81st AFMA commission meeting - Chairman's Summary
The Commission met for its 81st meeting in Canberra on 9 March 2022.
The purpose of the Commission’s meeting was to set Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and associated measures (undercatch and overcatch amounts) as required on an annual basis under the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery Management Plan 2003. In making the decisions explained below, the Commission was mindful of several developments in the fishery that required additional consideration, inter alia:
- Concerns raised by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Science in its 2021 Fishery Status reports about growing uncertainty in some stock assessments, non-fishery drivers of stock status and ongoing decline or non-recovery of some stocks despite AFMA reducing catch of those stocks to very low levels;
- Discussions between AFMA and the Threatened Species Scientific Committee that reports to the Minister for the Environment on variable success in rebuilding some stocks that were subject to overfishing many years ago; and
- A heightened level of concern in the relevant Resource Assessment Groups (RAGs), Management Advisory Committees (MACs) and AFMA Management about several species.
In considering these issues, the Commission pursued the appropriate balance between all of its legislated objectives and requirements, with the ultimate focus on delivering ecologically sustainable fisheries resources.
Total Allowable Catches (TACs)
The main focus of this meeting was to set TACs and associated management measures for the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF).
In considering the proposed TACs, the Commission noted a range of advice including:
a) The Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery Management Plan 2003 (Management Plan);
b) The Harvest Strategy Framework for the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery 2009 Amended (March 2017)
c) The recommended Biological Catches (RBCs), TACs, percentages for overcatch and undercatch, determined amounts and RCAs (where applicable) recommended by fishery Resource Assessment Groups (RAGs), the Great Australian Bight Management Advisory Committee (GABMAC), the South East Management Advisory Committee (SEMAC) and AFMA Management for the 2022-23 fishing year; which are available on the AFMA website; and
d) Two industry submissions from the South East Trawl Fishery Industry Association and the Great Australian Bight Industry Association.
The recommendations of AFMA Management and the relevant MAC were the basis of the Commission’s TAC determinations for the majority of SESSF quota species for the 2022-23 fishing year. The Commission’s decisions departed from this advice for the following species:
Orange roughy, East
After detailed consideration, the Commission decided to implement a step-down in the TAC for this stock, as follows:
- 2022-23 – 1,074 tonnes (TAC)
- 2023-24 – 1,055 tonnes (Recommended Biological Catch - RBC)
- 2024-25 – 950 tonnes (RBC)
As per standard practice, 7% of the total RBC for each year would be available as a targeted TAC for the Pedra Branca area of the Southern Zone. The revised TACs represent a significant reduction in catch and thus GVP over the three-year period. In reaching this decision, the Commission noted that SEMAC and AFMA Management has recommended a lower TAC, but that the MAC had also supported the Commission considering the proposed step-down approach subject to the projections table being updated to include this approach.
The Commission considered those new projections and noted that the risk of breaching the limit reference point remains very low (0.4%), and that the stock will continue to rebuild under this level of catch, albeit negligibly slower than it would under the recommendation from the MAC and AFMA Management (spawning stock biomass status in 2024 of 30.93%, rather than 31.15%).
The Commission took the decision on that basis and that a step-down approach mitigates some of the economic impacts of a significant reduction in the TAC. The Commission agreed that this is an appropriate balance of AFMA’s core objectives.
The Commission noted industry’s previous request that the gummy shark TAC be based on a three-year average and ongoing industry concerns about a TAC stepdown decided by the Commission in 2021-22 fishing year - the first of a three-year MYTAC. The Commission noted SEMAC’s advice that to deviate from the threeyear step-down approach for the 2023-24 fishing year, AFMA would need to consider advice from SharkRAG, including a possible assessment update (not full assessment) which includes catches and catch rates from 2020 and 2021. In reaching its decision, the Commission noted that the three stocks making up the gummy shark assessment were all assessed as being at (one) or well above (two) the MEY proxy of 48% of B0. On that basis, the Commission determined to deviate from the three-year MYTAC and maintain the TAC at 1,672 tonnes for 2022-23.
The Commission determined a TAC of 250 tonnes for school shark. This is higher than the MAC recommendation, noting that it equates to the best estimate of a true bycatch TAC that will result from maintaining the gummy shark TAC at 1,672 tonnes, as discussed above. The RAG advice suggested a small additional increase, based on estimates of an increase in biomass from the close kin mark recapture stock assessment, but decided not to implement that additional increase for this species given its rebuilding status.
The Commission took note of the ongoing decline of silver trevally and the differences in stock assessments between New South Wales and Commonwealth assessments. In line with SEMAC’s advice, the Commission determined a TAC of 51 tonnes. However, the Commission reduced the undercatch allowance for silver trevally to 0% to bring future catches closer to the TAC.
The Commission took note of the very low biomass of redfish, and the lack of recovery despite very low catch over a sustained period. While SEMAC recommended maintaining the bycatch TAC at 50 tonnes for 2022-23, the Commission determined a TAC of 30 tonnes to more closely reflect estimates of unavoidable bycatch and recent catch levels.
The Commission noted significant concerns from the RAG and MAC regarding the results of the latest stock assessment (2021), which indicate decline of eastern jackass morwong to below the limit reference point. Based on this advice, and the difficulty experienced in rebuilding other SESSF stocks once they are depleted, the Commission determined to significantly reduce the TAC of this species. The Commission determined a TAC of 20 tonnes. Once the expected level of carry forward of undercatch from the current season is included, this will equate to an available catch of approximately 60 tonnes (the bycatch TAC recommended by SEMAC). This is a significant reduction from the 463 tonnes TAC for the current season but is expected to limit catch in the east to around 50 tonnes, as recommended by SERAG, to allow rebuilding within the timeframe set out in the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy.
The Commission noted that the last stock assessment for flathead projected that the stock would increase towards the target and, the RAG and MAC recommendation to increase the TAC. While the Commission supported an increase at its 76th meeting in March 2021, the association between flathead targeted fishing and several of the species listed above – jackass morwong in particular – was also noted. The Commission agreed that it would be prudent to hold the flathead TAC constant, rather than implement the proposed increase, in order to prevent additional catch of associated species. As such, the Commission determined a TAC of 2,333 tonnes.
The Commission is concerned that maintaining the flathead TAC combined with TAC reductions of associated species would, in the absence of additional measures, result in a high degree of discarding of these associated species. As such, the Commission agreed that significant spatial closures would be required in the Commonwealth Trawl Sector to ensure that trawling does not occur in areas of high abundance of these associated species. AFMA Management presented the Commission a preliminary analysis of the extent of closures required by analysing hotspots of jackass morwong catch as an indicator. The Commission agreed in principle to implement spatial closures, as well as associated measures, such as trip limits, to constrain the catch of associated species and minimise the risk of discarding. The magnitude and location of closures will be subject to detailed consultation with industry, RAGs and SEMACs over the coming months. The Commission also noted that potentially significant reductions to the flathead TAC may be required in future seasons to constrain fishing effort to regulate the catch and discarding of species of concern.
The Commission endorsed the MAC recommendation of a TAC increase to 18,275 tonnes for blue grenadier. The Commission noted the large increase is the result of a period of above average recruitment resulting in the latest stock assessment estimating that the population size is now considerably larger than pre-fishing levels. Details of TACs for each SESSF quota species for 2022-23 are in Attachment A.