sector and the remaining sectors.

I am satisfied that, for the purposes of the wildlife trade provisions in Part 13A of the Act, the management plan provides for the trawl, line, trochus and rock lobster, aquarium and trap (trial) sectors of the CSF to be managed in an ecologically sustainable way. I accordingly propose to amend the list of exempt native specimens established under section 303DB of the Act to incorporate products from these sectors for a period of five years.

I am also satisfied that performance of the sea cucumber sector against the Australian Government Guidelines for the ecologically sustainable management of fisheries is adequate, however there are a number of issues that need to be addressed to contain environmental risks in the longer term. Hence, I propose to declare the sea cucumber sector of the fishery an approved Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO), under Part 13A of the Act. This declaration will allow the export of product from this sector for the next three years. I will make the declaration subject to the conditions at Attachment B.

It is important to note that in arriving at my decision I have had particular regard to the limited number of operators in each of the sectors of the CSF, the commitment to use observers on vessels operating in the trawl and experimental trap sectors and the relatively benign fishing methods employed in the hand collection sectors.

While some environmental risks are associated with this fishery, I believe that AFMA has demonstrated a willingness to work together with industry to address them. I strongly encourage the continuation of this approach to management of the fishery and believe that my recommendations will further strengthen management. I look forward to receiving your agreement to them.

I would like to thank you for the constructive way in which your officials have approached this assessment.

Yours sincerely

[Signed]

Ian Cresswell
Delegate of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage

25 October 2004


Recommendations to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) on the ecologically sustainable management of the Coral Sea Fishery

The material submitted by AFMA indicates that the Coral Sea Fishery generally operates in accordance with the Australian Government Guidelines for the ecologically sustainable management of fisheries. The assessment found a significant difference in the extent of precautionary management and level of concern regarding target stocks between the sea cucumber sector and the other trawl, line, trochus and rock lobster, aquarium and trap (trial) sectors. There are serious concerns regarding the capability of existing management arrangements to detect, respond to or guard against overexploitation of vulnerable sea cucumber stocks. In contrast, the management arrangements for the remaining sectors, while not without some areas in need of improvement, are more precautionary and have no great sustainability concerns.

In addition, AFMA is engaged with the Queensland Government regarding the possible re-negotiation of the 1995 Offshore Constitutional Settlement (OCS) agreement with respect to future management responsibility of the hand collection sectors, with a possibility that management of the sea cucumber sector will be turned over to Queensland in the near future. In view of the management and sustainability concerns and the possible OCS re-negotiation, it is appropriate to make separate export decisions for the sea cucumber and the remaining sectors. Accordingly, it is intended that the sea cucumber sector be declared a Wildlife Trade Operation for a period of three years and that the list of exempt native specimens will be amended to incorporate products from the trawl, line, trochus and rock lobster, aquarium and trap (trial) sectors for a period of five years.

Critical to the decisions made for this fishery are the limited number of operators in each of the sectors of the CSF, the commitment to use observers of vessels operating in the trawl and trap (trial) sectors and the relatively benign fishing methods employed in the hand collection sectors.

To further strengthen the effectiveness of the management arrangements for the trawl, line, trochus and rock lobster, aquarium and trap (trial) sectors, address concerns in the sea cucumber sector, and to contain the environmental risks in the medium to long term, a series of recommendations have been developed. The implementation of Recommendations 1-5, 8, 9 and 10 and other commitments made by AFMA in the submission will be monitored and reviewed in five years time. Implementation of Recommendations 6 and 7, which are specific to the sea cucumber sector, and Recommendations 1, 2, 4, 5 and 8, as they relate to the sea cucumber sectors, will be monitored annually and reviewed in three years time.

Recommendations

  1. AFMA to inform DEH of any proposed amendment to the management regime for the Coral Sea Fishery to enable DEH to evaluate any impacts on the ecological sustainability of the fishery.
  2. AFMA to monitor and enforce compliance with spatial and temporal management measures for vessels operating in the fishery, particularly those in the aquarium sector where there is no move on provision or Integrated Computer Vessel Monitoring System (ICVMS) requirement in place.
  3. AFMA to ensure that catch information for the Aquarium sector of the fishery is collected on an ongoing basis to the lowest possible taxonomic level. Where possible, species level data is to be used to inform the ecological risk assessment of the CSF.
  4. AFMA to continue to cooperate with the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries to pursue complementary management and research of shared stocks for all target and by-product species.
  5. AFMA to develop operational objectives and catch triggers for all target species in each of the CSF sectors by the end of 2006. Operational objectives and catch triggers for key by-product species or species groups to also be developed for the line, trawl and trap (trial) sectors by the end of 2006.
  6. AFMA to implement management measures to avoid localized or serial depletion of vulnerable species of sea cucumber by the end of 2006.
  7. Within 3 years, AFMA to develop an indicator of stock status for the sea cucumber sector and establish and implement an ongoing process to determine target species catch limits for the sea cucumber sector based on estimates of total stock size.
  8. AFMA to immediately commence monitoring of all catches including target, by-product and bycatch species or species groups in the line, trawl and trap (trial) sectors. AFMA to consider any trends in this catch information as part of the ecological risk assessment process and develop management responses as appropriate.
  9. AFMA to develop objectives that take explicit account of fishery impacts on bycatch species, protected species and the ecosystem for the line, trawl and trap (trial) sectors by the end of 2006. Objectives that take explicit account of fishery impacts on the ecosystem to also be developed for the trochus and lobster, aquarium and sea cucumber sectors of the CSF by the end of 2006.
  10. Within two years of completion of the ERA, AFMA to identify and implement appropriate management strategies to address/mitigate impacts identified through the ecological risk assessment of the CSF.

Proposed conditions on the approved wildlife trade declaration for the Coral Sea Fishery

  1. Operation of the fishery will be carried out in accordance with the Coral Sea Fishery (CSF) Statement of Management Arrangements 2004/05;
  2. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority will inform the Department of the Environment and Heritage of any proposed amendment to the management regime for the CSF to enable DEH to evaluate any impacts on the ecological sustainability of the fishery.
  3. Reports to be produced and presented to the Department of the Environment and Heritage annually, and to include:
    1. Information sufficient to allow assessment of the progress of AFMA in implementing the recommendations that relate to the sea cucumber sector of the CSF made in the Assessment of the Coral Sea Fishery 2004 (Recommendations 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8);
    2. Information regarding the status of the sea cucumber sector;
    3. a statement of the performance of the sea cucumber sector against stated objectives, performance measures and triggers once developed; and
    4. Research undertaken or completed relevant to the sea cucumber sector.