Shark Gillnet and Shark Hook sectors

​Chapter 12: Shark Gillnet and Shark Hook sectors

T Emery, J Woodhams and R Curtotti

FIGURE 12.1 Relative fishing intensity in (a) the Shark Gillnet Sector and (b) the Shark Hook Sector of the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery, 2018–19 fishing season

(a) the Shark Gillnet Sector

 

(b) the Shark Hook Sector

 

Measuring gillnet
Dylan Maskey, AFMA
TABLE 12.1: Status of the Shark Gillnet and Shark Hook sectors
 20172018Comments
Status
Biological status
Fishing mortality BiomassFishing mortalityBiomass 
Elephantfish
(Callorhinchus milii)
Not subject to overfishingNot overfishedNot subject to overfishingNot overfishedStandardised CPUE remains relatively stable and above the limit reference point, indicating stability in biomass and fishing mortality.
Gummy shark
(Mustelus antarcticus)
Not subject to overfishingNot overfishedNot subject to overfishingNot overfishedCatch is below RBC. Estimates of pup production are close to, or above, the target reference point.
Sawshark
(Pristiophorus cirratus, P. nudipinnis)
Not subject to overfishingNot overfishedNot subject to overfishingNot overfishedCPUE is above the target reference point; catch is below RBC.
School shark
(Galeorhinus galeus)
UncertainOverfished UncertainOverfishedUncertain 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 aNER 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.

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12.1 Description of the fishery

Area fished

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).

Management methods

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.

Fishing effort

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.

Catch history

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.

FIGURE 12.2 Annual landings and effort in the SGSHS, by species, 1970–2018
Note: ‘Equivalent gillnet effort' is an estimate of total effort after converting hook effort to the equivalent gillnet effort using the methods in Walker et al. (1994).
FIGURE 12.3 Annual landings in the Commonwealth Trawl Sector, by species, 2001–2018
TABLE 12.2 Main features and statistics for the SGSHS
Fishery statistics a2017–18 fishing season2018–19 fishing season
StockTAC (t)Catch
(t) (GHTS, CTS)
Real value (2016–17)
(GHTS, CTS)
TAC (t)Catch
(t) (GHTS, CTS)
Elephantfish12262
(27, 34)
<$0.10 million
(<$0.10 million, <$0.10 million)
11450
(28,22)
Gummy shark1,9161,744
(1,604, 140)
$17.13 million
($16.21 million, $0.92 million)
1,7631,682
(1,512, 170)
Sawsharks481205
(98, 107)
$0.41 million
($0.20 million, $0.21 million)
430179
(82, 97)
School shark215 b206
(181, 25)
$1.87 million
($1.66 million, $0.21 million)
215 b196
(166, 30)
Total 2,734 2,216
(1,910, 306)
$19.51 million
($18.10 million, $1.41 million)
2,522 2,126
(1,789, 337)
Fishery-level statistics
EffortGillnet: 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 cGillnet: 61
Hook: 13
Gillnet: 61
Hook: 13
Active vesselsGillnet: 37
Hook: 38
Gillnet: 41
Hook: 37
Observer coverage dGillnet: 10%
Hook: 10%
Gillnet: 10%
Hook: 10%
Fishing methodsDemersal gillnet, demersal longline, dropline, mechanised handline, auto-longline
Primary landing portsAdelaide, Port Lincoln, Robe (South Australia); Devonport, Hobart (Tasmania); Lakes Entrance, San Remo, Port Welshpool (Victoria)
Management methodsInput controls: gear restrictions, closed areas
Output controls: ITQs, school shark/gummy shark catch ratio restriction, size limits, trip limits
Primary marketsDomestic: Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney—fresh and frozen
Management planSouthern 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)

Elephantfish (Callorhinchus milii) 

Line drawing: Karina Hansen

Stock structure

Stock structure of elephantfish is not known, and populations are considered to constitute a single stock for management purposes.

