Great Australian Bight Trawl Sector
Chapter 11: Great Australian Bight Trawl Sector
A Moore, N Mazloumi and D Mobsby
|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 significant increase in fuel price, together with lower gross value of production and catch volumes, indicate that net economic returns are likely to have been lower in 2017–18 and 2018–19 than in 2016–17.|
Note: RBC Recommended biological catch.
Birds on a baffler boom
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-slope 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 170 t landed in 2018–19. 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 (Department of Agriculture and Water Resources 2018) and the SESSF Harvest Strategy Framework (AFMA 2019) 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% 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 0.41B0 for 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 2018–19 fishing season.
In 2018–19, total trawl fishing effort across all depths was 12,086 hours, down from the 2004–05 peak of 30,866 hours. The continental shelf continues to be the focus of fishing effort, with 10,954 trawl-hours in 2018–19 (Figure 11.2) compared with 1,132 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.
There are 10 boat statutory fishing rights in the sector 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 2018–19.
Reduced effort in the fishery has led to reduced catches of key target species over time. Deepwater flathead continues to dominate catches, with 529 t landed in the 2018–19 fishing season, which was 47% of the TAC (1,128 t in 2018–19). Bight redfish landings in 2018–19 were 220 t, which was 36% of the TAC (600 t in 2018–19).
|Fishery statistics a|
2017–18 fishing season
2018–19 fishing season
|Stock||TAC (t)||Catch (t)||Real value (2017–18)||TAC (t)||Catch (t)||Real value (2018–19)|
|Bight redfish||800||308||$1.30 million||600||220||na|
|Deepwater flathead||1,128||548||$4.57 million||1,128||529||na|
|Ocean jacket||–||193||$0.27 million||–||170||na|
|Orange roughy b||0 (200, 50)||0 (0, 0)||$0.10 million||0 (200, 50)||0 (0, 0)||na|
|Effort||12,905 trawl-hours; 442 shots||12,421 trawl-hours; 451 shots|
|Active vessels||4 trawl; 1 seine||4 trawl; 1 seine|
|Observer coverage||250 trawl-hours (1.80%)||358 trawl-hours (2.88%)|
|Fishing methods||Danish-seine, trawl|
|Primary landing ports||Adelaide, Port Lincoln, Thevenard (South Australia)|
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 2018–19 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.
Notes: 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 after the temporary introduction of additional vessels in the fishery, which included a freezer trawler. Catch reached a peak of 1,407 t in 2007–08. Most of the additional vessels left the fishery by 2008, and effort decreased to around half of peak levels. Landed catch in the 2018–19 fishing season was 220 t (Figure 11.4).
The target reference point for bight redfish of 41% 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% of unexploited female spawning stock biomass and 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 undertaken each year between 2006 and 2011 (except for 2010) estimated relative abundance of the main target and byproduct species on the shelf (Knuckey & Hudson 2007; Knuckey, Hudson & Koopman 2008; Knuckey, Koopman & Hudson 2009, 2011). A fishery-independent trawl survey in 2015 estimated that the relative biomass of bight redfish (2,573 t; coefficient of variation [CV] 0.28) had decreased 80% from the previous 2011 estimate (13,189 t; CV 0.13). The GABTS industry has noted a decrease in the availability of 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 and a long-term average RBC of 797 t. The 2018–19 season was the third year of a five-year bight redfish TAC that was set at 600 t in 2018–19.
Stock status determination
The 2015 stock assessment predicted female spawning biomass to be 63% 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 at 2,629 t in 2004, and has been relatively stable at, or at less than, 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 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% of unexploited female spawning stock biomass, above the target reference point of 0.43SB0 (Figure 11.7). The unexploited female spawning biomass in 2016–17 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 and a long-term RBC of 1,093 t. A TAC of 1,128 t was retained for the 2018–19 fishing season.
The results of the 2015 fishery-independent trawl survey (Knuckey, Koopman & Hudson 2015) suggested that, in 2014–15, estimated relative biomass of deepwater flathead decreased to 5,065 t (CV 0.09) from 9,227 t (CV 0.05) in the 2010–11 survey—a 45% reduction (Knuckey, Koopman & Hudson 2009, 2011, 2015). However, the updated stock assessment suggested no change in depletion level between 2013 and 2016 (Haddon 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 availability of 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 to be at 45% of the unfished levels in 2016–17 and above the target reference point of 0.43SB0. 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. It has decreased since then, and has been less than 250 t since 2008–09 (Figure 11.8). Landed catch in the 2018–19 fishing season was 170 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% 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% 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, a history of relatively low catches and life-history characteristics that lead to large changes in abundance irrespective of fishing suggest that it is unlikely that the stock is overfished. The level of catch in 2018–19 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 9.33 (Chapter 9).
