Assessment of the Gulf of Carpentaria Inshore Fin Fish Fishery

Ministerial Decision
Ian Cresswell, Delegate of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, 27 August 2004

The Hon Henry Palaszczuk MP
Minister for Primary Industries and Fisheries
Primary Industries Building
GPO Box 46
Brisbane QLD 4001

Dear Minister

I am writing to you as Delegate of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage in relation to the assessment of the Gulf of Carpentaria Inshore Fin Fish Fishery under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the Act). On 20 June 2003 the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPI&F) submitted the document entitled Ecological Assessment of the Gulf of Carpentaria Inshore Fin Fish Fishery for assessment under the Act.

The submission has been assessed for the purposes of the protected species provisions of Part 13 and 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: http://www.deh.gov.au/coasts/fisheries/index.html.

I am satisfied that the management arrangements for the fishery require that all reasonable steps are taken to ensure that protected species are not injured or killed and 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. Hence, the management arrangements for the Gulf of Carpentaria Inshore Fin Fish Fishery meet the requirements of Part 13 of the Act and I propose to accredit the management arrangements accordingly. Accreditation will ensure that individual fishers operating in accordance with the management arrangements are not required to seek permits in relation to interactions with protected species in Commonwealth waters.

I am satisfied that the operation of the fishery is consistent with 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 ecologically based 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.

In making my decision I had particular regard to issues that have the potential to impact on the fishery in the medium term. I am aware of the concerns that the current level of harvest of Grey mackerel stocks may not be sustainable as well as the general paucity of basic biological information on a number of target, by-product and by-catch species. However, I commend you for pursuing opportunities for cross-jurisdictional research projects and information sharing as exemplified by the MOU between Queensland and the Northern Territory. I am certain that this approach will be beneficial in addressing information gaps.

I note that the fishery has been in a developmental stage and has made considerable progress in developing sound management arrangements. You should be aware that in making my assessment I had particular regard to the spatial and temporal management arrangements in force which serve not only to protect spawning aggregations and nursery habitats but also have positive impacts on reducing potential interactions with protected species. I would also like to commend the initiative shown by the Aboriginal communities in instigating a closure to commercial fishing to protect black jewfish stocks.

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, in particular the paucity of information on target stocks, which will serve as the basis to minimise overall environmental risks.

While there are some environmental risks associated with this fishery, I believe that DPI&F 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 Commonwealth 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 and I look forward to reviewing the remainder of the Queensland managed fisheries.

Yours sincerely

[Signed]

Ian Cresswell
Delegate of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage

27 August 2004

Proposed conditions on the approved wildlife trade declaration wild for the Gulf of Carpentaria Inshore Fin Fish Fishery

Conditions on a declared WTO

  1. Operation in accordance with the management regime.
  2. Annual reporting on the following:
    • Progress on implementation of the recommendations;
    • Annual catch and CPUE trends and data;
    • Performance against objectives, performance measures and reference points; and
    • Research undertaken or completed relevant to the fishery.

Recommendations to the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries on the ecologically sustainable management of the Gulf of Carpentaria Inshore Fin Fish Fishery

The Gulf of Carpentaria Inshore Fin Fish 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.

The fishery has been in a developmental stage and has made considerable progress in developing sound management arrangements. In particular the spatial and temporal management arrangements in force serve not only to protect spawning aggregations and nursery habitats but have also had positive impacts on reducing potential interactions with protected species. The initiative shown by the Aboriginal communities in instigating a closure to commercial fishing to protect black jewfish stocks is commendable.

The combination of expanded mandatory monitoring and reporting arrangements in the N9 sector, improved assessment tools and the proposed review of the fishery will improve the level of understanding and confidence in the state of the fishery and its environmental impacts. As some operators in the fishery diversified into taking sharks and Grey mackerel in addition to coastal stocks such as barramundi and threadfin, the management strategy of splitting the fishery into inshore (N3) and offshore (N9) sectors has been an appropriate management mechanism for ensuring the sustainability of the catch of these dissimilar species.

The development and implementation of a Bycatch Action Plan along with a commitment to identify and develop appropriate mitigation measures to reduce the overall ecological impact of the fishery is a significant management mechanism to ensure sustainability of the fishery.

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 address these risks and uncertainties. The Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPI&F) agrees to action these recommendations before the next review of the fishery in 2007 or within the timeframe specified in individual recommendations.

Recommendation 1: DPI&F to inform DEH of any intended amendment to the management arrangements that may affect the sustainability of the target species or negatively impact on byproduct, bycatch, protected species or the ecosystem.

Recommendation 2: From 2005, DPI&F to report publicly on the status of the fishery on an annual basis, including explicitly reporting against each review event.

Recommendation 3: As part of its review of management arrangements for the fishery, DPI&F to develop and formalize a list of species permitted to be taken in the fishery, which clearly defines target and by-product species. DPI&F to develop a clear process for the inclusion of any additional target species on the list.

Recommendation 4: Within 12 months, DPI&F to collect data on shark catch by species or species groups.

Recommendation 5: Within 18 months, DPI&F to undertake a risk assessment, in conjunction with other relevant jurisdictions where possible, to identify target, byproduct and bycatch species most at risk from the fishery and areas at risk from overfishing. Actions seeking to reduce risk should be implemented as appropriate within a further 12 months.

Recommendation 6: Within three years, DPI&F to have processes in place that provide reliable estimates of stock status for target species, on a risk priority basis.

Recommendation 7: Within 18 months, DPI&F to develop a process to improve estimates of recreational and Indigenous take and factor these into stock assessments and management controls to ensure overall catch levels are sustainable.

Recommendation 8: Currently, Review Events are imprecisely defined and may not be adequate to ensure sustainability. Within 18 months, DPI&F to develop fishery specific objectives linked to performance indicators and Review Events for target, byproduct, bycatch, protected species and impacts on the ecosystem.

Recommendation 9: DPI&F to monitor the status of the fishery in relation to the Review Events in the plan. Within three months of becoming aware that a Review Event has been triggered, DPI&F to finalise a clear timetable for the implementation of appropriate management responses.

Recommendation 10: Within 12 months, DPI&F to amend its restrictions on shark finning to include rays (all chondrichthyans).

Recommendation 11: Within 12 months, DPI&F to support the implementation of the Species of Conservation Interest logbooks, DPI&F to ensure that an education program for fishers, both recreational and commercial, is developed and implemented, to promote the importance of protected species protection and accurate incident reporting.

Recommendation 12: Within 18 months, DPI&F to develop a mechanism to improve knowledge of the level of interactions with protected species. If interaction 'hot spots' are identified, additional mitigation measures are to be implemented.

Recommendation 13: Within three years, DPI&F to undertake an enforcement risk analysis seeking to develop and implement a strategic enforcement and compliance program which includes measurable performance criteria. DPI&F to ensure that the following issues are specifically addressed in the development of the compliance program for the fishery:

  • Catch and effort data reliability (target species, bycatch and by-product data).
  • Non-compliance with gear restrictions and size limits.
  • Reporting of protected species interaction.
  • Closed area restrictions.