Bass Strait Central Zone Scallop Fishery
Chapter 2: Bass Strait Central Zone Scallop Fishery
N Marton and R Curtotti
|Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||Large, stable biomass identified in western Bass Strait. Total allowable catch and catch small relative to known biomass.|
NER are likely to have improved since 2010–11 (the last available survey year) when real NER were –$1.2 million (in 2017–18 dollars), although it is uncertain whether NER are now positive. Compared with 2010–11, GVP in 2017–18 was higher, fewer vessels were used in the fishery, and unit fuel prices and total management costs of the fishery declined.
Notes: GVP Gross value of production. NER Net economic returns.
2.1 Description of the fishery
The Bass Strait Central Zone Scallop Fishery (BSCZSF) operates in the central area of Bass Strait between the Victorian and Tasmanian scallop fisheries (Figure 2.1). In 2018, fishing was permitted throughout the management area, except in five scallop beds (Figure 2.1) that were closed to fishing under the harvest strategy. Fishing in 2018 was concentrated on beds east of King Island. This was a similar area to that fished in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Fishing methods and key species
The fishery is a single-species fishery targeting dense aggregations (‘beds’) of commercial scallop (Pecten fumatus) using scallop dredges.
The fishery is managed through a range of input controls (seasonal and area closures) and output controls (total allowable catch [TAC]), together with quota statutory fishing rights and individual transferable quota controls. A TAC of 100 t also exists for doughboy scallops (Chlamys asperrima); however, because there is no market for the species, it is usually not retained.
Following a three-year closure under the 2005 Ministerial Direction to cease overfishing and recover fish stocks, the fishery reopened in 2009 under a formal harvest strategy (AFMA 2007), which was updated for the 2012 season (AFMA 2012b). The harvest strategy was substantially revised for the 2014 season (AFMA 2014) and updated in 2015 for clarity (AFMA 2015).
Management methods have changed considerably since 2009. The changes include a reduction in the scallop size limit used in the harvest strategy to define a bed as ‘commercially viable’; a shift from ‘most area closed, little area open’ to ‘most area open, little area closed’ (2014); and consideration of scallop density in determining which areas to open and close (2014).
The current harvest strategy uses a tiered management approach, whereby a 150 t TAC can initially be set as a ‘default opening’, covering the whole BSCZSF management area, to allow operators to search widely for scallop beds (AFMA 2015). The revisions to the harvest strategy in 2014 aimed, in part, to increase knowledge of the biomass by encouraging exploratory fishing outside known beds. The exploratory period was omitted in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 in favour of a return to surveying the known King Island beds. However, in recent years, the survey vessels have conducted some exploratory fishing as part of the survey.
Tier 1 of the harvest strategy states that, if the scientific survey identifies one or more scallop beds with a combined biomass of 1,500 t or more, with scallops greater than 85 mm in length and in ‘high’ density, and these beds are closed to commercial fishing, the TAC can be increased to 1,000 t. If 800 t of this TAC is taken, the TAC can be increased to 1,500 t; it can be increased again to 2,000 t if 1,300 t is taken.
Tier 2 of the harvest strategy states that, if the scientific survey identifies one or more scallop beds with a combined biomass of 3,000 t or more, with scallops greater than 85 mm in length and in ‘high’ density, and these beds are closed to commercial fishing, the TAC can be initially set to at least 2,000 t.
The harvest strategy is due to be reviewed in 2019–20. Considerations for the revised harvest strategy include the incorporation of economics into the TAC setting process, ensuring that the harvest strategy is robust to the inherent variability of the stock (through appropriate scaling of the TAC and protected biomass across a range of surveyed biomasses), and ensuring consistency with the updated Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy (HSP; Department of Agriculture and Water Resources 2018a) and guidelines (Department of Agriculture and Water Resources 2018b).
The 2018 fishery operated under tier 2 of the harvest strategy, with a TAC of 3,876 t. TACs in previous seasons have included provision for a stepped TAC, where the TAC could be increased (to a predetermined maximum) during the season based on catches. The Scallop Resource Assessment Group recommended removing the step function in the TAC because there was no biological basis for it, and it may distort the market or increase transaction costs when trading quota (AFMA 2018).
The fishery has a history of boom and bust, with the catch peaks (1982–1983, 1994–1996, 2003 and 2017) generally becoming progressively smaller. These peaks have been interspersed with fishery-wide closures, the most recent being from 2006 to 2008 (Figure 2.2). The number of active vessels during the 1982–1983 peak is unknown, but 103 vessels operated in the fishery during the 1994–1996 peak.
