Shark Gillnet and Shark Hook sectors
Chapter 12: Shark Gillnet and Shark Hook sectors
T Emery, J Woodhams and R Curtotti
|Fishing mortality||Biomass||Fishing mortality||Biomass|
|Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||Standardised CPUE remains relatively stable and above the limit reference point, indicating stability in biomass and fishing mortality.|
|Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||Catch is below RBC. Estimates of pup production are close to, or above, the target reference point.|
(Pristiophorus cirratus, P. nudipinnis)
|Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||CPUE is above the target reference point; catch is below RBC.|
|Uncertain||Overfished||Uncertain||Overfished||Uncertain if fishing mortality in 2018–19 will allow recovery within the specified time frame. Biomass is likely to remain below 20% of unexploited levels.|
|Economic status a||NER were –$3.9 million in 2014–15. Preliminary estimates for 2015–16 and 2016–17 indicate that NER are likely to become positive. Although gummy shark biomass is not constraining NER, the management of non-target species and marine mammal interactions has likely contributed to low NER in recent years.|
a NER refer to the entire Gillnet, Hook and Trap Sector; therefore, this figure includes scalefish. Shark species account for around 70% of total Gillnet, Hook and Trap Sector gross value of production.
Notes: CPUE Catch-per-unit-effort. NER Net economic returns. RBC Recommended biological catch.
12.1 Description of the fishery
The Shark Gillnet and Shark Hook sectors (SGSHS) of the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF) extend south from the New South Wales – Victoria border, around Tasmania, and west to the South Australia – Western Australia border. Most fishing occurs in waters adjacent to the coastline and throughout Bass Strait (Figure 12.1).
Fishing methods and key species
The SGSHS uses demersal gillnet and longline to target gummy shark (Mustelus antarcticus). School shark (Galeorhinus galeus), elephantfish (Callorhinchus milii) and sawsharks (Pristiophorus cirratus and P. nudipinnis) are byproducts from the gummy shark fishery. School shark was historically the primary target species in the fishery, but biomass was reduced below the limit reference point around 1990. Although overfished, school shark is the second most economically important species in the fishery.
Other important byproduct species (by weight) are snapper (Chrysophrys auratus), whiskery shark (Furgaleus macki), broadnose sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus), bronze whaler (Carcharhinus brachyurus), draughtboard shark (Cephaloscyllium laticeps) and blue morwong (Nemadactylus valenciennesi).
The fishery is managed using a combination of input controls (gear restrictions and closed areas) and output controls (individual transferable quotas and limits on the proportion of school shark to gummy shark catch). The four principle commercial stocks taken in the SGSHS are managed under the SESSF harvest strategy framework (AFMA 2014a). The harvest strategy is summarised in Chapter 8. School shark is subject to an incidental catch limit, and other measures to reduce targeting and catch. Spatial closures across the fishery protect pupping areas and school shark.
Gear and area closures have been implemented (primarily off South Australia) to reduce the risk of interactions with Australian sea lions and dolphins. These have changed the fishing areas and targeting behaviour of fishers, influenced the take of target species and consequently affected catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE). These and other key wildlife bycatch issues are discussed further in Chapter 8.
From 1 July 2015, electronic monitoring (e-monitoring) has been mandatory for all full-time vessels in the SGSHS. The management aim is to review at least 10% of all recorded hauls to verify the accuracy of logbooks. In addition, gillnet boats operating off South Australia’s Australian Sea Lion Management Zones are subject to 100% review of video footage to monitor interactions with protected species. The deployment of physical observers ceased with the commencement of e-monitoring, but this meant that some important data from the fishery were not collected, and physical observers were deployed again from September 2017 to July 2018. In late 2018, trials of the Shark Industry Data Collection project (SIDaC) were undertaken to collect size composition data and samples for close-kin work.