Catch history

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.

FIGURE 12.4 Annual elephantfish catch and fishing season TAC in the SGSHS, 1970–2018
Notes: TAC Total allowable catch. Actual TAC includes carryover of undercatch or overcatch from the previous season. Discard data are only available by calendar year and for 2007–2015.
Source: Sporcic & Thomson 2015; AFMA catch disposal records (2016–2018 catch data)
Stock assessment

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)

Gummy shark (Mustelus antarcticus) 

Line drawing: Karina Hansen

Stock structure

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).

Catch history

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).

FIGURE 12.5 Annual gummy shark catch and fishing season TAC in the SGSHS, 1970–2018
Notes: TAC Total allowable catch. Actual TAC includes carryover of undercatch or overcatch from the previous season. Discard data are only available by calendar year and for 2007–2015.
Source: Punt, Thomson & Sporcic 2016; AFMA catch disposal records (2016–2018 catch data)
Stock assessment

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).

Gillnet vessel
Mike Gerner, AFMA
FIGURE 12.6 Estimated pup production as a proportion of unfished level of pup production for gummy shark in (a) Bass Strait, (b) South Australia and (c) Tasmania, 1927–2016

 

 

Source: Punt, Thomson & Sporcic 2016
Stock status determination

The 2016 stock assessment estimated pup production in the most recent year (2015) to be above the target for each of the three populations modelled. As a result, gummy shark in the SGSHS is classified as not overfished.Given that recent catches in 2018–19 totalling 1,901 t (Commonwealth 1,682 t, discards 86 t and state weighted average 133 t) were less than the RBC of 1,961 t, the current fishing mortality is unlikely to deplete the population below the limit biomass reference point. Therefore, the stock is classified as not subject to overfishing.

Sawshark (Pristiophorus cirratus, P. nudipinnis)

Sawshark (Pristiophorus cirratus, P. nudipinnis) 

Line drawing: FAO

Stock structure

Three species of sawshark (common sawshark—Pristiophorus cirratus, southern sawshark—P. nudipinnis and eastern sawshark—P. peroniensis) are caught in southern Australian waters. Little is known about the stock structure or movements of sawshark. Two species dominate reported sawshark catches in this sector: common sawshark and southern sawshark. For assessment purposes, all sawsharks found south of the Victoria – New South Wales border are assumed to be common or southern sawshark, and those found north of that border are assumed to be eastern sawshark (AFMA 2014e). Around 90% of the total sawshark catch from southern Australia is taken from Bass Strait (AFMA 2011a). All sawshark catch in the SESSF is managed under a single TAC, and status is reported for a single multispecies stock.

Catch history

Catch of sawshark in the SGSHS increased in the early 1970s to around 200 t by 1974, and then fluctuated between about 170 and 350 t per year until the early 2000s. Combined catch in the SGSHS and the CTS in 2018–19 was 179 t (Figure 12.7; Table 12.2), which is approximately 8% 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 15.5% for sawshark in 2014. Data are not available to update this rate. Castillo-Jordán et al. (2018) report state catch for sawshark from New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. Estimated total catch of sawshark from all states during 2013–2017 averaged around 17.1 t (around 11.7 t if Western Australia is excluded). State recreational catches are unknown but considered low (Woodhams et al. 2018c).

FIGURE 12.7 Sawshark catch and TAC in the SGSHS, 1970–2018
Notes: TAC Total allowable catch. Actual TAC includes carryover of undercatch or overcatch from the previous season. Discard data are only available by calendar year and for 2007–2015.
Source: Haddon & Sporcic 2018; AFMA catch disposal records (2016–2018 catch data)
Stock assessment

Sawshark has been managed as a tier 4 stock under the SESSF harvest strategy framework since 2009. Potential avoidance of this species by operators using gillnets suggests that the corresponding standardised CPUE may not adequately reflect stock abundance. As a result, SharkRAG recommended using standardised trawl CPUE as an index of abundance (AFMA 2015c) for applying the tier 4 harvest control rule.