The fishery reopened in 2009 with 26 active vessels. The number of active vessels decreased before stabilising at 11 or 12 vessels (12 in 2018). Dredge-hours have fluctuated widely since the fishery reopened: from 4,000 in 2009 to 656 in 2013 (the lowest level since 2002), then up to 6,900 in 2016 (the highest since 1998 when 39 vessels were active in the fishery). Dredge-hours were relatively stable in 2017 and 2018 (Table 2.2), despite catch increasing in both years.
|Fishery statistics a|
2017 fishing season b
2018 fishing season c
|Real value (2017–18)||TAC
|Real value (2018–19) d|
3,000 (+120) e
3,876 (+124) e
|Fishing permits f||63||55|
|Observer coverage||3 days||0 days|
|Fishing methods||Scallop dredge|
|Primary landing ports||Devonport and Stanley (Tasmania); Apollo Bay, Queenscliff and San Remo (Victoria)|
|Management methods||Input controls: seasonal and area closures
Output controls: TAC, quota SFRs with ITQs
|Primary markets||Domestic: fresh|
|Management plan||Bass Strait Central Zone Scallop Fishery Management Plan 2002 (amended 2014)|
a Fishery statistics are provided by fishing season, unless otherwise indicated. Value statistics are by financial year.
b Fishing season was 11 July – 31 December 2017.
cFishing season was 19 July – 31 December 2018.
d Economic data for 2018–19 were not available at the time of report drafting.
e A research quota also exists for commercial scallop (120 t in 2017 and 124 t in 2018).
f Number of entities that hold a commercial scallop SFR.
Notes: GVP Gross value of production. ITQ Individual transferable quota. na Not available. SFR Statutory fishing right. TAC Total allowable catch.
Mike Gerner, AFMA
2.2 Biological status
Commercial scallop (Pecten fumatus)
Line drawing: FAO
Scallops in the Commonwealth, Tasmanian and Victorian scallop fisheries form one genetically homogeneous population (Ovenden et al. 2016) but are managed separately. Additionally, distinct genetic links have been identified between some beds, but not others, most likely due to non-random dispersal and subsequent settlement of larvae, meaning that recruitment does not occur in a simple, predictable manner (Ovenden et al. 2016).
A fishery for commercial scallops has operated in central Bass Strait since 1973 (Young & Martin 1989). The fishery is spatially structured, with the fleet tending to congregate on one or two known beds for the season. These may be revisited for several seasons until the bed is depleted or the fleet moves to more favourable beds, either within the same area or in an entirely different area. In this way, the fishery has moved back and forth between beds in eastern and western Bass Strait several times during its history. Catch in the fishery peaked in 1982 (21,000 t) and 1983 (24,000 t), landed by an unknown number of vessels. The next peaks were in 1994 (8,100 t landed by 73 vessels) and 1995 (7,700 t landed by 103 vessels).
The fishery reopened in 2009, with operators focusing on beds north-east of Flinders Island in eastern Bass Strait.
In the early years after reopening, scallop condition deteriorated, with die-off events in 2010 (AFMA 2011) and 2011 (AFMA 2012a). In 2012, scallops were reported to be in poor condition in part of the fishery (and, conversely, in good condition in another area later in the season) (DPIPWE 2012). An outbreak of paralytic shellfish toxin was detected in 2013. Management responded by increasing open areas, reducing size limits and changing season start dates. However, total landed catch declined between 2009 and 2013.
In 2014, operators began fishing beds around King Island. Three main beds were fished around King Island in 2014; this expanded to five in 2015 and eight in 2016. Five main beds were fished in 2018, two of which were also fished in 2017. Catch, catch rates and scallop quality all improved after the fishery moved to the King Island region.
The harvest strategy encourages exploratory fishing. Although the exploratory fishing period was only used in 2014, logbook records in each year since then all provide evidence of some exploratory fishing around King Island during the main season (that is, outside the formal exploratory fishing period). Survey vessels have also conducted some exploratory fishing of additional sites of interest in recent years, adding to the general knowledge base. If these beds show sufficient promise, they may be formally surveyed and biomass estimates generated.
The King Island region was not fished between 1998 and 2014, and biomass surveys for the region were not completed before fishing recommenced there in 2014. However, a survey in 2015 identified three beds near King Island with a total combined biomass of ‘adult’ scallops (shell length greater than 85 mm) of 9,300 t (Knuckey, Koopman & Davis 2015), and a 2016 survey identified eight beds with a combined biomass of 22,090 t of adults (Knuckey, Koopman & Davis 2016). In 2017, four beds near King Island were surveyed, with an estimated combined biomass of 16,230 t (Knuckey et al. 2017). Beds were also surveyed north of King Island, with an estimated combined biomass of 5,460 t (‘Apollo Bay’ beds), and in eastern Bass Strait, with an estimated combined biomass of 1,090 t (‘Flinders Island’ beds) (Knuckey et al. 2017). In comparison, combined biomass estimates for beds in the Flinders Island region were 3,800 t in 2016 (Knuckey, Koopman & Davis 2016) and as high as 10,100 t in 2012 (Semmens 2012).
