Assessment report of the Queensland Spanner Crab Fishery

Environmental assessment under the EPBC Act
Department of the Environment and Heritage, December 2001
ISBN 0 642 54860 9

Management arrangements

The Queensland Spanner Crab Fishery is managed by the Queensland Department of Primary Industries(QDPI) through the Queensland Fisheries Service (QFS). The management regime includes a formal statutory fishery management plan – the Fisheries (Spanner Crab) Management Plan 1999 (the Plan), and is subject to the overall fisheries management objectives contained within the Queensland Fisheries Act 1994. The fishery is also subject to marine park zoning under the Commonwealth's s and the Queensland Marine Parks Act 1982.

The management regime is documented in the management plan, which is publicly available. A consultative process was employed throughout the development of the management regime and has provided sufficient opportunity to all interested and affected parties. Public comments were sought on draft management plans, regulatory impact statements and a discussion paper. A Management Advisory Committee (CrabMAC) was established to provide advice to the management agency and includes representatives from industry, the recreational fishing sector, conservation groups, fisheries managers, government agencies and scientists. The Stock Assessment Group (SAG) guides the stock assessment process and reports to the MAC. The SAG includes representatives from industry, fisheries management and fisheries scientists.

The management regime contains clear objectives for the management of the fishery and identifies performance criteria by which the effectiveness of the management arrangements are measured. Overall, the fishery management objectives address the objectives of the Commonwealth's Guidelines for the ecologically sustainable management of fisheries (the Guidelines). However, there is no objective relating to the overall ecologically sustainable management of the fishery. The objective to "ensure spanner crabs are used in an ecologically sustainable way" measures its performance purely on the annual catch of crabs in Managed Area A and either the abundance of spawning crabs, egg bearing crabs or juvenile crabs. The objective does not consider the impact of the fishery on the broader ecosystem (eg bycatch species, habitat etc) in measuring its performance. Environment Australia (EA) recognises the low impact of the fishery on the marine ecosystem and broader marine environment, and suggests that an objective, linked to performance measures, to encompass ecosystem impacts would improve the fishery's ability to demonstrate ecological sustainability.

The fishery is divided into two sub-areas for the purposes of management, Managed Area A (MAA) and Managed Area B (MAB). This division was established in response to uncertainty in the exploitable levels of the target species in the north of the fishery. MAB is subject to less stringent management control with the aim of encouraging exploratory fishing. In light of the increasing catch and effort in MAB it may be pertinent that the position of the MAA/MAB boundary is reviewed to reflect more accurately the distribution of available stock. This issue is discussed in greater detail under Principle 1 of the Guidelines.

The management regime incorporates a range of input and output controls that are capable of controlling the level of take from the fishery, including:

Output controls

  • total allowable commercial catch (TACC) for MAA divided amongst licence holders using an individual transferable quota (ITQ) system;
  • daily quota of 16 baskets for MAB;
  • daily quota of 20 crabs per day per recreational fisher;
  • 10cm carapace length minimum legal size; and
  • prohibit taking of egg bearing females.

Input controls

  • permitted gear restrictions;
  • annual spawning season closure from 20 November to 20 December;
  • maximum 30 dillies, set 10 per trot line in MAB;
  • maximum 45 dillies, set 15 per trot line in MAA; and
  • maximum 4 crab apparatus per recreational fisher.

A lack of biological data, especially spanner crab growth rates, has prevented the development of a sound, biologically meaningful, stock assessment model. In the absence of this data a catch-rate regression model based on catch per unit effort (CPUE) data is used in conjunction with conservative decision rules to determine the annual TACC. QFS have recognised that the current model is not particularly robust and are continuing work on the development of a more robust model. The submission indicates that the stock assessment process has sufficient levels of precaution in built and is confident in its ability to perform well. EA recognises the lack of biological data for the development of a model that is independent of CPUE and considers the current model adequate. The continuation of work to improve the model is strongly encouraged. Further discussions of the stock assessment process are continued below under Principle 1 of the Guidelines.

The management regime incorporates an information collection system appropriate to the scale of the fishery and encompasses both fishery-dependent and independent information. Fishery-dependent data is obtained through a compulsory daily catch and effort logbook. Catch data is validated against processor dockets and, for MAA, a prior landing report. QFS have expressed some concern about the validation of effort data. This issue is discussed in more detail below under Principle 1 of the Guidelines. Fishery-independent data is obtained through the Long Term Monitoring Program, which also collects information on bycatch species. EA encourages the continued collection of fishery-independent data as an important element of validation of the fishery-dependent information.