The most recent CPUE analyses of sawshark (three alternative CPUE series were constructed), using SESSF trawl data to 2017, indicated that current CPUE was above the target reference point (Sporcic & Haddon 2018) (see Figure 12.8). The adopted tier 4 analyses in 2017 produced an RBC of 519 t, which was converted to the first year of a three-year TAC of 430 t for the 2018–19 fishing season.

In 2014, SharkRAG recommended a decrease in the biomass target (BTARG) from 48% to 40% of unfished biomass. Since sawshark is currently a byproduct species in the gillnet sector, SharkRAG noted that commercial catch largely depends on effort targeted at gummy shark (AFMA 2014c).

FIGURE 12.8 Standardised CPUE index for sawshark in the CTS, 1995–2016 (trawl)
Note: CPUE Catch-per-unit-effort.
Source: Haddon & Sporcic 2018
Stock status determination

The average recent CPUE for sawshark was estimated to be above the target reference point (Figure 12.8). On this basis, the stock is assessed as not overfished.

Given that recent catches in 2018–19 totalled 191 t (Commonwealth 179 t, and state weighted average 12 t), which is less than the RBC of 519 t, the current fishing mortality is unlikely to deplete the population below the limit reference point. On this basis, the stock is assessed as not subject to overfishing.

School shark (Galeorhinus galeus)

School shark (Galeorhinus galeus) 

Line drawing: Karina Hansen

Stock structure

School shark has a broad distribution throughout temperate waters of the eastern North Atlantic, western South Atlantic, and north-eastern and south-eastern Pacific oceans; and temperate waters off South Africa, New Zealand and southern Australia. There is some uncertainty about the stock structure for school shark; however, a recent genetic study found there is likely to be one genetic stock spread between Australia and New Zealand (Hernández et al. 2015). School shark is managed as a single stock in the SESSF.

Catch history

Catch of school shark in the SGSHS peaked at more than 2,500 t in 1970 and then declined rapidly to around 500 t in 1973. Catch in the sector again increased to around 2,000 t in 1986, before declining steadily through the late 1980s and 1990s, stabilising at around 200 t per year from 2000 onwards (Figure 12.9). In 2009, the species was listed as conservation-dependent under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and has been subject to other measures to reduce catch. These include the implementation of a catch ratio of 20% school shark to gummy shark—whereby a quota holder must hold five times more gummy shark quota than their school shark catch (2011–12 season)—and the requirement that all live-caught school shark be released (2014–15 season).

The reported landed catch in the SGSHS in 2018–19 was 196 t, which is approximately 9% 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 15.1% for school shark in 2014. New ISMP data are not available to update this number.

Applying the 2014 discard rate to the Commonwealth commercial catch of 196 t results in an estimated 29.6 t of additional school shark catch by the commercial fishery in 2018–19, assuming 100% mortality. We do not know what the level of post-release survival for these discarded sharks is, but it is unlikely to be zero, making the assumption of 100% mortality conservative.

Walker et al. (2008) used tag–recapture data to estimate a mortality rate of 44% for school shark taken using gillnets. Braccini, Walker and Gason (2009) report a similar rate (41%) in their study of gillnet-caught school shark. We do not have a comparable number for line-caught school shark. Rogers et al. (2017) examined survival of relatively large discarded female school shark from line fishing using satellite popup tags. The authors indicate that their results are skewed towards healthy/lively individuals and that survival of injured individuals remains a gap in knowledge. Further, the study did not use fishing methods (or gear) completely consistent with that used by the commercial fleet, which will further distance the results from what we can expect to occur in the commercial fishery. That said, all sharks tagged in the study (10 animals) survived for at least five days post-release (longest time frame recorded is 44 days). We do not have a survival rate for discarded sharks from the trawl fleet, but it is reasonable to assume that survivability of discarded trawl-caught school shark would be low because of the restricted movement of catch within the nets (particularly the codend) and the crushing that can occur in trawl nets.

