East Coast Deepwater Trawl Sector

​Chapter 10: East Coast Deepwater Trawl Sector

L Georgeson and D Mobsby

Figure 10.1 Area of the East Coast Deepwater Trawl Sector
TABLE 10.1 Status of the East Coast Deepwater Trawl Sector
Status 2016 2017 Comments
Biological status Fishing mortality BiomassFishing mortality Biomass 
(Beryx splendens)
Not subject to overfishingNot overfishedNot subject to overfishingNot overfishedZero catch and effort in 2017–18.
Economic statusNo fishing effort since 2013–14. Before 2013–14, high levels of latency indicated low net economic returns.

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10.1 Description of the fishery

Area fished

The East Coast Deepwater Trawl Sector (ECDTS) began as an exploratory fishery in the early 1990s, primarily taking orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus)near Lord Howe Rise (Figure 10.1). The northern part of the fishery became part of the Coral Sea Fishery in 1994, and the southern part was amalgamated with the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF) in 2000.

Fishing methods

The ECDTS is a demersal and midwater trawl, and bottom-line (longline and dropline) fishery. Fishing in the 1990s mostly targeted orange roughy around Lord Howe Rise. Since 2000, the fishery has targeted mostly alfonsino (Beryx splendens).Important byproduct species include blue-eye trevalla (Hyperoglyphe antarctica)and boarfish (Pentacerotidae). Boarfish has a catch limit of 200 t to regulate catch, and orange roughy has a 50 t incidental catch limit. If catches exceed these limits, the fishery would be closed for the remainder of the season.

Management methods

The fishery operates in accordance with the SESSF harvest strategy framework (AFMA 2009; see Chapter 8). Fishers must have statutory fishing rights for the Commonwealth Trawl Sector (CTS) to be granted access to the ECDTS. When the SESSF was established, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) established permanent trawl exclusion areas to protect the eastern Australian seamounts, and areas around Lord Howe Island and Ball’s Pyramid (Figure 10.1).

The ECDTS area is adjacent to Australia’s extended continental-shelf jurisdiction (recognised in 2008 under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). New Zealand and Australian vessels fish in adjacent high-seas waters of the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation Convention area. The distributions of most deepwater species taken by this sector extend well beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) areas fished by the sector, extending into the high seas, and across Lord Howe Rise and Challenger Plateau to the New Zealand EEZ.

Fishing effort

Effort in the ECDTS has been variable but generally low since the 1990s. There has been no effort in the fishery since 2013–14.

TABLE 10.2 Main features and statistics for the ECDTS
Fishery statistics a2016–17 fishing season2017–18 fishing season
StockTAC  (t)Catch  (t)Real value (2015–16)TAC  (t)Catch (t)
Total fishery 1,267 b 0 0 1,267 b 0

Fishery-level statistics




Fishing permits



Active vessels



Observer coverage



Fishing methods

Demersal and midwater trawl

Primary landing ports

Brisbane (Queensland), Sydney (New South Wales)

Management methods

Input controls: limited entry, boat SFRs, permits

Output controls: TAC and ITQ (alfonsino); catch or trigger limits (orange roughy, blue-eye trevalla and boarfish)

Primary markets

Domestic: frozen or chilled

Management plan

Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery Management Plan 2003

a Fishery statistics are provided by fishing season, unless otherwise indicated. Fishing season is 1 May – 30 April. b Includes a 200 t non-tradeable catch limit for boarfish and a 50 t incidental catch limit for orange roughy.
Notes: ITQ Individual transferable quota. SFR Statutory fishing right. TAC Total allowable catch.

10.2 Biological status

Alfonsino (Beryx splendens)

Alfonsino (Beryx splendens) 

Line drawing: William Murray

Stock structure

Alfonsino is a widely occurring pelagic species that aggregates around seamounts and features on the upper continental slope. Alfonsino in Australia’s EEZ is currently managed as a single management unit across the CTS and the ECDTS, with a single total allowable catch (TAC) that applies only within the EEZ. Alfonsino is caught along the continental shelf break in the SESSF and the East Coast Deep Water Zone (ECDWZ). The alfonsino catch in the ECDWZ has largely been taken in an area south-east of Lord Howe Island—approximately half of this area is outside the Australian Fishing Zone (AFZ), effectively straddling both the ECDWZ and the high seas (Morison et al. 2013). The biological stock structure of alfonsino fished in the ECDTS is unknown. It is likely that alfonsino on the northern Lord Howe Rise constitutes a straddling stock, extending from within the Australian EEZ out into the high seas.

Catch history

Fishing in the ECDTS has been intermittent. Catch and catch-per-unit-effort data are sporadic, fluctuating without any clear trend. Catches of alfonsino, the main target species, have been low in most years, usually below 100 t. Catches peaked at 407 t in 2004–05 (Figure 10.2). The landed alfonsino catch from the ECDTS was 15 t in 2013–14 and has been zero since then, reflecting zero fishing effort. The 2017–18 alfonsino TAC was 1,017 t.

Figure 10.2 Catch and TAC for alfonsino in the ECDTS and the CTS, 1999–2000 to 2017–18
Notes: CTS Commonwealth Trawl Sector. TAC Total allowable catch.
Stock assessment

The limited, patchy and highly variable nature of catch-and-effort data for alfonsino in the ECDTS resulted in the Slope Resource Assessment Group (SlopeRAG) rejecting early attempts at a tier 4 assessment in 2007 and recommending that alfonsino be assessed under tier 3.

