Chapter 11: Great Australian Bight Trawl Sector
A Moore and D Mobsby
TABLE 11.1 Status of the Great Australian Bight Trawl Sector
|Status Biological status||Fishing mortality || Biomass||Fishing mortality||Biomass|| |
|Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||Catch is below RBC. Estimate of current biomass is above the target.|
|Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||Catch is below RBC. Estimate of current biomass is near the target.|
|Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||Catch has been stable in recent years. No formal assessment. Fishery-independent survey data indicate stock is not overfished.|
|Not subject to overfishing||Uncertain||Not subject to overfishing||Uncertain||No commercial catch. No formal assessment of biomass, and impact of historical catches is uncertain.|
Economic status||A decline in fishing effort and a moderate unit fuel price increase, together with strong growth in gross value of production in 2016–17, suggest an increase in net economic returns compared with 2015–16.|
11.1 Description of the fishery
The former Great Australian Bight Trawl Fishery was amalgamated with the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF) in 2003 to become the Great Australian Bight Trawl Sector (GABTS; Figure 11.1) of the SESSF.
The GABTS can be divided into a continental-shelf fishery (at depths of less than 200 m), an upper continental-slope fishery (at depths of about 200–700 m) and a deepwater fishery (on the mid- to lower slope, depth 700–1,000 m).
Fishing methods and key species
The fishing methods used in the GABTS are otter trawl and Danish-seine; pair trawling has been trialled in the past. In shelf waters, trawling is usually at depths of 120–200 m, targeting mainly deepwater flathead (Platycephalus conatus)and bight redfish (Centroberyx gerrardi).The shelf fishery operates all year. For upper continental–slope trawling, target species include blue grenadier (Macruronus novaezelandiae),western gemfish (Rexea solandri)and pink ling (Genypterus blacodes).Ocean jacket (Nelusetta ayraud)is an important byproduct species, with 193 t landed in 2017–18. Other byproduct species include angel shark (Squatina spp.), yellow-spotted boarfish (Paristiopterus gallipavo),latchet (Pterygotrigla polyommata)and jackass morwong (Nemadactylus macropterus). Danish-seine targets deepwater flathead on the continental shelf.
The Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy (HSP; DAFF 2007) and the SESSF Harvest Strategy Framework (AFMA 2009) both apply to the key species in the GABTS (see Chapter 8). Under the framework, recommended biological catches (RBCs) are usually based on achieving a default target reference point of 48 per cent of the unfished biomass (0.48B0), as a proxy for the biomass producing maximum economic yield (BMEY). However, a bio-economic model (Kompas et al. 2012) estimated BMEY target reference points of 0.43B0 for deepwater flathead and 0.41B0for bight redfish in the GABTS. These estimated BMEY targets were used by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) Commission to set the total allowable catch (TAC) for bight redfish and deepwater flathead for the 2017–18 fishing season.
Total trawl fishing effort across all depths in 2017–18 was 12,527 trawl-hours, down from the 2004–05 peak of 30,866 trawl-hours. The continental shelf continues to be the focus of fishing effort, with 11,386 trawl-hours in 2017–18 (Figure 11.2), compared with 1,140 trawl-hours on the continental slope (Figure 11.3).
The deepwater fishery historically targeted orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus).However, since 2007, when most of the historical orange roughy fishing grounds were closed under the Orange Roughy Conservation Programme (AFMA 2006), little effort has occurred at these depths.
The fishery has 10 boat statutory fishing rights that allow a boat to fish in the fishery, and separate quota statutory fishing rights that allow quota species to be landed. Four trawl vessels and one Danish-seine vessel operated in the fishery in 2017–18.
Reduced effort in the fishery has led to reduced catches of key target species over time. Deepwater flathead continues to dominate catches, with 548 t landed in the 2017–18 fishing season, which was 49 per cent of the TAC. Bight redfish landings in 2017–18 were 308 t, which was 39 per cent of the TAC.
