Northern Territory Trepang Fishery - Ministerial decision 2004

Ministerial Decision
Ian Cresswell, Delegate of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, 20 December 2004

The Hon Kon Vatskalis MLA
Minister for Primary Industries and Fisheries
GPO Box 3146
Darwin NT 0801

Dear Minister

I am writing to you as Delegate of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage in relation to the assessment of the Northern Territory Trepang Fishery under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the Act). In September 2004 the Department of Business, Industry and Resource Development (DBIRD) submitted the document entitled Assessing the Ecologically Sustainable Management of the Northern Territory Trepang Fishery for assessment under the Act.

The submission has been assessed for the purposes of the wildlife trade provisions of Part 13A of the Act.

I am pleased to advise that assessment of the fishery is now complete. The assessment report will be available on the Department of the Environment and Heritage website at: www.deh.gov.au/coasts/fisheries/assessment/index.html.

I am satisfied that the operation of the fishery is consistent with the objects of the wildlife trade provisions in Part 13A of the Act. I am also satisfied that it is unlikely to be detrimental to the survival or conservation status of any taxon to which the fishery operation relates, or threaten any relevant ecosystem. The fishery is relatively well managed and operates under an adaptable and precautionary regime capable of controlling, monitoring and enforcing the level of take from the fishery. Performance 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 fishery an approved Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO), under Part 13A of the Act. This declaration would allow the export of product from the fishery for the next three years. I will make the declaration subject to the conditions at Attachment A.

I also propose to include product from this WTO fishery on the List of Exempt Native Specimens so that exporters would not require EPBC Act export permits. The fishery would continue to operate as a WTO for the period of the declaration (3 years) and all WTO conditions would continue to apply.

The management regime aims to ensure that fishing is conducted in a manner that does not lead to over-fishing and for fishing operations to be managed to minimise their impact on the structure, productivity, function and biological diversity of the ecosystem. On balance, the fishery is being managed in an ecologically sustainable manner and is working to address existing problems and to minimise environmental risks.

While there are some environmental risks associated with this fishery, I believe that DBIRD is committed to addressing these issues and is already taking proactive steps in some areas. Officers from our two departments have discussed key areas requiring ongoing and increased attention. I understand that they have agreed to a number of recommended actions, focusing on addressing key issues, to be implemented before the next Australian Government review of the fishery. The recommendations (Attachment B) have been an important factor in my decision to declare the fishery a WTO and I look forward to receiving your confirmation that they will be implemented.

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

20 December 2004


Proposed conditions on the approved wildlife trade declaration for the Northern Territory Trepang Fishery

  1. Operation of the fishery will be carried out in accordance with the Northern Territory Trepang Fishery management regime made under the Northern Territory Fisheries Regulations 1995 in force under the Fisheries Act 1988.
  2. The Department of Business, Industry and Resource Development will advise the Department of the Environment and Heritage of any material change to the NT Trepang Fishery's management arrangements that could affect the criteria on which Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 decisions are based, within 3 months of that change being made.
  3. Reports to be produced and presented to DEH annually, and to include:
    • information sufficient to allow assessment of the progress of the Department of Business, Industry and Resource Development in implementing the recommendations made in the Assessment of the Northern Territory Trepang Fishery 2004;
    • A description of the status of the fishery and catch and effort information;
    • A statement of the performance of the fishery against objectives, performance indicators and measures once developed; and
    • Research undertaken or completed relevant to the fishery

Recommendations to the Northern Territory Department of Business, Industry and Resource Development (DBIRD) on the ecologically sustainable management of the Northern Territory Trepang Fishery

The Northern Territory Trepang Fishery is a relatively well-managed fishery with a range of significant management measures to promote the ecologically sustainable harvesting of species from the fishery.

DEH recognises that the fishery is currently in a developmental phase and that DBIRD has committed to implementing more formal management arrangements should the fishery progress beyond this phase. DEH welcomes the commitment to developing the fishery in a precautionary and sustainable manner that will take into account the requirements expressed through the recommendations presented below.

The Northern Territory Trepang Fishery has an adequate management regime including limited entry, zonal management and seasonal closures (due to environmental factors) that that should enable the fishery to continue to be ecologically sustainable in the short to medium term. Stocks are not currently overfished and management arrangements provide the basis to ensure that fishing is conducted in a manner that will not lead to over-fishing.

While the fishery is relatively well managed, a number of risks and uncertainties that must be managed to ensure that their impacts are minimised have been identified. The following recommendations aim to address these risks and uncertainties. DBIRD should action these recommendations before the next review in 2007 or within the timeframe specified in individual recommendations.

Recommendations

  1. The Department of Business, Industry and Resource Development to advise DEH of any material change to the NT Trepang Fishery's management arrangements that could affect the criteria on which EPBC decisions are based, within 3 months of that change being made.
  2. DBIRD to cooperate with other jurisdictions in efforts to undertake research on key gaps in the knowledge of trepang biology and ecology.
  3. Within 2 years DBIRD to develop and implement a robust research and ongoing monitoring program to provide more accurate assessments of stock abundance and inform performance measures for the fishery. The research and ongoing monitoring program will also aim to determine whether a second species of sandfish, H. scabra var. versicolor, is present in the fishery.
  4. DBIRD to develop sustainable yield estimates for the NT Trepang Fishery within 2 years.
  5. Within 6 months DBIRD to review the current interim limit reference points for sandfish and implement revised limit reference points, to ensure that they provide a precautionary basis to detect changes and impacts to the target stock. The review will take into account available research on sandfish stocks of Australian beche-de-mer fisheries (including research conducted in the Northern Territory) and the biological characteristics of the target species.
  6. DBIRD to develop and implement finer scale data collection and reporting and management measures to mitigate the risk of localised depletion of trepang in the fishery. These measures will be developed and implemented in consultation with local indigenous communities, conservation groups and industry.
  7. DBIRD to review the current size limits on target and byproduct species to ensure that they are set in a precautionary manner consistent with available research on the size at first maturity of trepang reproductive biology.
  8. Within 2 months of a species other than H. scabra being harvested in the fishery, DBIRD to develop a species-specific interim reference point for that species.