Victorian Giant Crab Fishery - Ministerial decision 2007

Ministerial Decision
Department of the Environment and Water Resources, 12 March 2007

The Hon Joe Helper MP
Minister for Agriculture
GPO Box 4440
Melbourne VIC 3001

Dear Minister

I am writing to you as Delegate of the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources in relation to the re-assessment of the Victorian Giant Crab Fishery (VGCF) under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

The VGCF was first assessed by the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Water Resources (DEW, formerly the Department of the Environment and Heritage) in March 2004 under Parts 13 and 13A of the EPBC Act in accordance with the Australian Government Guidelines for the Ecologically Sustainable Management of Fisheries (the Guidelines). This assessment was based on the submission provided by the Fisheries Victoria Division of the Department of Primary Industries (Fisheries Victoria) in June 2003. In light of a number of concerns that needed to be addressed to manage environmental risks in the long term, the VGCF was declared an approved Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) under Part 13A of the EPBC Act. This declaration allowed the export of product from the fishery for a period of three years.

In January 2007 Fisheries Victoria submitted the document entitled Submission for Reassessment of the Victorian Giant Crab Fishery for assessment under the EPBC Act to allow continued export approval for this fishery. 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 EPBC Act.

I am pleased to advise that assessment of the fishery is now complete. The new assessment report will be available on the DEW website at: http://www.environment.gov.au/coasts/fisheries/index.html.

I consider that the existing Part 13 accreditation for this fishery in relation to protected species provisions under the EPBC Act still applies as there have been no management changes since the last assessment. I note however that the current management plan for the fishery (Giant Crab Fishery Management Plan 2003) is due to expire in 2008. Once the new management plan is developed a new Part 13 accreditation will be required to ensure operators are protected from the offence provisions under Part 13 of the EPBC Act.

I am satisfied that the operation of the fishery is consistent with the objects of the wildlife trade provisions in Part 13A of the EPBC 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 Guidelines is adequate however there are a number of issues that need to be addressed to contain environmental risks in the longer term. The key issues for this fishery are the fully fished status of the giant crab stock in the western zone of the fishery and the lack of a robust stock assessment model to ensure that total allowable catch levels continue to permit significant stock rebuilding for the giant crab stock. Hence, I propose to declare the fishery an approved Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) under Part 13A of the EPBC 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.

While there are some environmental risks associated with this fishery, I believe that Fisheries Victoria 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 attention. In addition to the conditions to the WTO declaration, I understand that they have agreed to a number of recommended actions, focusing on addressing key issues outstanding from the last assessment, to be implemented before the next Australian Government review of the fishery. The recommendations at 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]

Andrew McNee
Delegate of the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources

12th March 2007

Conditions on the Wildlife Trade Operation Declaration for the Victorian Giant Crab Fishery

  1. Operation of the fishery will be carried out in accordance with the management regime for the fishery in force under the Giant Crab Fishery Management Plan 2003 and the Victorian Fisheries Act 1995
  2. Fisheries Victoria to inform the Department of the Environment and Water Resources of any material change to the Victorian Giant Crab Fishery management arrangements that could affect the criteria on which the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 decisions are based, within three months of any change being made.
  3. Reports to be produced and presented to the Australian Government Department of Environment and Water Resources annually, and to include:
    1. a description of the status of the fishery, catch and effort information and the total allowable catch setting process and outcomes of that process;
    2. the performance of the fishery against stated goals, objectives, strategies and reference points;
    3. research undertaken or completed relevant to the fishery; and
    4. an outline of progress in implementing the recommendations made in the Assessment of the Victorian Giant Crab Fishery 2007.

Recommendations to the Fisheries Victoria Division of the Department of Primary Industries (Fisheries Victoria) on the ecologically sustainable management of the Victorian Giant Crab Fishery (VGCF)

The VGCF is a relatively well-managed fishery with a range of management measures to promote the ecologically sustainable harvesting of species from the fishery. These measures include: limited entry; Individual Transferable Quota system with a total allowable catch (TAC) of 25 tonnes for the western zone; legal minimum size limits for both males and females; closed seasons: gear restrictions; and the protection of berried females.

The following recommendations have been made to further strengthen the effectiveness of the management arrangements for the fishery and minimise environmental risks in the medium to longer term. Unless a specific time frame is provided in the recommendation each recommendation must be addressed within the life of the declaration (3 years).

Recommendations

Recommendation 1: By the end of 2007, Fisheries Victoria to conduct an ecological risk assessment for the VGCF. The risk assessment should focus on the fishery's impacts on bycatch and protected species, ecological communities and the marine environment. The risk assessment should also include an assessment of the potential impact of trawling operations on Victorian giant crab habitats and the risk of ghost fishing by lost or discarded pots in the fishery. Fisheries Victoria to develop appropriate management responses to any high risks identified.

Recommendation 2: Fisheries Victoria, in collaboration with industry, to continue to encourage the adoption of programs that minimise protected species interactions and pot loss. Within 18 months, Fisheries Victoria to develop and implement an education program for fishers on species recognition, mitigation measures to minimise interactions and the requirements to accurately report interactions under the EPBC Act.

Recommendation 3: Fisheries Victoria to continue to actively develop the length-structured stock assessment model for the VGCF and review model predictions to ensure that TAC levels continue to permit significant stock rebuilding for the giant crab stock.

Recommendation 4: Fisheries Victoria, in collaboration with other jurisdictions, to develop and conduct research into the growth and population dynamics of giant crabs in Victoria. Once information becomes available, Fisheries Victoria should use it to develop the stock assessment model and, where appropriate, biological performance measures and indicators to ensure the ecologically sustainable management of the fishery.

Recommendation 5: Fisheries Victoria to monitor the status of the target species in relation to performance indicators. Within 3 months of becoming aware of a performance indicator being triggered, Fisheries Victoria to develop a clear timetable for the implementation of appropriate management responses.