TABLE 11.2 Main features and statistics for the GABTS
2016–17 fishing season
2017–18 fishing season
|Stock ||TAC (t) ||Catch (t) ||Real value (2016–17) ||TAC (t) ||Catch (t) ||Real value (2017–18) |
|Bight redfish ||800 ||274 ||$1.43 million ||800 ||308 ||na |
|Deepwater flathead ||1,150 ||636 ||$5.86 million ||1,128 ||548 ||na |
|Ocean jacket ||– ||228 ||$625,880 ||– ||193 ||na |
$10.04 million ||
12,480 trawl-hours; 442 shots
12,527 trawl-hours; 451 shots
|Fishing permits (SFRs) |
|Active vessels |
4 trawl; 1 seine
4 trawl; 1 seine
|Observer coverage |
366 trawl-hours (2.93%)
250 trawl-hours (1.80%)
|Fishing methods ||Trawl, Danish-seine |
|Primary landing ports ||Adelaide, Port Lincoln, Thevenard (South Australia) |
|Management methods ||Input controls: limited entry, area closures, gear restrictions
Output controls: ITQs, TACs, trigger limits
|Primary markets ||Domestic: Melbourne, Perth, Sydney |
|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. Real-value statistics are by
financial year and were not available for the 2017–18 financial year at time of publication.b A 200 t research quota and a 50 t bycatch TAC in the
Albany and Esperance zones are not included in the total catch.c Research allowance.
ITQ Individual transferable quota.
na Not available.
SFR Statutory fishing right.
TAC Total allowable catch.
– Not applicable.
11.2 Biological status
Bight redfish (Centroberyx gerrardi)
Line drawing: FAO
The biological stock structure of bight redfish is unknown. It is considered to be a single biological stock in the GABTS for assessment and management purposes.
Catch of bight redfish in the GABTS increased to 572 t in 2003–04, before almost doubling in association with the temporary introduction of a freezer trawler to the fishery. Catch reached a peak of 1,407 t in 2007–08. The freezer trawler departed in 2008, and effort decreased to around half of peak levels. Landed catch in the 2017–18 fishing season was 308 t (Figure 11.4).
The target reference point for bight redfish of 41 per cent of the unfished spawning stock biomass (0.41SB0; Kompas et al. 2012) was accepted by the Great Australian Bight Resource Assessment Group (GABRAG) in 2011 (AFMA 2011). The 2011 tier 1 stock assessment for bight redfish (Klaer 2011) was updated in 2015 (Haddon 2015). The base-case assessment predicted the female spawning biomass at the start of 2015–16 to be 63 per cent of unexploited female spawning stock biomass, above the target reference point of 0.41SB0. The unexploited female spawning biomass was estimated to be 5,451 t. The large reduction in the estimate of female spawning biomass from the 2011 assessment (26,210 t) reflects that the data now available for the updated assessment are more informative about the unfished biomass and the effects of fishing (Figure 11.5).
Fishery-independent trawl surveys were undertaken each year between 2006 and 2011 (except for 2010), and estimated relative abundance of the main target and byproduct species on the shelf (Knuckey & Hudson 2007; Knuckey et al. 2008, 2009, 2011). A 2015 fishery-independent trawl survey estimated that the relative biomass of bight redfish (2,573 t; coefficient of variation [CV] 0.28) had decreased 80 per cent from the previous 2011 estimate (13,189 t; CV 0.13). The GABTS industry has noted a decrease in available bight redfish in recent seasons. Length-frequency data suggest a truncation of larger bight redfish between 2011 and 2013. Ageing data also indicate a reduction in the abundance of older redfish in recent years.
The updated stock assessment (Haddon 2015) produced an RBC under the 20:35:41 harvest control rule of 862 t for the 2016–17 fishing season, or three- or five-year RBCs of 828 t and 797 t, respectively. Application of the large change–limiting rule limited the reduction in the 2016–17 fishing season TAC to 1,179 t.
Stock status determination
The 2015 stock assessment predicted female spawning biomass to be 63 per cent of unfished levels and above the target reference point of 0.41B0. Catch in recent seasons continues to be well below RBCs. On this basis, bight redfish is classified as not overfished and not subject to overfishing.
Deepwater flathead (Platycephalus conatus)
Line drawing: Karina Hansen
The biological stock structure of deepwater flathead is unknown. The stock is considered to be a single biological stock in the GABTS for assessment and management purposes.
Catch of deepwater flathead peaked in 2003–04 at just under 2,500 t, and has been relatively stable at under 1,000 t since 2008–09. Landed catch in the 2017–18 fishing season was 548 t (Figure 11.6).
The target reference point for deepwater flathead of 43 per cent of the unfished spawning stock biomass (0.43SB0; Kompas et al. 2012) was accepted by GABRAG in 2011 (AFMA 2011). The 2013 tier 1 stock assessment for deepwater flathead (Klaer 2013) was updated in 2016 (Haddon 2016). The 2016 base-case assessment predicted the female spawning biomass at the start of 2016–17 to be 45 per cent of unexploited female spawning stock biomass, above the target reference point of 0.43SB0 (Figure 11.7). This depletion level is consistent with the 2013 assessment. The unexploited female spawning biomass was estimated to be 4,993 t. Application of the 20:35:43 harvest control rule produced an RBC for 2017–18 of 1,155 t. A TAC of 1,128 t was retained for the 2017–18 fishing season.