In 2018, beds were surveyed and adult scallop biomass estimated as follows: six beds near King Island with a combined biomass of 24,700 t, two Apollo Bay beds with a combined biomass of 3,700 t and one Flinders Island bed with a biomass of 1,700 t (Knuckey, Koopman & Hudson 2018). These beds were a mixture of previously surveyed beds, new beds and an amalgamation of previous, separate beds. A high proportion of dead scallops were found at two beds (Knuckey, Koopman & Hudson 2018), and there was no sign of substantial recruitment in the beds surveyed (AFMA 2018). However, biomass estimates overall are large relative to previous surveys, with one bed estimated to contain more than 14,000 t of adult scallops.
The 2018 fishery opened on 19 July 2018 with a TAC of 3,876 t. Fishing generally focused on the same areas as the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons (that is, east of King Island), and operators reported scallops in good condition. The fishery closed on 31 December 2018 with 3,253 t of the 3,876 t TAC landed.
TAC Total allowable catch. Catches before the establishment of the BSCZSF in 1986 are likely to include some catch from outside the central zone.
Source: AFMA catch disposal records; Sahlqvist 2005
No quantitative, model-based stock assessment is available for the BSCZSF; the current harvest strategy is dependent on biomass surveys in a combination of new and previously surveyed sites (discussed below).
Recruitment of commercial scallops in Bass Strait (Young, McLoughlin & Martin 1992) and elsewhere (for example, Port Phillip Bay; Coleman 1998) has been historically variable, and this variability appears to continue. Surveys of eastern Bass Strait in 2009 identified large numbers of small scallops north-east of Flinders Island (Harrington & Semmens 2010). Surveys in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 likewise identified small scallops near Flinders Island (Knuckey, Koopman & Davis 2015, 2016; Knuckey et al. 2017; Knuckey, Koopman & Hudson 2018). Beds in western Bass Strait have typically comprised large scallops and only limited amounts of small scallops. Although the presence of small scallops in eastern Bass Strait is an encouraging sign for the fishery, they were found in far larger amounts during the 2009 survey of the eastern area.
Surveys between 2009 and 2018 have covered a large area, encompassing approximately 60% of the 6 nautical mile by 8 nautical mile fishing grids that comprised the total historical baseline of grids fished since 1991.1 However, because of die-off events, such as those observed in 2010 and 2011, the reliability of earlier surveyed biomass estimates decreases rapidly with time, even for unfished beds. Recently, repeated surveys of some beds have shown consistent biomass estimates between years, suggesting that, at least in these surveyed areas, biomass has been stable.
Surveys in 2018 covered about 10% of the grids from the historical baseline area. Adult biomass from these surveyed beds was estimated at almost 30,100 t, the largest estimated biomass since the fishery reopened in 2009 (surveyed beds had an estimated biomass of almost 26,000 t in 2016 and an estimated 22,800 t in 2017). By their nature, surveys target areas where scallop beds are expected to be found at a particular time, so these biomass estimates cannot be extrapolated to the entire historical fishing area.
Since the re-emergence of scallop beds in western Bass Strait, surveys have covered a broader area (both eastern and western Bass Strait) and more beds: 2 beds in 2014, 4 in 2015, 10 in 2016 and 12 in 2017. Only nine beds were surveyed in 2018 because of the cost involved and to ensure that both new and previously surveyed beds are surveyed in any one year. The harvest strategy appears at present to be effective in providing information on the biomass across a range of locations in both eastern and western Bass Strait. However, the extent of survey effort has in the past been influenced by the nature of the fishing season—for example, poor fishing seasons generally result in limited surveying and poorer information.
The harvest strategy is due to be reviewed in 2019–20 and should give greater guidance on incorporating economics into the TAC setting process; ensuring that the decision-making process is robust to the inherent variability of the stock (including through scaling the TAC and protected biomass for large surveyed biomasses); updating the level of the ‘floor’ (tier 1) scallop bed closures particularly in light of the recent high biomasses giving evidence that the contemporary fishery can support far larger biomasses, and ensuring consistency with the updated HSP.