The 2011 assessment (Klaer 2012) used age-frequency data from length frequencies and otoliths collected in 2007 and 2009. Catch-curve analyses estimated a lower total mortality than previous assessments and indicated that fishing mortality was less than F48 (the fishing mortality that would be expected to result in a spawning stock biomass of 48 per cent of the unfished level, on average, in the long term). Application of the SESSF tier 3 harvest control rules resulted in a recommended biological catch (RBC) of 1,160 t. However, application of the 50 per cent change-limiting rule (see Chapter 8) resulted in the TAC being set at 750 t for the 2011–12 season. The TAC was kept at 750 t for 2012–13, because no new data were available and little fishing was occurring in the ECDTS. The 2012 tier 3 assessment estimated an RBC of 1,196 t, which resulted in a TAC of 1,125 t for the 2013–14 fishing season after the 50 per cent change-limiting rule was applied (AFMA 2013).

The tier 3 assessment was updated in 2013, using catch-at-age data up to 2010 and New Zealand data from the high-seas fishery on the northern Lord Howe Rise. This assessment produced a total alfonsino RBC, including the high seas, of 1,228 t. The AFZ RBC, which was calculated as the total RBC minus the expected future high-seas catch based on average catch for the past four years, was 1,070 t. After applying the 5 per cent tier 3 discount factor, AFMA implemented a three-year TAC of 1,017 t for 2014–15 through to 2016–17, with 10 per cent overcatch and undercatch provisions.

The 2013 assessment update estimated current fishing mortality as FCURR = 0.022, well below the estimated FRBC = 0.149 (Klaer 2013). Fishing mortality has been negligible because catches have remained well below the TAC each year, and have been zero since 2013–14.

Stock status determination

The tier 3 assessment for alfonsino indicates that, since 2000, fishing mortality has remained below the level that would constitute overfishing. The most recent assessment indicates that fishing mortality is well below the target. As a result, this stock is classified as not subject to overfishing. Alfonsino catches have remained well below RBC levels, and no fishing effort or catch has occurred in the fishery since 2013–14. In the absence of any evidence to suggest otherwise, the stock is classified as not overfished.

10.3 Economic status

Key economic trends

Estimates of net economic returns (NER) are not available for the ECDTS, and estimates of the sector’s gross value of production are confidential. Fishing effort in the ECDTS declined by 85 per cent in 2013–14 to eight hours. There has been no fishing activity since then. The long distance to fishing grounds and use of trawl gear mean that fuel costs make up a high proportion of total fishing costs in the ECDTS. Low catches in recent years are likely to be the result of factors other than fuel costs, alfonsino price and alfonsino abundance. Higher expected profit in the CTS and other fisheries that permit holders operate in may be a key driver of inactivity in the ECDTS.

Management arrangements

Current management arrangements are appropriate for the fishery; other factors appear to be influencing low NER and high levels of latency.

Performance against economic objective

The high level of latency, in terms of the proportion of the TAC uncaught, suggests that expected profit in the sector is insufficient to justify fishing effort. No fishing activity since 2013–14 indicates that potential NER have been low.

The sector’s key target species, alfonsino, is currently managed under the SESSF harvest strategy as a tier 3 species, with a proxy fishing mortality target of F48. This approach to setting TACs for the species is consistent with meeting the economic objective of the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy (DAFF 2007).

10.4 Environmental status

The ECDTS has not been assessed separately under AFMA’s ecological risk assessment process, but was included in the assessment of the CTS (Chapter 9). Orange roughy was declared conservation-dependent in 2006. The Orange Roughy Conservation Programme (AFMA 2006) was replaced by the Orange Roughy Rebuilding Strategy in 2015 (AFMA 2014). There is no targeted fishing for this species in the ECDTS, and there has been no reported catch in the fishery since 2003.

AFMA publishes quarterly logbook reports of interactions with species protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 on its website. No interactions with species protected under the Act were reported in the ECDTS for 2017. Interactions with protected species and impacts on benthic habitats are unlikely to be of concern because of the low effort in the fishery in recent years.

10.5 References

AFMA 2006, Orange Roughy Conservation Programme, Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Canberra.

—— 2009, Harvest strategy framework for the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery, version 1.2, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2013, Determination of total allowable catches for SESSF for the 2013–14 season, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2015, Orange Roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) Stock Rebuilding Strategy 2014, AFMA, Canberra.

DAFF 2007, Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy: policy and guidelines, Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Canberra.

Klaer, N 2012, ‘Yield, total mortality values and tier 3 estimates for selected shelf and slope species in the SESSF 2011’, in GN Tuck (ed.), Stock assessment for the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery 2011,part 2, AFMA & CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Hobart.

—— 2013, ‘Yield, total mortality values and tier 3 estimates for selected shelf and slope species in the SESSF 2012’, in GN Tuck (ed.), Stock assessment for the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery 2012, part 2, AFMA & CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Hobart.

Morison, AK, Knuckey, IA, Simpfendorfer, CA & Buckworth, RC 2013, South East Scalefish and Shark Fishery: draft 2012 stock assessment summaries for species assessed by GABRAG, ShelfRAG & Slope/DeepRAG, report for AFMA, Canberra.

Last reviewed:
22 Oct 2018