The results of the 2015 fishery-independent trawl survey (Knuckey, Koopman & Hudson 2015) suggested that estimated relative biomass of deepwater flathead had decreased to 5,065 t (CV 0.09), compared with 9,227 t in the 2011 survey (CV 0.05)—this is a 45 per cent reduction (Knuckey, Koopman & Hudson 2009, 2011, 2015). The updated stock assessment suggested no change in depletion level between 2013 and 2016, although the estimate of unexploited female spawning stock biomass had decreased from 9,320 t to 4,993 t. The GABTS industry has noted a decrease in available deepwater flathead in recent seasons, which correlates with decreasing catch. There is no evidence of a truncation in size or age structure of deepwater flathead (Haddon 2016).
Stock status determination
The 2016 stock assessment predicted spawning biomass in 2016–17 to be near the target reference point and above the limit reference point from the HSP (0.2SB0). Catch continues to be below the RBC. On this basis, deepwater flathead is classified as not overfished and not subject to overfishing.
Ocean jacket (Nelusetta ayraud)
Line drawing: FAO
The biological stock structure of ocean jacket is unknown. In the GABTS, it is assessed as a separate stock from the stock in the Commonwealth Trawl and Scalefish Hook sectors.
Landed catch of ocean jacket peaked in 2005 at 527 t, but then decreased, and has been less than 250 t since 2008–09 (Figure 11.8). Landed catch in the 2017–18 fishing season was 193 t.
Formal stock assessments are not conducted for ocean jacket in the GABTS. Standardised catch rates have been variable; the most recent catch rates were similar to those at the start of the series (1986) (Sporcic & Haddon 2015; Figure 11.9).
Ocean jacket represented 16–35 per cent of survey catch by weight in the 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011 fishery-independent trawl surveys, with an increase in relative abundance between 2009 and 2011 (Knuckey & Hudson 2007; Knuckey, Hudson & Koopman 2008; Knuckey, Koopman & Hudson 2009, 2011). Ocean jacket represented 7 per cent of the catch in the 2015 fishery-independent trawl survey, with an estimated relative biomass of 3,702 t (CV 0.19) (Knuckey, Koopman & Hudson 2015) compared with 27,712 t (CV 0.20) in 2011. A bycatch survey of the GABTS in 2002 indicated that ocean jacket is often discarded (Knuckey & Brown 2002), potentially limiting the use of commercial catch-per-unit-effort as an index of abundance for this species.
Ocean jacket is a relatively short-lived species (approximately six years), reaching maturity within 2–3 years. Large cyclical changes in abundance appear to have occurred off eastern Australia (Miller & Stewart 2009). Historical catch data suggest that ocean jacket was fished down off the east coast of Australia in the 1920s and 1950s (Klaer 2001). There are no age data for ocean jacket from the GABTS, and the available historical length-frequency data are too old to be used as an index of abundance.
Stock status determination
No formal stock assessment for ocean jacket in the GABTS has been done. However, its catch histories and life history characteristics suggest that it is unlikely that the stock is overfished. The level of catch in 2017–18 is unlikely to constitute overfishing. On this basis, ocean jacket in the GABTS is classified as not overfished and not subject to overfishing.
Orange roughy (Hoplostethus altanticus)
Line drawing: Rosalind Murray
The stock structure of orange roughy in the Australian Fishing Zone (AFZ) is unresolved. Based on the existing data and fishery dynamics, multiple regional stocks of orange roughy are assumed, and the fishery is managed and assessed as a number of discrete regional management units, shown in Figure 9.34 (Chapter 9).
Gonçalves da Silva, Appleyard & Upston (2012) examined variation in a large number of loci using genetic techniques that have the power to detect low levels of genetic differentiation. The study concluded that orange roughy in the AFZ form a single genetic stock, but identified some differentiation between Albany/Esperance, Hamburger Hill (in the Great Australian Bight) and south-eastern Australia. It was noted that the amount of genetic exchange needed to maintain genetic homogeneity is much less than the amount needed for demographic homogeneity, and that residency or slow migration may result in separate demographic units, despite genetic similarity (Morison et al. 2013).