Adequate measures to address compliance and enforcement of management arrangements are in place. High level surveillance of the fishery and validation of logbook data is undertaken and levels of non-compliance with management arrangements are low. There are clear enforceable penalties for non-compliance with fishery management arrangements. The management plan clearly identifies penalties and offences relating to closed season, quota, prohibited take and reporting requirements, and provides for the suspension of fishing licences, boat licences, buyers licences and ITQ units.

The management plan requires the regular review of a number of key elements of the management regime, including the fishery management arrangements, strategies, objectives and criteria. A general review of the plan is required to determine if the provisions remain appropriate. The review must commence at least every 5 years and no later than 9 years after the Plan commenced (1999). The review must involve consultation with stakeholders and be open for comment for a period of two months. An objective of the management plan is to monitor and review the commercial spanner crab catch. This review must take into account the 'review rules' that are based on the representative stock abundance of spanner crabs in MAA.

A review of fishing gear is also required. A dilly review has commenced and must review the provisions in the Plan concerning the number of dillies permitted on a line in MAA. This review must involve consultation with stakeholders and be open for comment for a period of two months.

Little information is collected on the impact of the fishery on the broader marine ecosystem and there are no management responses or performance measures currently in place to address the issue. The submission indicates that the risk of impact on the ecosystem is very low EA concurs with this assessment on the basis that the fishing gear and method has minimal impact on bycatch and protected species and the surrounding marine environment. Further elaboration of this issue is contained under Principle 2 of the Guidelines.

Currently there are no threat abatement plans or recovery plans in place relevant to the activities of this fishery. Given the location of the fishery and occasional interaction with turtles, the draft Turtle Recovery Plan may be relevant to this fishery once finalised, and consideration of its recovery actions is suggested. There are no regional or international management regimes to which Australia is a party relevant to the fishery.

The Queensland Spanner Crab Fishery operates off the same reproductive stock as the smaller scale New South Wales (NSW) fishery. The fisheries are managed independently and conduct separate monitoring and assessment of stock. The submission indicates that there is positive action being undertaken towards the joint assessment of monitoring of the stock. The Queensland Crab Stock Assessment Group are currently considering the feasibility of conducting joint stock assessments, and the possibility of co-management with NSW is identified as an option for future consideration by QFS.

Ideally, management arrangements for fisheries affecting a single stock should be under a single jurisdiction or at least be complementary. If this is not achievable, management arrangements should as a minimum take into account the harvest and management regime in other jurisdictions fishing the same population, particularly when assessing stock status and availability for harvest.

Given the close proximity of the two fisheries and the single reproductive stock there is a need for the activities within one fishery to be factored into the activities of the other. Of particular importance is the need to have an accurate assessment of harvestable stock. The consideration of joint assessment and co-management of the two fisheries is strongly encouraged. It is recommended that QFS pursue the options for joint monitoring and assessment of the stock with a view to future collaborative management of the fisheries.

Conclusion

QFS asserts that the management regime for the Queensland Spanner Crab Fishery is sufficiently precautionary and effective. On the whole EA concurs with QFS and considers that the fishery is well managed and is largely in accordance with the Commonwealth's Guidelines for the ecologically sustainable management of fisheries.

The management regime is developed through a consultative process, is underpinned by adequate objectives and includes performance criteria aimed at managing the fishery in an ecologically sustainable manner. The management arrangements in place are adaptable, have the ability to control the level of take from the fishery and are reviewable and enforceable.

In recognition that the Queensland and NSW spanner crab fisheries operate off a single stock, and the action of one fishery should be considered in the adjacent fishery, consideration is being given to joint stock assessment and monitoring. This is strongly recommended and is considered highly important for the effective management of the Queensland fishery. Consideration should also be given to the feasibility of joint management of the two fisheries and EA looks forward to hearing the outcomes of these deliberations.

A more in depth analysis of the management regime is contained in the section addressing the Guidelines.

Recommendation

Establish arrangements with NSW to establish joint monitoring and assessment of the shared stock of spanner crabs with a view to developing future collaborative management arrangements.