An estimate of state catch for the 2018–19 fishing season is not available. However, Castillo-Jordán et al. (2018) report state catches up to and including 2017. The state catches they report (excluding Western Australia) show relative stability over the past five years. Pending evidence of any significant changes in activity in state fisheries, catch in 2018–19 is likely to be at similar levels to that reported for the previous five years for each state. The average during 2013–2017 was approximately 23 t across South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales. The discard rate (or post-release survival) for state catches is unknown. State recreational catches are also not available, except for estimates of 9 t in 2008 and 53 t in 2014 from South Australia (Castillo-Jordán et al. 2018). Total mortality in state fisheries is uncertain as a result.

FIGURE 12.9 Annual school shark catch and fishing season TAC in the SGSHS, 1970–2018
Notes: TAC Total allowable catch. Actual TAC includes carryover of undercatch or overcatch from the previous season. Discard data are only available by calendar year and for 2007–2015.
Source: Thomson 2012; AFMA catch disposal records
Stock assessment

Assessments for school shark indicate that the stock has been overfished since approximately 1990, and the stock has been classified as such since ABARES began status reporting in 1992. In 2018, a close kin mark–recapture study and a new population dynamics model (termed a ‘close-kin model’ [CKM]) provided an estimate of current absolute abundance and recent population trend (2000–2017) from a single region and population (that is, assuming one mixed stock) (AFMA 2018b). In contrast to previous assessments, the CKM does not provide an estimate of population depletion for unfished biomass levels.

The abundance of school shark (in numbers) estimated by the CKM (c. 80,000 adults) was lower than the previous assessment model projections undertaken in 2012 (c. 200,000 adults; Thomson 2012). However, the 2012 estimate was not as robust as the new estimate derived from the CKM model (because absolute biomass was confounded with productivity in the 2012 model). Although there were indications in the CKM that some stock recovery occurred during 2000–2017, there was large uncertainty associated with this trend (AFMA 2018a). It was noted that continued close-kin sampling and analysis will increase confidence in the trend in abundance in the future.

Catch and abundance projections were based on four constant exploitation rate scenarios (zero, the 2017 and 2016 rates, and the 2013–2017 mean exploitation rate). These calculations used the deterministic projection (that is, the median), rather than a more conservative approach such as choosing a lower confidence limit from a set of stochastic projections.

SharkRAG recommended using the 2013–2017 mean exploitation rate to set an incidental catch TAC for the next three years based on the projections. This rate provided total fishing mortality estimates of 256 t in 2019–20, 263 t in 2020–21 and 270 t in 2021–22. The 2013–2017 fishing mortality rate provided for a consistent recovery, as opposed to the 2017 fishing mortality rate, which would lead to an initial reduction in stock size (for the first two years) before recovery (AFMA 2018c).

It is important to note that the CKM model only considers 2000–2017, since this was the period over which the animals sampled would have been born. It was unable to account for historical high catches before 2000. Similar difficulty hampered the previous assessment model, which used complex stock structure assumptions to reconcile observed CPUE time series with large historical catches (Punt & Pribac 2001). From a management perspective, this creates considerable uncertainty because (a) the adult abundance estimate from the CKM cannot be directly compared with the previous 2012 stock assessment estimate (AFMA 2018b), and (b) we may be unable to determine an estimate of unfished biomass or initial abundance for school shark, making it impossible to estimate biomass or population size relative to an unfished state, as required under the School Shark Rebuilding Strategy (AFMA 2015b). From a stock perspective, this could mean that (a) the population sampled from the CKM may not be the same stock that supported catches before 2000 and could be a smaller subset (or stock) of a multistock population that was fished historically (AFMA 2018c), or (b) the school shark population could have been subject to a productivity shift (similar to jackass morwong) (AFMA 2018c). If true, either would have ramifications for the appropriateness of current reference points under the current harvest strategy framework (AFMA 2014a). This remains a significant area of uncertainty for assessing the school shark stock, and there may be other untested explanations for the inability of the CKM model to account for catches before 2000.