Before spatial closures, which have been progressively implemented since 2003, effort in the SGSHS was spread across the waters of South Australia and eastern Victoria. However, the spatial closures outlined above have resulted in gillnet effort being concentrated off Victoria (Figure 12.1). Effort in the gillnet sector peaked in 1987 at 99,000 km of gillnet hauled, but has decreased to around one-third of this level in recent years. Hook effort has been variable in recent years, ranging between 1.1 million and 2.3 million hooks per season.
Fishing for sharks in the waters off southern Australia began in the 1920s, using longlines. During the 1970s and 1980s, the sector mainly targeted school shark (Figure 12.2). Adoption of monofilament gillnets and concern about mercury content in large school sharks, coupled with declining school shark catches, resulted in gummy shark becoming the principal target species from around 1986 (Figures 12.2 and 12.3). This transition occurred in the early 1970s in Bass Strait, and later in the waters off South Australia and Tasmania. Recent catch records indicate that trawl operations in the SESSF are now landing more sawshark and elephantfish than gillnet operations.
|Fishery statistics a||2017–18 fishing season||2018–19 fishing season|
(t) (GHTS, CTS)
|Real value (2016–17)|
(t) (GHTS, CTS)
(<$0.10 million, <$0.10 million)
($16.21 million, $0.92 million)
($0.20 million, $0.21 million)
|School shark||215 b||206|
($1.66 million, $0.21 million)
($18.10 million, $1.41 million)
|Effort||Gillnet: 36,538 km of net hauled|
Hook: 2,094,906 hooks set
|Gillnet: 32,008 km of net hauled|
Hook: 2,165,571 hooks set
|Fishing permits c||Gillnet: 61|
|Active vessels||Gillnet: 37|
|Observer coverage d||Gillnet: 10%|
|Fishing methods||Demersal gillnet, demersal longline, dropline, mechanised handline, auto-longline|
|Primary landing ports||Adelaide, Port Lincoln, Robe (South Australia); Devonport, Hobart (Tasmania); Lakes Entrance, San Remo, Port Welshpool (Victoria)|
|Management methods||Input controls: gear restrictions, closed areas|
Output controls: ITQs, school shark/gummy shark catch ratio restriction, size limits, trip limits
|Primary markets||Domestic: Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney—fresh and frozen|
|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 between 1 May and 30 April. Value statistics are by financial year and were not available for the 2018–19 financial year at the time of publication. Components of catch may not sum to total due to rounding.
b Incidental catch allowance.
c In the GHTS, additional permit types limit gear use and access to state waters.
d Numbers of hooks observed relate only to the Shark Hook Sector. Since 1 July 2015, e-monitoring has been mandatory for all full-time vessels in the SGSHS. Video footage of at least 10% of all recorded hauls is reviewed to verify the accuracy of logbooks. In addition, gillnet boats operating off South Australia’s Australian Sea Lion Management Zones are subject to 100% review of video footage for interactions with protected species.
Notes: CTS Commonwealth Trawl Sector. GHTS Gillnet, Hook and Trap Sector. GVP Gross value of production. ITQ Individual transferable quota. TAC Total allowable catch (for the entire Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery).
12.2 Biological status
Elephantfish (Callorhinchus milii)
Line drawing: Karina Hansen
Stock structure of elephantfish is not known, and populations are considered to constitute a single stock for management purposes.
Elephantfish is a small component (~3%) of landed catch of the four stocks assessed in this chapter. Catch of elephantfish in the SGSHS increased during the 1970s and peaked at almost 120 t in 1985 (Figure 12.4). Catch has since declined, and has been relatively stable at around 50–60 t in recent years. Reported catch in 2018–19 in the Gillnet, Hook and Trap Sector (GHTS) and the Commonwealth Trawl Sector (CTS) combined was 50 t (Table 12.2). The level of discarding in the SGSHS is uncertain and variable. Burch et al. (2018) used data from the Independent Scientific Monitoring Program (ISMP) to estimate a discard rate of 57.4% for elephantfish in 2014. Data are not available to update this rate. Castillo-Jordán et al. (2018) report state catch for elephantfish from New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. Estimated total catch of elephantfish from all states (excluding Western Australia) during 2013–2017 averaged around 3.7 t. Recreational catch of elephantfish is unknown for all states but has been considered insignificant in New South Wales and Tasmania (Woodhams et al. 2018a). In Victoria, historical recreational catches have been significant, with up to 45 t caught in Western Port in March–May 2008. Catch rates and popularity of this fishery have declined more recently (Conron 2016), which presents an uncertainty in assessing this stock.