Catch of orange roughy in the GABTS peaked at 3,757 t in 1988–89 and then declined (Figure 11.10). Since 1990, most of the GABTS catch has come from grounds off Albany and Esperance in the western part of the fishery. Early fishery-independent trawl surveys on the continental slope in the Great Australian Bight reported that orange roughy had the highest maximum catch rate (1,820 kg/hour) of any slope species at that time (Newton & Klaer 1991). The highest catch rates came from the locations of the original aggregations off Kangaroo Island and Port Lincoln, although the surveys found no large aggregations comparable with the historical aggregations. It seems likely that orange roughy across the Great Australian Bight has been depleted, with no large aggregation being seen since 1990. However, the actual level of depletion is unknown. Catch was zero between 2008–09 and 2011–12, and negligible thereafter. No catch was reported in the 2017–18 fishing season.
No quantitative stock assessment has been conducted for orange roughy in the GABTS because the available data are sporadic and spatially scattered (Knuckey, Hudson & Nemec 2010).
Early catches were reported as coming from temporary feeding aggregations associated with cold-water upwelling off Kangaroo Island and Port Lincoln. Catches from these aggregations ranged from 2,500 t to 3,784 t (Newton 1989). Aggregations have not been found in the same locations since then (Wayte 2004). A spawning aggregation was discovered in 1990 on a ridge 30 nautical miles from the Port Lincoln grounds (Newton & Tuner 1990). This aggregation, which has not been seen since, initially supported trawl catches of around 40 t/shot, typical of lightly exploited orange roughy fisheries, but only yielded a total catch of 800 t before being depleted.
Orange roughy was listed as conservation-dependent under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) in 2006. A deepwater management strategy was implemented to address the requirements of the Orange Roughy Conservation Programme (AFMA 2006), under which commercial fishing was closed in several orange roughy zones across the Great Australian Bight, particularly the areas deeper than 700 m. More than 96 per cent of the historical catch (1988–2005) and more than 99 per cent of the more recent catch (2001–2005) was taken in these closed zones. Until sustainable harvest levels can be determined, fishing will be allowed in these zones only under a research program that has been approved by AFMA. The allocated research quota for 2015–16 was 200 t, but no catch was taken under a research permit during this season. The orange roughy incidental catch allowance remained at 50 t for the 2017–18 fishing season, with zero reported catch. The Orange Roughy Conservation Programme 2006 has been replaced by the Orange Roughy Rebuilding Strategy 2014 (AFMA 2014). Existing arrangements in the GABTS fishery have been maintained under the updated rebuilding strategy.
Stock status determination
There have been no recent surveys or representative catch-trend data to determine the abundance of orange roughy in the Great Australian Bight. As a result, this stock is classified as uncertain with regard to the level of biomass. Given that zero or negligible orange roughy catch has been reported in recent years, and that areas where more than 96 per cent of historical catches were taken are now closed, orange roughy is classified as not subject to overfishing.
11.3 Economic status
Key economic trends
Estimates of net economic returns (NER) for the GABTS are not available. The real gross value of production (GVP) for the fishery decreased from $22.8 million in 2006–07 to $10.0 million by 2016–17 (in 2016–17 dollars; Figure 11.11). Reductions in the GABTS catch resulted in real GVP declining substantially in the two years to 2008–09, falling to $10.7 million. GVP remained relatively steady between 2009–10 and 2012–13 (ranging between $12.5 million and $13.6 million), declined in 2014–15 and 2015–16, and then increased in 2016–17 to $10.0 million. The increase in GVP in 2016–17 was largely the result of an increase in catch, particularly of deepwater flathead and bright redfish. In 2016–17, deepwater flathead contributed $5.9 million (58 per cent of total GVP), and bight redfish contributed $1.4 million (14 per cent).
Changes in hours trawled have generally been closely related with changes in GVP over the period 2006–07 to 2015–16 (Figure 11.11). Hours trawled decreased by 54 per cent, from 26,375 hours in 2006–07 to 12,262 hours in 2015–16, while GVP decreased by 66 per cent in real terms. Despite hours trawled declining by a further 8 per cent in 2016–17, GVP increased by 30 per cent. The decline in effort in 2016–17 coincided with a 4 per cent rise in the price of fuel.
Higher average prices achieved for deepwater flathead are also expected to have led to an improved economic performance of the fishery (Figure 11.12). The average price of deepwater flathead in 2016–17 was $8.00 per kilogram, up from $7.11 per kilogram in 2015–16. Deepwater flathead has steadily increased its contribution to the GVP of the fishery, from 31 per cent in 2006–07 to 58 per cent by 2016–17.