In December 2018, SharkRAG supported continued close-kin sampling (for three years) and use of the CKM for estimating abundance of school shark, while also discussing the utility and complexity of updating the old school shark assessment with addition of the recent CKM work. At this time, SharkRAG also discussed the need for updating the School Shark Rebuilding Strategy (AFMA 2015b) in light of the latest information provided by the CKM work.

Stock status determination

Since the CKM does not provide an estimate of population depletion compared with historical unfished levels, biomass status in 2018–19 is determined based on the most recent estimate of population depletion. The last full stock assessment in 2009 (Thomson & Punt 2009), which used data up to 2008, estimated the biomass at 0.12B0. Projections of this model in 2012 indicated that recovery to 0.2B0 would take 23 years under a zero-catch scenario (Thomson 2012). Landings have not been zero in the intervening period, averaging 192 t in the SGSHS over the last five years. On this basis, the stock remains classified as overfished.

Combining commercial catch, discards (assuming 100% mortality) and state catches provides an estimated total mortality for the stock in 2018–19 of around 248 t. If we assume some level of survivability in discarded sharks in the SGSHS (40% for line and gillnet, and 100% for trawl), the estimated total mortality for the stock is around 233 t. Under both scenarios, total mortality is above the incidental catch allowance (215 t) and above the maximum level (225 t) reported to allow recovery in the time frame specified in the rebuilding strategy, noting that discards from state fisheries are unknown. However, this level of catch is below the highest level (250 t) forecast to allow for recovery in the 2012 modelling (assuming gear selectivity, and spatial and temporal distribution of catches remain similar to those in 2011). This level of catch is also less than the total fishing mortality estimate of 256 t generated from the CKM for 2019–20, which allowed for a consistent recovery in stock size.

It is important to note that the discard rate and the mortality of those discards have been key uncertainties in the calculation of total mortality for this stock, and should be addressed as a priority.

Other indications that the school shark stock may have stabilised and may even be recovering include an increasing preliminary index of school shark abundance based on trawl CPUE (Sporcic 2016), surveys by the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies showing higher numbers of pups from school shark pupping areas off Tasmania (McAllister et al. 2015) and anecdotal reports from industry. Furthermore, the CKM suggested that some stock recovery occurred between 2000 and 2017, although there was large uncertainty associated with this trend. Given the above information, the level of school shark fishing mortality in 2018–19 is classified as uncertain.

Hauling the gear
Gavin Kewana, AFMA

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).

FIGURE 12.10 Real GVP for the SGSHS, by key species, and real price for gummy shark, 2007–08 to 2017–18
Note: GVP Gross value of production.

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.

FIGURE 12.11 Real revenue and costs for the GHTS, 2007–08 to 2017–18
Note: Data for 2017–18 are preliminary.
Source: Mobsby forthcoming
FIGURE 12.12 Real NER for the GHTS, 2007–08 to 2017–18
Notes: NER Net economic returns. NER estimates for 2017–18 are preliminary non–survey based estimates.
Source: Mobsby forthcoming

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).

Management arrangements

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.

12.5 References

AFMA 2010, Residual risk assessment of the level 2 ecological risk assessment species results: report for the gillnet sector of the Gillnet, Hook and Trap Fishery, Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Canberra.

