84th AFMA commission meeting – Chairman’s Summary

The Commission convened for its 84th meeting in Darwin on 13-14 July 2022.

Closures in the Commonwealth Trawl Sector

The Commission met with the Executive Officer of the South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association (SETFIA) as part of the ongoing consultation process to refine proposed closures in the Commonwealth Trawl Sector. Of note, SETFIA provided detail of the challenges facing the sector, particularly in terms of fishing costs through increased interest rates and diesel prices.

SETFIA raised concerns that the impacts of hard closures would be more severe than estimated by AFMA and encouraged AFMA to consider an alternative approach such as strict management of zones with measures such as enhanced monitoring, “move on” provisions, and industry managed catch limits. This was proposed as a way of addressing restructure needs while maintaining a core of fishers in order to maintain the industry, albeit in a reduced operational capacity.

Commissioners received a presentation from CSIRO (Dr Beth Fulton) on modelled impacts of different management options using the Atlantis ecosystem model. Numerous scenarios were presented, with the general conclusion that scenarios with no additional management intervention compared to the status quo, or with relaxed regulation, resulted in ongoing substantial decline in the biomass of the rebuilding species. In contrast, scenarios that included closures and buy-backs resulted in positive changes to rebuilding species biomass, especially over a ten-year period. Commissioners supported the scenario modelling as a strategic tool to help inform management decision making.

After significant consideration, the Commission confirmed that hard closures to areas of rebuilding species concentration are the most appropriate measure to respond to the challenge at hand. The Commission is keen to work with industry to explore ways that industry might regain access to closures under tight controls in the future, but Commissioners noted that closures give a high degree of certainty, which is appropriate given the status of at-risk species.

The Commission noted the additional analyses being undertaken to refine closures based on the second round of consultations, and that AFMA plans to carry out the third round of consultations in August. The Commission expects to make decisions on closures, including the timing of their commencement at its meeting in September.

Building climate change into decision making

The Commission agreed to the following actions to ensure that issues of climate change are considered consistently in MAC and RAG advice to the Commission:

  1. A standing agenda item “Climate and ecosystem update” will be introduced to all RAG and MAC agendas where TACs/TAEs are to be considered.
  2. Climate and Ecosystem Status Reports will be developed for all Commonwealth fisheries, to be updated and refined over time.
  3. Species summaries provided to RAGs, MACs and the Commission should include climate sensitivity information and how climate impacts have been incorporated.
  4. RAG, MAC and AFMA advice to the Commission on TAC determinations will include a qualitative assessment of any relevant climate risks

Northern Prawn Fishery

The Commission noted and accepted advice from AFMA Management, with supporting details from the RAG and MAC that prevailing adverse stock and economic conditions are impacting the tiger prawn fishery. The Commission agreed to reduce the Total Allowable Effort (TAE) for Tiger Prawns by 10-20% for the 2022 season. As a result, the fishing season would close a month earlier on 1 November 2022.

Net Economic Returns

The Commission approved a statement to clarify and guide future development of how AFMA reports its performance against the net economic return objectives in the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy and Fisheries Management Act 1991. AFMA is working with key stakeholders to improve how it will report against the NER objective. This work will be implemented through a new Fishery Management Paper on reporting against AFMA’s economic objectives, but that work will be deferred until the review of the HSP has been completed.

The Commission will next meet in Mooloolaba on 7-8 September 2022.

Helen Kroger

Chairman

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