Northern Prawn Fishery

Ministerial Decision
David Kemp, Minister for the Environment and Heritage, 19 August 2003

Dr Wendy Craik
Chair
Australian Fisheries Management Authority
Box 7051 Canberra Mail Centre
CANBERRA ACT 2610

Dear Dr Craik

In February 2003 the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) submitted the documents - Strategic assessment report - Northern Prawn Fishery (NPF) and the Northern Prawn Fishery Management Plan 1995 (as amended), for assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the Act).

The fishery has been strategically assessed against the Terms of Reference for the Environmental Assessment of the Northern Prawn Fishery, including the Commonwealth'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. The assessment report will be available on the EA website at the following address:

http://www.ea.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 plan for the NPF. I am satisfied that actions taken in accordance with the management plan are unlikely to have an unacceptable or unsustainable impact on the environment. Accordingly, I am prepared to endorse the NPF Fishery Management Plan 1995 (as amended) 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.

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 NPF, including ongoing monitoring and refinement of mitigation measures, 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 plan accordingly. Accreditation will ensure that individual fishers operating in accordance with the Plan are not required to seek permits in relation to interactions with protected species.

I am also satisfied that, for the purposes of the wildlife trade provisions in Part 13A of the Act, the plan of management for the NPF provides for the fishery to be managed in an ecologically sustainable way. I accordingly propose to amend the list of exempt native specimens established under s303DB of the Act to incorporate products from this fishery for a period of five years.

It is important to note that in arriving at my decision I have had particular regard to the stock assessment process and the proactive steps taken by industry and managers to address environmental risks in the fishery. In particular, I commend the actions taken to address historical over-fishing of tiger prawn stocks, significant marine turtle interaction, large bycatch volumes and benthic impacts. I was pleased to learn that as a result of the recent effort reductions and rebuilding strategy, Grooved tiger prawns stock status has improved and they are now no longer considered overfished. While Brown tiger prawn stocks remain overfished, I am confident that the recovery strategy will continue to be applied and monitored with a view to recovering the stocks to an ecologically viable level.

While some environmental risks are associated with this fishery, I believe that AFMA is addressing these risks and I have made a number of recommendations aimed at ensuring continuation of good management practices. AFMA has a strong history of recognising risks in this fishery and working hard, together with industry, to address the issues. I strongly encourage the continuation of this approach to the ongoing management of the fishery and believe that the recommendations will further strengthen management. The attached document outlines the recommendations, which I understand that officials in both our agencies have agreed. The recommendations have been an important factor in my decision and I look forward to receiving your agreement to implement them.

I would like to thank you for the constructive way in which your officials have approached this task and I look forward to reviewing the remainder of the Commonwealth managed fisheries.

Yours sincerely

[Signed]

David Kemp
Minister for the Environment and Heritage

19 August 2003


Recommendations

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

The following recommendations will be implemented before the next review in 2008:

Recommendation 1. At the next review of the Management Plan detailed objectives, performance criteria, performance measures and regular review requirements will be formalised and directly linked to the Management Plan.

Recommendation 2. AFMA will continue to inform the Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH) of any significant changes to the Strategic Plan, Management Plan, Bycatch Action Plan, or managerial commitments in the strategic assessment submission.

Recommendation 3. At the next review of the Management Plan an amendment will be made to require the assessment of the effectiveness of the Management Plan, including the measures taken to achieve its objectives by reference to the performance criteria mentioned in recommendation (1), at least every five years.

Recommendation 4. AFMA will continue to cooperate with other relevant jurisdictions to pursue complementary management and research of shared stocks for all target and by-product species, which may be affected by cross-jurisdictional issues.

Recommendation 5. AFMA will develop and implement harvest strategies for all target prawn species, scampi, squid and slipper lobsters (bugs) within five years. Harvest strategies should include monitoring systems, suitable biological reference points and management responses with clear timeframes for implementation, to ensure that harvesting is conducted at an ecologically sustainable level. Harvest strategies should also be developed for other species as new market opportunities are detected.

Recommendation 6. AFMA, in cooperation with the Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland fisheries management agencies will, within five years, develop and implement a precautionary and biologically meaningful limit for squid harvest based on sound information about the species ability to withstand fishing pressure. Within 12 months, as an interim measure, AFMA will implement more precautionary management arrangements, based on the best available scientific advice, and taking into account historical catch, to limit the harvest of squid species in the NPF.

Recommendation 7. Within 3 years AFMA will identify and implement management responses to fishing impacts identified from the ecological risk assessment process.

Recommendation 8. An assessment of bycatch and biodiversity in prawn trawl fisheries1 conducted prior to the introduction of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) and Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRDs) identified Pristidae (sawfishes) and Dasyatidae (ray) species as least likely to be sustainable to trawling operations. Within three years, unless the introduction of TEDs and BRDs have been found to significantly reduce the catch of these species to levels that do not place these species at conservation risk, or the ecological risk assessment has determined that these species are not likely to be significantly impacted by operations in the fishery, AFMA will ensure that these species receive ongoing monitoring and attention in future refinements of bycatch mitigation measures. Particular attention should be paid to the Green Sawfish (Pristis zijsron) and Narrow Sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidate). Relevant information on species found to be at risk should be collected to inform the development of mechanisms to minimise the impacts of trawling on these species

Recommendation 9. AFMA will continue to pursue reduction in the amount of bycatch taken in the Northern Prawn Fishery through the refinement of bycatch mitigation technology and will investigate methods for increasing the survivability of bycatch species. Any suitable methods identified should be implemented in a timely manner.

Recommendation 10. AFMA will ensure that ongoing monitoring of sea snake species taken in the fishery is undertaken to ensure that any future impacts on these protected species can be detected. Within three years, unless the introduction of TEDs and BRDs have been found to significantly reduce the catch of sea snakes to levels that do not place these species at conservation risk, or the ecological risk assessment has determined that these species are not likely to be significantly impacted by operations in the fishery, AFMA will ensure that sea snake bycatch is specifically considered in ongoing monitoring and refinement of bycatch mitigation measures. If necessary, the development of bycatch mitigation measures to significantly reduce the capture of sea snakes should be a priority. Research, monitoring and mitigation measure development should concentrate on Hydrophis pacificus (large headed sea snake) and Disteria kingii (spectacled sea snake) to ensure that impacts on these species are sustainable.

Recommendation 11. AFMA will develop and implement an education program for industry to increase awareness of the importance of sea snake protection, promote sensible handling techniques and improve species identification. AFMA will also ensure that observers are adequately trained in sea snake identification to species level to maximise the use of data collected in monitoring programs.

Recommendation 12. AFMA, in cooperation with the States, will develop and implement a spatial management system within the NPF that takes account of the impacts of fishing on:

  • species and populations identified by the ecological risk assessment process as high risk;
  • the recovery of overfished stocks;
  • important feeding/spawning/breeding/refuge grounds for key target, byproduct and protected species; and
  • benthic habitats

This spatial management system will be integrated with the regional marine planning process for Northern Australia that is already under way to establish a representative system of marine protected areas in the region and will ensure that the entire fishery area is taken into account.

1. Stobutzki, I., Blaber, S., Brewer, D., Fry, G., Heales, D., Miller, M., Milton, D., Salini, J., Van der Velde, T., Wassenberg, T. (2001) Ecological sustainability of bycatch and biodiversity in prawn trawl fisheries. FRDC Project 96/257.