Stock status determination
Scallop in the BSCZSF are a ‘highly variable stock’ (as defined by the HSP) that naturally undergoes large spatial and temporal changes in biomass or productivity through time. The total biomass observed in surveys over the past decade shows high variability within which die-offs have occurred in individual beds, as well as the re-emergence of beds in western Bass Strait, and declining biomass in some individual beds in both eastern and western Bass Strait. Overall, however, recent observed biomass appears relatively large.
Managing scallops in the BSCZSF based on an assumption of biomass equilibrium is challenging and probably inappropriate. In such cases, the HSP allows for the use of dynamic reference points with due consideration given to their consequences during extended periods of low productivity/recruitment. The current harvest strategy for scallops in the BSCZSF uses a form of fixed exploitation rate via a tier system, whereby a specified amount of the known spawning biomass is preserved through a combination of bed closures and TAC limits that constrain the catch in the open beds.
The current BSCZSF harvest strategy implies a dynamic limit referee point (LRP) of 1500 t of high-density, adult scallops at tier 1 with a maximum TAC of 2,000 t. Tier 2 implies a dynamic LRP of 3000 t with a TAC greater than 2000 t and the remaining area of the fishery open to fishing. As noted above, this requires review. In 2018, the fishery operated at tier 2; however, a larger biomass (15,700 t) was closed to fishing. Additionally, the TAC of 4000 t relative to the total known biomass of 30,100 t means that 26,100 t (86%) of known biomass was unfished if the TAC was fully caught. Further, the TAC was not fully caught, so escapement was larger again (89%). This is similar to recent years, with a relatively large biomass (26,000 t) surveyed in 2016 (escapement 89%) and 22,800 t in 2017 (escapement 87%). These biomass estimates are comparable to the very large historical annual catches taken from the fishery at its peak (24,000 t in 1983), when the fleet was much larger and the extent of exploitation (and as a result catch) was unconstrained. This suggests current biomass may be approaching levels that led to these historical high catches. Even with the current harvest strategy and independent of fishing, it is possible that biomass will decline in future years as a result of other influences, such as environmental factors. However, at this stage, total biomass of known beds appears substantial and stable. As a result of these large, relatively persistent biomasses, protected biomass far exceeding the dynamic LRP and high escapement, the stock is classified as not overfished and not subject to overfishing.
1 Because different spatial reporting grids were used in the 1970s, the total historical fishing area was taken for the period 1991–2017. This is not the same as the total management area, which is far larger; the percentage covered is therefore far smaller. The 99th percentile was taken to exclude very small catches.
2.3 Economic status
Key economic trends
The most recent economic survey of the BSCZSF estimated that real net economic returns (NER), including management costs, were negative: –$1.2 million in 2009–10 and –$1.2 million in 2010–11 (2016–17 dollars; George, Vieira & New 2012). These results are comparable to those from the survey of the fishery for 1997–98 and 1998–99, when real NER were –$1.8 million and –$1.1 million, respectively (2016–17 dollars; Galeano et al. 2001).
Comparison of the fishery’s gross value of production (GVP) before and after the most recent closure (2006–2008) reveals a considerable increase immediately following reopening of the fishery (Figure 2.3). Before the closure, GVP was $0.5 million in 2004–05 and $0.2 million in 2005–06 (2015–16 dollars). Since the fishery’s reopening, higher GVPs of $1.4 million and $4.3 million were achieved in 2008–09 and 2009–10, respectively (noting that 2008–09 only captures the first month of the 2009 season). However, real GVP fell to $1.1 million in 2011–12 and $0.5 million in 2012–13. GVP has increased annually since 2013–14. In 2017–18, GVP is estimated to be $6.7 million, the highest in real terms since 1997–98.
Notes: GVP Gross value of production. Overlap between seasons and financial years should be taken into account in interpreting this figure. The fishery was closed between the 2006 and 2008 calendar years, inclusive.
The BSCZSF harvest strategy was first developed following the Australian Government’s Securing our Fishing Future structural adjustment program in 2006, which removed 22 licences from the fishery. The harvest strategy was implemented in 2009, following three years (2006–2008) with a zero TAC. It was revised in 2012, but not directly applied for the 2012 and 2013 fishing seasons. Instead, a somewhat less precautionary approach to protecting juvenile scallops was taken in both seasons, with a commercially viable area being determined based on a reduced minimum size limit of 85 mm rather than the 90 mm limit previously used.2 The harvest strategy was reviewed again in 2014 in response to concerns about the cost-effectiveness of management and the flexibility of fishing operations in the fishery. The harvest strategy is described in detail under ‘Management methods’.