Elephantfish has been managed as a tier 4 stock under the SESSF harvest strategy framework since 2009. The tier 4 harvest strategy framework uses standardised CPUE as an index of abundance.
The Shark Resource Assessment Group (SharkRAG) did not agree to apply the harvest control rule for elephantfish in 2018 (to apply for the 2019–20 season) and recommended rolling over the total allowable catch (TAC) from the 2018–19 season. The main reasons were the high and sometimes variable levels of discarding of the stock (which undermines the use of CPUE based on landed catches), uncertain estimates of recreational catch (which are thought to be a significant portion of the catch) and the challenges these present for applying the harvest control rule.
The CPUE standardisations performed for the stock (both including and excluding discards) show relative stability in recent years (albeit with a decreasing trend) when compared with CPUE in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The recent average CPUE was above the target for the series including discards and slightly below the target (but above the limit) for the series excluding discards. In making its TAC recommendation for 2019–20, SharkRAG recorded that ‘it felt that it did not have any new concerns about stock status’ (AFMA 2018a). Improved estimation of discarding across the fishery should help to reduce uncertainty in the CPUE series in the future. It was noted that these analyses will be updated after receiving advice from South East Resource Assessment Group in 2019 on species that are currently difficult to assess (AFMA 2019).
Stock status determination
Although it was not possible to output a reliable recommended biological catch (RBC) through a harvest control rule for this stock in 2018, the standardised CPUE series, albeit variable, indicated relative stability and was above the limit reference point based on the last accepted analysis in 2015. Catches since 2015 have been relatively stable, and below the RBC and TAC because elephantfish are not actively targeted. This indicates that the fishery is unlikely to be applying an unsustainable level of fishing mortality to the stock. On this basis, the stock is classified as not overfished and not subject to overfishing.
Gummy shark (Mustelus antarcticus)
Line drawing: Karina Hansen
The most recent research on stock structure for gummy shark indicates that there are most likely two stocks in Australian waters: one in southern Australia, extending from Bunbury in Western Australia to Jervis Bay in New South Wales, and another in eastern Australia, extending from Newcastle to the Clarence River in New South Wales (White & Last 2008). The southern Australian biological stock is split into four populations for modelling purposes: the continental shelf of Bass Strait, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia. The first three are assessed together by the Commonwealth (Punt, Thomson & Sporcic 2016) and are reported here. The fourth is assessed and reported separately by Western Australia (Braccini & Blay 2019).
target as school shark catches decreased from 1986 (Figure 12.5). Catch in the SGSHS reached a peak of around 2,300 t in 1993. It dropped to a low of 1,288 t in 2012, before increasing to around 1,700 t in recent years (Figure 12.5). Total Commonwealth catch (including from the CTS) in 2018–19 was 1,682 t, which is approximately 79% of the total catch across the four stocks assessed in this chapter. The level of discarding in the SGSHS is uncertain. Burch et al. (2018) used ISMP data to estimate a discard rate of 5.1% for gummy shark in 2014. Data are not available to update this rate. Castillo-Jordán et al. (2018) report state catch for gummy shark for New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. Reported state catch of gummy shark during 2013–2017 averaged around 564 t (around 133 t if Western Australia is excluded). State recreational catches are poorly known, with limited data reported—for example, 37 t was reported in South Australia in 2013–14 and 934 fish were reported caught in Western Australia in 2015–16 (Woodhams et al. 2018b). In 2018, SharkRAG recommended deducting the weighted average state catch from the RBC, which is standard practice for other SESSF species (AFMA 2019).
