Source: Patterson, H, Larcombe, J, Woodhams, J and Curtotti, R 2020, Fishery status reports 2020, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, Canberra. CC BY 4.0.
The Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery continues to be managed in accordance with the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery Management Plan 2003. The fishery has seven sectors that are managed through a combination of input and output controls including limited entry, catch limits, spatial closures, size limits and catch-and-effort triggers that are used to initiate further analysis and assessment. The Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery sectors include:
Commonwealth South East Trawl Sector
East Coast Deepwater Trawl Sector
Great Australian Bight Trawl Sector
Scalefish Hook Sector*
Shark Hook Sector*
Shark Gillnet Sector*
*collectively called the Gillnet Hook and Trap Sector
Analysis of Performance
Performance – status of fish stocks
The table above shows that there are several Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery stocks that are considered to be overfished. Most of these stocks overlap jurisdictional boundaries, meaning they are caught in a combination of Commonwealth and state fisheries, complicating management. AFMA continues to work with State agencies to pursue complementary arrangements in overlapping fisheries.
While the estimated total catch remains below the respective incidental catch limits for southern and western orange roughy, the change in fishing mortality status stemmed from the need to ensure consistency in the reasoning applied to stocks that have no recent validation of biomass. There are no reliable indicators to determine whether the current level of fishing mortality will allow the stocks to rebuild to above the limit reference point within a biologically reasonable time frame.
Commonwealth rebuilding strategies are in place for blue warehou, eastern gemfish, redfish, school shark and orange roughy. Each of these strategies implement incidental total allowable catches and management arrangements to prevent targeting and promote recovery of the stock to the limit reference point. The performance of the strategies are reviewed annually by the relevant resource assessment group, and each undergo a thorough review every five years.
Stock assessments were updated in 2019 for a number of Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery species. Assessments for Bight redfish, deepwater flathead and gemfish west estimated the current biomass, or a proxy thereof, to be above the target reference point. Assessments for flathead and mirror dory (east and west) showed that the current biomass, or a proxy thereof, is between the limit reference point and the target referent point. For species assessed as being between the limit and target reference points, catches are set at a level that will allow the stock to build to the target. Smooth oreo (other) was assessed under the ecological risk assessment framework as a low risk, meaning fishing mortality is sustainable.
Alternative methods for stock assessments are being considered for species where the current index of abundance is becoming less reliable, typically because of low catch and effort levels or changes to fishing behaviours over time. Research is being undertaken to estimate abundance of school shark in the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery using Close-Kin Mark-Recapture genetic methods (FRDC project 2014/024). The first assessment using this method was delivered in 2018-19 and is currently undergoing independent expert peer review. The further application of this method to other species in the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery is also being considered.
Performance – economic returns
For the purposes of reporting economic key performance indicators, AFMA uses its key commercial stocks (as defined by the Commonwealth Harvest Strategy Policy) in each fishery. In the 2019–20 season, there were 11 key commercial species in the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery with maximum economic yield targets: Bight redfish, blue-eye trevalla, blue grenadier, deepwater flathead, eastern school whiting, gummy shark, orange roughy east, pink ling west, pink ling east, school shark and tiger flathead.
Three of those species, tiger flathead, deepwater flathead and eastern school whiting are assessed as being ‘on target’ or within 20 per cent of their target reference point on average over the past five years. Three stocks – blue-eye trevalla, orange roughy east and pink ling east – are between the limit reference point and target reference point and heading towards the target. One stock – gummy shark – is assessed as being above the target reference point and heading towards the target. Three stocks – Bight redfish, blue grenadier and pink ling west – are assessed as being above the target reference point but not heading towards the target. School shark is assessed as being below the limit reference point; however, the latest assessment using Close-Kin Mark-Recapture genetic methods indicates that the stock had recovered slightly during the period from 2000-2017.
Performance – reliability of information
Discard reporting by shark gillnet, shark hook and scalefish hook boats continues to be monitored in 2019-20 by comparing logbook reported discards against electronic monitoring reviews. While reporting by fishers has improved, it remains better for quota species than bycatch species. AFMA continues to work with industry and scientists to improve discard information feeding into stock assessments.
A trial was recently completed to better understand the ability of electronic monitoring to provide information on catch and effort data in the Commonwealth Trawl Sector. The final report is currently being drafted and this will be considered alongside a suite of alternative data collection and monitoring options to find the most cost-effective approach for the fishery.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, on-board observers were not deployed during the second and third quarters of 2020. Coverage has now recommenced and the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery Resource Assessment Group will consider the potential impact of any data loss for future stock assessments at its August 2020 data meeting.
Performance – status of bycatch
In 2019 Ecological Risk Assessments were updated for the following methods and sectors of the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery:
Otter board trawl method in the Commonwealth Trawl Sector;
Danish seine method in the Commonwealth Trawl Sector;
Otter board trawl method in the Great Australian Bight Trawl Sector; and
Shark gillnet method in the Gillnet Hook and Trap Sector.
There were 15 species in the Commonwealth Trawl Sector (otter board trawl and Danish seine) and one species in the Great Australian Bight Trawl Sector, assessed as potentially being at high risk for the period 2012-2016. Management arrangements are currently being considered for species assessed as potentially high risk, with a view to finalising the Commonwealth Trawl Sector and Great Australian Bight Trawl Sector bycatch and discarding workplans later in 2020.
The Ecological Risk Assessment for the shark gillnet method in the Gillnet Hook and Trap Sector is expected to be finalised by the Shark Resource Assessment Group later in 2020.
Industry is currently coordinating a project to develop a seal mitigation device for otter board trawl boats that will close the trawl net and stop the ingress of seals when the net is being hauled. A prototype has been developed and trials are expected to take place in 2020.
To further ensure interactions with seabirds are minimised, additional management arrangements were introduced during 2019-20 fishing season that require zero discharge of biological material from otter board trawl boats when fishing gear is in the water while fishing in high risk areas. Exemptions to the new rule will be considered where operators can demonstrate offal management techniques that remove the risk to seabirds interacting with trawl warps. AFMA continues to work with industry in their efforts to develop more mitigation options to further reduce seabird interactions with otter board trawl boats, providing feedback on designs and ultimately assessing whether it meets the requirements for an exemption to the zero discharge requirements described above.
AFMA has commenced a review of the Upper-Slope Dogfish Management Strategy to ensure that the strategy is on track to meet its objectives. The objective of the strategy is to promote the recovery of Harrisson’s dogfish (Centrophorus harrissoni) and southern dogfish (C. zeehani), both of which are listed as conservation dependent under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and help to mitigate the impact of fishing on endeavour dogfish (C. moluccensis) and greeneye spurdog (Squalus chloroculus). The review is expected to be completed in 2020-21.
The Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery remains accredited and approved as a wildlife trade operation under Part 13A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 until February 2022. The winter blue grenadier fishery was recertified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council in August 2020, which is valid until February 2026.
An implementation workplan for the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery Strategic Monitoring and Review Project (SMARP, FRDC 2014-203) and Declining Indicators Project (FRDC 2016-146) was finalised in early 2020. The workplan prioritises the recommendations from each project, including approaches for future monitoring and assessment options and developing additional or alternative indicators for use in future assessments and harvest strategies.
Key to the implementation workplan is the ongoing work to develop a new Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery harvest strategy (FRDC 2018-021) which will consider alternative approaches to multi-species harvest strategies, including monitoring and assessment options identified in the SMARP project.