Performance against economic objective
The HSP (Department of Agriculture and Water Resources 2018a) requires that harvest strategies pursue the economic objective of maximising NER. To meet this objective, the HSP recommends that harvest strategies should be designed to manage stock levels consistent with maximum economic yield (MEY), or, if MEY is not estimated, a biomass that is 1.2 times greater than the biomass at maximum sustainable yield (MSY), or a justified alternative biomass level. Negative NER in the BSCZSF in 2009–10 and 2010–11 suggest that the economic objective was not being met.
The naturally sporadic and fluctuating availability of scallops in the BSCZSF makes it difficult to develop appropriate target reference points for MSY and MEY (AFMA 2015). The 2015 BSCZSF harvest strategy (AFMA 2015) recognises the difficulties associated with managing the fishery using a biomass target that is relative to virgin biomass. Within the context of ecological sustainability, maximising economic returns to the Australian community and economic, efficient management are objectives of the 2015 BSCZSF harvest strategy. A decline in management costs as a proportion of GVP suggests a movement towards more efficient management of the BSCZSF.
Since 2014, the harvest strategy has used a tiered approach to determining levels of access to the scallop resource, as described under ‘Management methods’. It takes a co-management approach and allows fishers some flexibility in where they apply their effort in the fishery. The fishery operated under the tiered harvest strategy for the first time in the 2014 fishing season. This approach allows a high proportion of prospective beds to be not fished, thereby enhancing the long-term economic viability of the fishery. Since adopting the latest harvest strategy, real GVP has followed an increasing trend.
Several factors suggest that NER in the BSCZSF may have improved from the –$1.2 million (in 2017–18 dollars) recorded in 2010–11, although it is uncertain whether NER are now positive. In real terms, GVP was around $3.8 million higher in 2017–18 than in 2010–11, reflecting an increase in catch and higher average prices. Moreover, fuel prices were significantly lower in 2017–18 than in 2010–11, and there were more known beds, closer to landing ports, allowing less steaming time to fishing grounds, indicating lower costs of fishing in the latter period. Fishery management costs were also lower in 2017–18 than in 2010–11. In addition, the total catch in 2017–18 was achieved with six fewer vessels (a reduction of one-third) than in 2010–11, which is expected to have reduced the economic costs for the fishery.
2 Subsequent research presented to ScallopRAG and the Scallop Management Advisory Committee (AFMA 2017) showed there to be only a 13% difference in fecundity between an 85 mm scallop and a 90 mm scallop and that both sized scallops still had the opportunity for two major spawning events (Semmens et al. 2019), which is the underlying intent of the size restriction in the harvest strategy (AFMA 2015).
2.4 Environmental status
The BSCZSF has export approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 until October 2026.
Haddon, Harrington & Semmens (2006) suggested that the habitat impacts from scallop dredges are low at the scale of the fishery, since fishers target areas of soft sediment and high scallop abundance to optimise economic returns. The authors were unable to detect impacts on physical habitat from a scallop dredge using single-beam acoustic surveys between 2003 and 2004. They suggested that this may be due to the naturally dynamic habitat in the region, driven by large tidal currents and heavy seas, or that the level of fishing was below that required to adversely affect the habitat. Similarly, Semmens et al. (2015) were unable to detect a significant difference between species assemblages in fished and unfished areas over a reasonably short time, indicating that scallop dredging appears to have a relatively short- to medium-term impact on species assemblages. However, Semmens et al. (2015) cautioned that this finding may be influenced by historical fishing of the area they treated as unfished, meaning that species most affected by dredging may now be too rare to be effectively sampled with scallop dredges. They also cautioned that certain species are less likely to be retained in scallop dredges, and that their absence from dredge samples in both the fished and unfished areas could mean that they were disturbed but not retained.
A level 2 (Productivity Susceptibility Analysis) ecological risk assessment considered 142 species (Hobday et al. 2007). Of these, the targeted scallops and 25 bycatch species were categorised as high risk. The Residual Risk Assessment on the high-risk species, which takes into account the mitigating effect of management measures, suggested that four invertebrate species may be at high risk: King Island crassatella (Eucrassatella kingicola), southern blue-ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena maculosa), pebble crab (Bellidilia undecimspinosa) and black-and-white seastar (Luidia australiae) (AFMA 2009). Twenty-eight habitats were also assessed, none of which were categorised as being at high risk (Hobday et al. 2007). The current management arrangements, along with only a restricted area of the fishery being fished each year since 2009, limit potential impacts on habitat and bycatch species.
Australian Fisheries Management Authority publishes quarterly logbook reports of interactions with protected species on its website. No interactions were reported in the BSCZSF in 2018.
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