The most recent update of the integrated stock assessment model for gummy shark was in 2016, using data to the end of 2015 (Punt, Thomson & Sporcic 2016). Updated inputs to the assessment included landing data from 2013 to 2015, revisions to earlier catch and length-frequency data, new age-frequency data and updated CPUE indices. Some changes to the model structure were also made: catches by the different gear types are now assumed to occur simultaneously rather than sequentially; the ‘hook fleet’ has been separated into trawl, deep and shallow fleets; and allowances have been made for age-reading errors. As before, the assessment uses estimated pup production as a proxy for biomass because of the expected close relationship between pup production and female spawning biomass. This is because most of the data come from the gillnet sector, which catches a narrow size range of fish and does not catch adults.
Bass Strait, South Australian and Tasmanian regions were treated as separate populations in the model, with no movement of animals between these populations and no density-dependent effects of one population on another. The models share some model-estimated parameter values, especially Tasmania, where the data are unable to support full parameter estimation. The model also assumes commonality in biological parameters, including age–length and length–weight relationships, fecundity, gear selectivity, and overall availability as a function of age.
The gillnet closures off South Australia have influenced catch and CPUE of gummy shark in this area. When the 2014 assessment was run, there was concern that the South Australian CPUE data were less reliable as an index of abundance in recent years (Thomson & Sporcic 2014). Consequently, South Australian CPUE data after 2009 were not included in the 2014 or 2016 assessments.
The model estimated RBCs and relative pup production for each population. The RBCs were then summed to give a stock-level RBC for the fishery. In addition, different gear types are known to have different selectivities, which result in differences in the average size of sharks caught. Consequently, a range of RBCs were calculated, based on different catch proportions taken by line and gillnet, which were assessed against their impact on pup production at a regional level (Punt, Thomson & Sporcic 2016).
The base-case assessment estimated 2016 pup production as a proportion of the unfished level of pup production (P0; 1927) to be above 0.48P0 (48% of virgin pup production) for all three populations modelled: 0.53P0 for Bass Strait (Figure 12.6a), 0.63P0 for South Australia (Figure 12.6b) and 0.75P0 for Tasmania (Figure 12.6c). These are all slightly lower than those estimated by the 2014 assessment (Thomson & Sporcic 2014).
12.3 Economic status
Key economic trends
The real gross value of production (GVP) in the SGSHS for the four shark species taken in the GHTS declined from a peak of $27.2 million in 2008–09 to $16.61 million in 2013–14 and then recovered to $19.5 million by 2017–18 (Figure 12.10). This recent recovery is primarily the result of higher volumes of gummy shark landings. Gummy shark accounts for the majority of GVP in the SGSHS (88% in 2017–18).
The four shark species that make up the SGSHS—gummy shark, school shark, sawshark and elephantfish—accounted for around 71% of the GHTS GVP in the decade to 2017–18, with scalefish species making up the remainder. Therefore, overall economic performance in the GHTS may contribute to an understanding of the economic status of the SGSHS.
Survey-based estimates of revenue, costs and net economic returns (NER) in the GHTS are available for 2016–17, and preliminary estimates are available for 2017–18 (Figures 12.11 and 12.12). In 2017–18, non–survey based estimates indicate that NER became negative, −$0.18 million, potentially a result of lower catch volume of gummy shark and higher unit fuel prices. This reverses a trend of recovery in NER that started in 2013–14. Estimates for 2015–16 and 2016–17 indicate that NER were positive in those years due to higher unit prices (increasing fishing income) and lower fuel prices (causing operating costs to decline). NER increased further in 2016–17, driven by the highest catch and GVP levels in the fishery since 2010–11 (Mobsby forthcoming). NER reached a low of −$7.93 million in 2013–14 and remained negative in 2014–15. NER were positive between 2003–04 and 2008–09, peaking at $7.25 million in 2008–09.