—— 2011a, SharkRAG species summaries 2010, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2011b, ‘South East Management Advisory Committee (SEMAC), chair’s summary, meeting 7, 19 September 2011’, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2012, Residual risk assessment of the level 2 productivity susceptibility assessment: report for the shark gillnet method of the Gillnet, Hook and Trap sector, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2014a, Harvest strategy framework for the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery, 2009 amended (February 2014), AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2014b, Residual risk assessment: report for the shark gillnet method of the Gillnet, Hook and Trap sector, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2014c, ‘Shark Resource Assessment Group (SharkRAG), meeting record, 15–16 October 2014’, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2014d, Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery management arrangements booklet 2014, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2014e, Species summaries for the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery: for stock assessments completed in 2013 in preparation for the 2014–15 fishing season, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2015a, Ecological risk management: strategy for the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2015b, School shark Galeorhinus galeus stock rebuilding strategy: revised 2015, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2015c, ‘Shark Resource Assessment Group (SharkRAG), meeting minutes, 8 October 2015’, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2016, ‘Shark Resource Assessment Group (SharkRAG) out of session teleconference, meeting minutes, 28 January 2016’, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2018a, ‘Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery Shark Resource Assessment Group (SharkRAG), meeting minutes, 29–30 October 2018’, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2018b, ‘Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery Shark Resource Assessment Group (SharkRAG), meeting minutes, 6–7 August 2018’, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2018c, ‘Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery Shark Resource Assessment Group (SharkRAG), meeting minutes, 3–4 December 2018’, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2019, Total allowable catch recommendations for the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery 2019–20 fishing year: paper seeking South East Management Advisory Committee total allowable catch recommendations, AFMA, Canberra.

Braccini, M & Blay, N 2019, ‘Temperate demersal gillnet and demersal longline fisheries resource status report 2018’, in DJ Gaughan & K Santoro (eds), Status reports of the fisheries and aquatic resources of Western Australia 2017/2018, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia.

——, Walker, TI & Gason, AD 2009, GHATF shark survey of population abundance and population size composition for target, byproduct and bycatch species, final report to AFMA, project R2006/823, Fisheries Research Branch, Department of Primary Industries, Queenscliff.

Burch, P, Deng, R, Thomson, R & Castillo-Jordán, C 2018, Integrated Scientific Monitoring Program for the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery: discards for 2017, final report to AFMA, 18 December 2018, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Hobart.

Castillo-Jordán, C, Althaus, F, Burch, P & Thomson, R 2018, SESSF catches and discards for TAC purposes using data until 2017, report to AFMA, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Hobart.

Conron, S, Hamer, P & Jenkins, G 2016, Western Port fishery assessment 2015, Recreational Fishing Grants Program research report, Fisheries Victoria, Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, Victoria.

Econsearch 2014, Economic indicators for the SA Southern Zone Rock Lobster Fishery 2012/13, report prepared for Primary Industries and Resources South Australia, Econsearch, Adelaide.

Haddon, M & Sporcic, M 2018, ‘Draft tier 4 assessments for selected SESSF shark species (data to 2016)’, draft, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Hobart.

Hernández S, Daley, R, Walker, T, Braccini, M, Varela, A, Francis, MP & Ritchie, PA 2015, ‘Demographic history and the South Pacific dispersal barrier for school shark (Galeorhinus galeus) inferred by mitochondrial DNA and microsatellite DNA mark’, Fisheries Research, vol. 167, pp. 132–42.

McAllister, JD, Barnett, A, Lyle, JM & Semmens, JM 2015, ‘Examining the functional role of current area closures used for the conservation of an overexploited and highly mobile fishery species’, ICES Journal of Marine Science, vol. 72, no. 8, pp. 2234–44.

Mobsby, D forthcoming, Australian fisheries economic indicators report 2018: financial and economic performance of the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery, ABARES, Canberra.

Punt, A, & Pribac, F 2001, An assessment of school shark for 2001, SharkFAG document SharkFAG/01/D03, AFMA, Canberra.

——, Thomson, R & Sporcic, M 2016, Gummy shark assessment update for 2016, using data to the end of 2015, report presented to the SharkRAG meeting, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Hobart.