Trawling—the main method used in the sector—is typically fuel-intensive. Fluctuations in the price of fuel are therefore likely to be a key driver of sector profitability. The Australian average off-road diesel price followed a decreasing trend between 2006–07 and 2016–17 (Figure 11.12). Fuel prices in real terms (2016–17 dollars) peaked in 2007–08 at $1.21 per litre, before declining to $0.85 per litre in 2009–10. After rising for several years, fuel prices again fell sharply from $1.04 per litre in 2013–14 to $0.65 per litre in 2016–17.
A decline in fishing effort and a moderate unit fuel price increase, together with strong growth in GVP, indicate that revenue in the fishery increased faster than fishing costs in 2016–17 and that NER were higher than in 2015–16.
Like other SESSF sectors, the GABTS is a limited-entry fishery managed under TACs for target species, allocated as individual transferable quotas. During the 2016–17 fishing season, 636 t of deepwater flathead was caught (55 per cent of the 1,150 t TAC), and 274 t of bight redfish was caught (23 per cent of the 1,179 t TAC). Market prices for bight redfish are sensitive to supply (Kompas et al. 2012), so the high level of latency may be partly explained by fishers not wanting to land large volumes of bight redfish that could drive down the market price. For this reason, the industry has voluntary trip limits in place for bight redfish.
The GABTS began a trial of fishery co-management in July 2009 (AFMA 2012a). This has seen the Great Australian Bight Fishing Industry Association take a greater role in management decisions, including making direct operational recommendations to AFMA, improving fisheries data collection, developing a chain-of-custody process to improve product traceability and developing a boat operating procedures manual. Such an approach should be associated with improvements in the cost, efficiency and adaptability of management (FRDC 2008). The trial of co-management arrangements received positive feedback from those operating in the GABTS (GABMAC 2010), and these arrangements have been maintained in the fishery.
Performance against economic objective
The most recent stock assessments for bight redfish projected biomass levels at the start of 2014–15 to be above the target (Haddon 2015), potentially allowing increased profits from the species as it is fished down to its maximum economic yield (MEY) target reference point. Similarly, the latest assessment for deepwater flathead indicates that the stock is at, or slightly above, the MEY target (Haddon 2016). Hence, it is unlikely that fishery profitability is constrained by stock size.
Estimates of specific bio-economic target reference points for the two key species have improved the ability to manage stocks at levels that maximise NER. However, as noted by Kompas et al. (2012), the accuracy of the target for each species could potentially be improved with information on how prices for each species are influenced by catch levels. Taking these factors into account in the setting of target reference points for each species would allow an improved assessment of economic performance.
11.4 Environmental status
The GABTS ecological risk management report (AFMA 2008, 2012b, 2015) indicated that two byproduct invertebrate species groups—cuttlefish (various species) and octopods (various species)—were at high risk in this fishery (level 2 Residual Risk Assessment). However, this risk determination primarily reflected uncertainty resulting from a lack of data. The level 3 Sustainability Assessment for Fishing Effects excluded invertebrates and indicated that fishing mortality did not exceed the reference point for any of the 204 vertebrate species assessed (Zhou, Smith & Fuller 2007). Impacts on bycatch species have been further reduced by a decrease in effort and closures in the fishery.
As part of their boat-specific seabird management plans, vessels are required to use effective seabird mitigation devices. In late 2014, AFMA completed a trial, using observers, to test the effect of seabird mitigation devices on seabird interactions with otter trawlers. The trial showed that the use of warp deflectors (large floats attached in front of trawl warps to scare birds away—often called ‘pinkies’) reduced heavy contact between actively feeding seabirds and warp wires by around 75 per cent (Pierre, Gerner & Penrose 2014). Based on the outcomes of the trial, AFMA mandated a minimum requirement in seabird management plans of 600 mm pinkies. The South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association (SETFIA) has also introduced a code of conduct and a training program to improve seabird avoidance measures, and trialled alternative seabird mitigation devices, including water sprayers and bird bafflers. The trial was completed in June 2016, but the report is not yet publicly available. SETFIA has reported that water sprayers and bird bafflers used in the trial reduced interactions between seabirds and the warp by 90 per cent and 96 per cent, respectively. Following the success of this trial, AFMA announced that from 1 May 2017 all vessels in the Commonwealth Trawl Sector and GABTS fisheries must use one of the following mitigation devices: sprayers, bird bafflers or pinkies with zero discharge of fish waste.
AFMA publishes quarterly logbook reports of interactions with protected species on its website. No interactions with species protected under the EPBC Act were reported in the GABTS in 2017.
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