A profit decomposition of the gillnet sector of the GHTS (Skirtun & Vieira 2012) showed that the key driver of profitability in the sector from 2006–07 to 2008–09 was productivity growth. This was linked to the Securing our Fishing Future structural adjustment package (completed in 2006–07), which is considered to have removed the least efficient vessels from the sector (Vieira et al. 2010). The decline in NER in recent years can be partly linked to falls in the price of fish in the fishery, making the role of productivity in driving NER improvement less clear. Productivity followed an increasing trend between 2009–10 and 2013–14, and may have provided some support to a declining trend in NER (Mobsby forthcoming). Productivity was more variable from 2014–15 to 2016–17, and coincided with a period of improvement in NER for the fishery, indicating that fisher terms of trade may have been a more important factor driving NER improvement in this period (Mobsby forthcoming).
Significant spatial closures have been implemented in recent years to reduce the catch of protected species, primarily off the South Australian coast (see Chapter 8). This started with voluntary closures in 2009–10, followed by mandatory closures in 2010–11. As a result, fishing intensity relocated to other areas. Particularly affected were operators who had the full extent of their usual fishing grounds closed, and those who had to switch to use of hooks rather than gillnets in areas where gillnet closures are in place. Some South Australian gillnet fishers also operate in the South Australian Rock Lobster Fishery, which is considered to be profitable (Econsearch 2014) and could have supported some SGSHS operators affected by the closures. These changes would have reduced the profitability of gillnet operations in South Australia, contributing to the negative NER in the GHTS following the closures.
South Australian gillnet operators (subject to specific qualification criteria) can use hook methods in areas where gillnetting is prohibited (or restricted), so that they can continue to operate. However, anecdotal reports from industry suggest that their vessel-level economic efficiency is lower using these methods (AFMA 2011b). Anecdotal information also indicates that allowing gillnet permit holders to use hooks has had a negative impact on the value of hook permits in the sector, because rights provided by hook permits have become less exclusive.
School shark biomass remains below the limit reference point, and stock rebuilding measures are likely to be affecting sector profitability. These measures include low incidental catch allowances and the prohibition of targeted fishing. School shark is often caught incidentally with gummy shark—the main target species of the sector—and actively avoiding school shark can involve an increase in trip length, increasing the cost of catching gummy shark. Additionally, given the relatively high beach prices of school shark, changes in its catch allowance can have a relatively large influence on the revenue of the sector. Operators who do not hold quota for school shark, or actively avoid it when targeting gummy shark, are forfeiting a potential means of profit. The substantial time projected for rebuilding of the school shark stock means that it may be some time before these issues are resolved.
Preliminary results from trials to test the efficiency of longer gillnets (4,200–6,000 m) were considered inconclusive by SharkRAG in January 2016 (AFMA 2016). However, giving fishers the option to use longer nets provides them with greater flexibility to operate under individual transferable quotas, potentially improving efficiency and NER. In 2017, AFMA removed net length restrictions in Commonwealth waters for vessels with e-monitoring.
Performance against economic objective
A comparison of the biomass levels of key species with harvest strategy targets gives additional information on the economic status of the SGSHS. Gummy shark is the primary driver of economic performance in the SGSHS, accounting for 88% of SGSHS GVP in 2017–18. The target reference point for gummy shark is the BMEY (biomass that corresponds to maximum economic yield) proxy of 0.48P0 (48% of virgin pup production). The results of the 2016 stock assessment indicate that the biomass of gummy shark stocks is likely to be above the target reference point. If the proxy accurately reflects BMEY for this species, the results indicate that biomass is not currently constraining NER and that there may be potential for expansion in the sector.