Rogers, PJ, Knuckey, I, Hudson, RJ, Lowther, AD & Guida, L 2017, ‘Post-release survival, movement, and habitat use of school shark Galeorhinus galeus in the Great Australian Bight, southern Australia’, Fisheries Research, vol. 187, pp. 188–98.

Skirtun, M & Vieira, S 2012, Understanding the drivers of profitability in Commonwealth fisheries, ABARES technical report 12.4, ABARES, Canberra.

Sporcic, M 2016, CPUE standardizations for selected shark SESSF species (data to 2015): draft, SharkRAG meeting 1, 13–14 October 2016, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Hobart.

—— & Haddon, M 2018, Statistical CPUE standardizations for shark species in the SESSF: (data to 2017), SharkRAG meeting 4, 3–4 December 2018, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Hobart.

Sporcic, M & Thomson, R 2015, Tier 4 analyses for elephnt fish and sawshark in the SESSF: (data to 2014), CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Hobart.

Thomson, R 2012, Projecting the school shark model into the future: rebuilding timeframes and auto-longlining in South Australia, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Hobart.

—— & Punt, AE 2009, Stock assessment update for school shark Galeorhinus galeus based on data to 2008, report presented to the SharkRAG meeting, 17–18 November, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Hobart.

—— & Sporcic, M 2014, Gummy shark assessment update for 2013, using data to the end of 2012 (draft), report presented to the SharkRAG meeting, 11–12 December 2013, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Hobart.

Vieira, S, Perks, C, Mazur, K, Curtotti, R & Li, M 2010, Impact of the structural adjustment package on the profitability of Commonwealth fisheries, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics research report 10.01, ABARE, Canberra.

Walker, T, Stone, T, Battaglene, T & McLoughlin, K 1994, The southern shark fishery 1994, fisheries assessment report compiled by the Southern Shark Fishery Assessment Group, AFMA, Canberra.

——, Dowdney, J, Williams, A, Fuller, M, Webb, H, Bulman, C, Sporcic, M & Wayte, S 2007, Ecological risk assessment for the effects of fishing: report for the shark gillnet component of the Gillnet, Hook and Trap Sector of the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery, report to AFMA, Canberra.

——, Taylor, B, Brown, L & Punt A 2008, ‘Embracing movement and stock structure for assessment of Galeorhinus galeus harvested off southern Australia’, in MD Camhi, EK Pikitch & EA Babcock (eds), Sharks of the open ocean: biology fisheries and conservation, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, pp. 369–92.

White, WT & Last, PR 2008, ‘Description of two new species of gummy sharks, genus Mustelus (Carcharhiniformes: Triakidae), from Australian waters’, in PR Last, WT White & JJ Pogonoski (eds), Descriptions of new Australian chondricthyans, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research paper 22, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Canberra.

Woodhams, J, Conron, S, Moore, B & Peddemors, V 2018a, ‘Elephantfish (Callorhinchus milii)’, in FRDC (eds), Status of Australian fish stocks 2018, FRDC, Canberra, www.fish.gov.au/report/185-Elephantfish-2018, accessed August 2019.

——, Green, C, Lyle, J, Braccini, M, Rogers, P & Peddemors, V 2018b, ‘Gummy shark (Mustelus antarcticus)’, in FRDC (eds), Status of Australian fish stocks 2018, FRDC, Canberra, www.fish.gov.au/report/181-Gummy-Shark-2018, accessed August 2019.

——, Braccini, M, Moore, B, Rogers, P & Peddemors, V 2018c, ‘Sawsharks (Pristiophorus spp.)’, in FRDC (eds), Status of Australian fish stocks 2018, FRDC, Canberra, www.fish.gov.au/report/157-SAWSHARKS-2018, accessed August 2019.

Zhou, S, Fuller, M & Daley, R 2012, Sustainability assessment of fish species potentially impacted in the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery: 2007–2010, CSIRO, Canberra.



Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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