Gonçalves da Silva, Appleyard & Upston (2012) examined variation in a large number of loci using genetic techniques that can 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/hr) 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 2018–19 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 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 deep-water 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% of the historical catch (1988–2005) and more than 99% 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 orange roughy incidental catch allowance remained at 50 t for the 2018–19 fishing season, with zero reported catch. The 2006 Orange Roughy Conservation Programme was replaced by the Orange Roughy Rebuilding Strategy in 2014 (AFMA 2014). Existing arrangements in the GABTS fishery have been maintained under the updated rebuilding strategy.
Stock status determination
No recent survey or representative catch-trend data are available to determine the abundance of orange roughy in the Great Australian Bight. As a result, the level of biomass of this stock is classified as uncertain. Given that zero or negligible orange roughy catch has been reported in recent years, and that areas where more than 96% of historical catches were taken are now closed, orange roughy is classified as not subject to overfishing.
11.3 Economic status
Key economic trends
The gross value of production (GVP) in real terms (measured in 2017–18 dollars) for the GABTS decreased from $16.0 million in 2007–08 to $9.2 million in 2017–18 (Figure 11.11). Reductions in the catch resulted in real GVP declining substantially in 2008–09, falling to $10.9 million. Since 2009–10, there has been a trend of declining GVP, which has been the result of a similar declining trend in landed catch. Changes in hours trawled have generally been closely related to changes in GVP over the period 2007–08 to 2017–18 (Figure 11.11). Hours trawled in the sector decreased by 54% from 2007–08 to 2017–18, while GVP declined by 66% in real terms.
GVP declined by 9% in 2017–18, which was largely the result of reduced catch volume, particularly of deepwater flathead—a key commercial stock in the sector. In 2017–18, the value of deepwater flathead catch declined by 22% to $4.57 million (50% of total GVP), and bight redfish (the second most valuable stock caught in the sector) contributed $1.3 million (14% of total GVP).
Like other SESSF sectors, the GABTS is a limited-entry fishery managed under TACs for key commercial stocks, allocated as individual transferable quotas. During the 2017–18 and the 2018–19 fishing seasons, there was a high level of quota latency for the two primary stocks caught in the sector. For the 2017–18 fishing season, 548 t of deepwater flathead was caught (49% of the 1,128 t TAC), and 308 t of bight redfish was caught (39% of the 800 t TAC). For the 2018–19 fishing season, 529 t of deepwater flathead was caught (47% of the 1,128 t TAC), and 220 t of bight redfish was caught (37% of the 600 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 sector.
Performance against economic objective
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 fell sharply between 2014–15 and 2015–16, but has since trended upwards (Figure 11.12). In 2017–18, the average off-road diesel price increased by 15%, while total trawl-hours declined by only 3%. In 2018–19, the average off-road diesel price continued its upward trend, increasing by a further 15%, and total trawl-hours declined by a further 6%.
Estimates of net economic returns (NER) for the GABTS are not available. However, a significant increase in fuel price, despite a moderate reduction in fishing hours, together with lower GVP in 2017–18 and lower catch of bight redfish and deepwater flathead in 2018–19, indicate that NER are likely to have been lower in 2017–18 and 2018–19 than in 2016–17.
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 stock as it is fished down to its MEY target reference point. Similarly, the latest assessment for deepwater flathead indicates that the stock is also 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 stocks 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 stock could be improved with information on how prices for each stock are influenced by catch levels. Taking these factors into account in the setting of target reference points for each stock 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% (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 has also introduced a code of conduct and a training program to improve seabird avoidance measures. In June 2016, a trial of alternative seabird mitigation devices, including water sprayers and bird bafflers, was completed. Water sprayers and bird bafflers used in the trial reduced interactions between seabirds and the warp by 58.9% and 83.7%, respectively, when compared with the warp deflector or ‘pinkie’ (Koopman et al. 2018). This potentially represents an overall decrease in heavy interactions of 90% (water sprayer) and 96% (bafflers) compared with using no mitigation device at all. 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 2018.
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—— & Klaer, N 1991, ‘Deep-sea demersal fisheries of the Great Australian Bight: a multivessel trawl survey’, Bureau of Rural Resources Bulletin, no. 10, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.
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