School shark is the second most valuable species in the sector, accounting for 10% of SGSHS GVP in 2017–18, despite being caught under an incidental catch allowance. The school shark to gummy shark quota restriction implemented in 2011–12 may have reduced gummy shark catch and therefore current GVP (AFMA 2014d). Efforts to rebuild the school shark stock towards target levels should lead to increases in NER.
The challenge of reducing marine mammal interactions may affect the degree to which economic performance can be improved in the short term. Recent closures to mitigate interactions are likely to have contributed to the observed negative NER for the GHTS from 2009–10 to 2014–15, and may be related to increased gummy shark quota latency during this period. In 2015–16 to 2016–17, NER were positive and linked to productivity growth, indicating that the industry is actively adjusting to new operating conditions.
12.4 Environmental status
The SESSF was accredited against parts 13 and 13A of the EPBC Act in February 2016. Conditions associated with the accreditation relate to the impact of fishing on bycatch species, particularly Australian sea lions (Neophoca cinerea), dolphins, seals and seabirds. Further recommendations associated with the accreditation relate to requirements for ecological risk assessment, and monitoring of bycatch and discarding.
A level 2 ecological risk assessment of 329 species resulted in 21 assessed as being at high risk (16 chondrichthyans and 5 marine mammals; Walker et al. 2007). A level 3 Sustainability Assessment of Fishing Effects assessment was completed for all 195 chondrichthyan and teleost species identified in the shark gillnet fishery, regardless of their level 2 Productivity Susceptibility Analysis (PSA) risk score. The assessment found seven species (all chondrichthyan) to be at high risk (Zhou, Fuller & Daley 2012). One species (common sawshark) was removed during the residual risk analysis (AFMA 2014b). The remaining six species considered to be at high risk are all sharks: bronze whaler, white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), whiskery shark, smooth hammerhead shark (Sphyrna zygaena), school shark and broadnose sevengill shark. A 2010 residual risk assessment of PSA results for non-teleost and non-chondrichthyan species identified five marine mammal species as high risk (AFMA 2010). A subsequent residual risk analysis removed two species (as a result of no interactions being recorded in the fishery) and included one further species (as a result of higher than expected interactions), resulting in four marine mammal species considered to be at high risk in the fishery: Australian fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus), Australian sea lion, New Zealand fur seal (A. forsteri) and common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) (AFMA 2012). The results of the ecological risk assessments have been consolidated to form a priority list in an ecological risk assessment strategy for the SESSF (AFMA 2015a). Results from a revised ecological risk assessment of 233 species across three ecological components in 2018 for the SGSHS are still to be finalised.
AFMA publishes quarterly logbook reports of interactions with protected species on its website. Reports for the GHTS in the 2018 calendar year indicate 418 interactions: 113 with mammals, 111 with seabirds, 183 with sharks, 10 with little penguins—Eudyptula minor (1 alive; 9 dead) and 1 with a leatherback turtle—Dermochelys coriacea (alive). The mammal interactions comprised 56 interactions with dolphins (all dead), 19 with Australian fur seals (1 alive; 18 dead), 2 with sea lions (1 alive; 1 dead), 6 with New Zealand fur seals (all dead) and 30 with seals (unclassified; 3 alive; 26 dead; 1 unknown). In 2018, 120 seabirds (29 alive; 91 dead) were caught, including albatrosses, cormorants, petrels, prions and shearwaters.
Logbooks reported that 129 shortfin mako sharks—Isurus oxyrinchus (9 alive; 92 dead; 28 in unknown condition), 5 longfin mako sharks—I. paucus (3 alive; 2 dead), 27 porbeagle sharks—Lamna nasus (7 alive, 20 dead), 2 grey nurse sharks—Carcharias taurus (2 in unknown condition) and 20 white sharks (15 alive; 5 dead) were caught during 2018. Measures to reduce interactions with Australian sea lions and dolphins are discussed in Chapter 8.
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