East Coast Deepwater Trawl Sector

Chapter 10: East Coast Deepwater Trawl Sector

L Georgeson and R Curtotti

FIGURE 10.1 Area fished in the East Coast Deepwater Trawl Sector 2018–19

TABLE 10.1 Status of the East Coast Deepwater Trawl Sector
Biological status Fishing mortalityBiomassFishing mortalityBiomass
(Beryx splendens)
Not subject to overfishingNot overfishedNot subject to overfishingNot overfishedNo fishing effort between 2013–14 and 2017–18. Low catch and effort in 2018–19.
Economic statusA high level of latency exists for this fishery. No fishing effort between 2013–14 and 2017–18, and low catches in 2018–19 indicate low net economic returns.

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10.1 Description of the fishery

Area fished

The East Coast Deepwater Trawl Sector (ECDTS) is located beyond the 4,000 m isobath of the continental margin off eastern Australia. The ECDTS began as an exploratory fishery in the early 1990s, primarily taking small quantities of orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) and other deepwater species 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

Operators in the ECDTS are authorised by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) to fish using midwater trawl, demersal otter trawl, Danish seine trawl and pair trawling gears. 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 2017; 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, 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 Australian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), extending into the high seas, and across Lord Howe Rise and Challenger Plateau to the New Zealand EEZ.

Fishing effort

Effort during the 1990s was low and variable, with small quantities of orange roughy and other species taken around Lord Howe Rise. Since 2000, when reliable records began, effort has also been variable, with the number of active vessels peaking at six in 2001 (108 trawl-hours) and the level of effort in trawl-hours peaking in 2011 (160 trawl-hours), when only one vessel was active. There was no effort in the fishery between 2013–14 and 2017–18. In the 2018–19 fishing season, one vessel was active in the fishery, with 9 trawl-hours reported. Most of the effort in the fishery since 2000 has been directed at fishing for alfonsino, with smaller quantities of blue-eye trevalla and other species also taken.

TABLE 10.2 Main features and statistics for the ECDTS

Fishery statistics a

2017–18 fishing season

2018–19 fishing season













Total fishery

1,267 b



1,267 b


Fishery-level statistics



9 trawl-hours

Fishing permits



Active vessels



Observer coverage



Fishing methods

Demersal and midwater trawl

Primary landing ports

Sydney (NSW), Brisbane (Qld)

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: GVP Gross value of production. 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 benthopelagic 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). Zero catch was taken in the ECDTS between 2013–14 and 2017–18, reflecting zero effort. The 2018–19 alfonsino TAC was 1,017 t. Low levels of catch of alfonsino and other species were taken in the 2018–19 fishing season, although these data are withheld, consistent with AFMA’s data disclosure policy.

FIGURE 10.2 Catch and TAC for alfonsino in the ECDTS and the CTS, 1999–2000 to 2018–19

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 rejecting early attempts at a tier 4 assessment in 2007 and recommending that alfonsino be assessed under tier 3. A 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% of the unfished level, on average, in the long term).

The Klaer (2012) assessment was updated in 2013, using catch-at-age data up to 2010 and New Zealand data from the high-seas fishery on northern Lord Howe Rise (Klaer 2013). This assessment produced a total alfonsino recommended biological catch (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% tier 3 discount factor, AFMA implemented a three-year TAC of 1,017 t for 2014–15 through to 2016–17, with 10% overcatch and undercatch provisions. This TAC was rolled over for 2017–18 and 2018–19.

The 2013 assessment update estimated current fishing mortality as FCURR = 0.022, well below the estimated FRBC = 0.149 (Klaer 2013).

Stock status determination

The 2013 assessment for alfonsino indicates that, since 2000, fishing mortality has remained below the level that would constitute overfishing and that fishing mortality is well below the target. While there was some catch taken in 2018–19, this was well below the TAC. As a result, this stock is classified as not subject to overfishing. Alfonsino catches have remained well below RBC levels since at least 2000. As a result, biomass is unlikely to have been reduced to below the limit reference point. In the absence of any evidence to suggest otherwise, the stock is classified as not overfished.

Lee Georgeson, ABARES

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% between 2012–13 and 2013–14, down to eight hours. There was no fishing activity between 2013–14 and 2017–18. Fishing effort was 9 trawl-hours in 2018–19. The long distance to fishing grounds for the CTS fleet and use of trawl gear for targeting this species means that fuel costs are likely to make up a higher proportion of total fishing costs in the ECDTS than for the key CTS fishing grounds. 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 do not appear to be influencing a low participation in the fishery.

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 between 2013–14 and 2017–18, and low catch in 2018–19 indicate that NER have been low.

The sector’s key target species, alfonsino, is currently managed under the SESSF harvest strategy, with a target set to meet the economic objective of the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy (Department of Agriculture and Water Resources 2018).

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 2015). 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 reports of logbook 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 2018. Interactions with protected species and impacts on benthic habitats are unlikely to be of concern because of zero or low effort in the fishery in recent years.

10.5 References

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

—— 2015, Orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) rebuilding strategy 2014, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2017, Harvest strategy framework for the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery, 2009 amended March 2017, AFMA, Canberra.

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources 2018, Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, 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: 4 November 2019
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