Chapter 11: Great Australian Bight Trawl Sector
A Moore, L Maloney and D Mobsby
Note: Some effort data are not shown on this map for confidentiality reasons.
|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 close to the target.|
|Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||No formal assessment. Recent catches have been low and stable.|
|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||An increase in fuel price, together with lower gross value of production, indicate that net economic returns are likely to have been lower in 2018–19 than in 2017–18.|
Note: RBC Recommended biological catch.
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 148 t landed in 2019–20. 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 (HSP; 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 rather than the HSP proxy. The Great Australian Bight Resource Assessment Group (GABRAG) considers these estimates of MEY to be appropriate. 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 2019–20 fishing season.
Orange roughy was listed as conservation-dependent under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) in 2006. A deepwater management strategy was implemented to address the requirements of the Orange Roughy Conservation Programme (ORCP; 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. The ORCP was replaced by the Orange Roughy Rebuilding Strategy in 2014 (AFMA 2014), the primary objective of which is to return all orange roughy stocks to levels at which the species can be harvested in an ecologically sustainable manner. The GABTS Orange Roughy Research Plan was developed by the Great Australian Bight Industry Association (GABIA) to meet the requirements of the ORCP (and now the rebuilding strategy), and was formulated in conjunction with AFMA and relevant RAGs and Management Advisory Committees. Management actions to minimise fishing mortality and support rebuilding include deepwater closures, targeted fishing for orange roughy stocks that are above the limit reference point of 20% of the unfished spawning biomass, restricting effort by limiting entry to existing fisheries, and ongoing research and monitoring to support stock assessments.
In 2019–20, total trawl fishing effort across all depths was 13,910 hours, down from the 2004–05 peak of 30,866 hours, but up from the 2018–19 effort of 12,421 hours. The continental shelf continues to be the focus of fishing effort, with 12,659 trawl-hours in 2019–20 (Figure 11.2) compared with 1,122 trawl-hours on the continental slope (Figure 11.3).
The deepwater fishery historically targeted orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus). However, since 2007, most of the historical orange roughy fishing grounds have been closed and 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. Three trawl vessels and 1 Danish-seine vessel operated in the fishery in 2019–20.
Reduced effort in the fishery has led to reduced catches of key target species over time. Deepwater flathead continues to dominate catches (Table 11.2), with 693 t landed in the 2019–20 fishing season, which was 60% of the TAC (1,128 t in 2019–20). Bight redfish landings in 2019–20 were 170 t, which was 28% of the TAC (600 t in 2019–20). Other species that are important in the GABTS are ocean jacket (148 t), yellow-spotted boarfish (82 t) and angel shark (78 t).
Source: AFMA catch disposal records
Source: AFMA catch disposal records
|Fishery statistics a||
2018–19 fishing season
2019–20 fishing season
|Stock||TAC (t)||Catch (t)||GVP (2018–19)||TAC (t)||Catch (t)||GVP (2019–20)|
|Bight redfish||800||220||$1.07 million||600||170||na|
|Deepwater flathead||1,128||529||$4.14 million||1,128||693||na|
|Ocean jacket||–||170||$0.41 million||–||148||na|
|Orange roughy b||0 (200, 50)||0 (0, 0)||–||0 (200, 50)||0 (0, 0)||na|
|Effort||12,421 trawl-hours; 3,063 shots||13,910 trawl-hours; 3,212 shots|
|Active vessels||4 trawl; 1 seine||3 trawl; 1 seine|
|Observer coverage||358 trawl-hours (2.88%)||214 trawl-hours (1.54%)|
|Fishing methods||Danish-seine, trawl|
|Primary landing ports||Adelaide, Port Lincoln, Thevenard (South Australia)|
Input controls: limited entry, area closures, gear restrictions
|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 to 30 April. Value statistics are by financial year and were not available for the 2019–20 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.
Notes: GVP gross value of production. ITQ Individual transferable quota. na Not available. TAC Total allowable catch. – Not applicable.
11.2 Biological status
Bight redfish (Centroberyx gerrardi)
Line drawing: FAO
The biological stock structure of bight redfish in the GABTS is unknown. A single biological stock is assumed for assessment and management purposes.
Catch of bight redfish in the GABTS peaked in 2007 at over 1,000 t and has generally declined since then (Figure 11.4a). Commonwealth-landed 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 2019–20 fishing season was 170 t (Figure 11.4b).
The target reference point for bight redfish of 41% of the unfished spawning stock biomass (0.41SB0; Kompas et al. 2012) was derived from a bio-economic model of the fishery rather than the HSP proxy and accepted by GABRAG in 2011 (AFMA 2011). The 2015 assessment (Haddon 2015) predicted the spawning biomass at the start of 2016–17 to be 0.62SB0.
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) (Knuckey, Koopman & Hudson 2011, 2015). In a 2018 fishery-independent survey, the relative abundance increased to 4,053 t; CV 0.25 (Knuckey, Koopman & Hudson 2018). The GABTS industry has noted a decrease in the availability of bight redfish in recent seasons. Length-frequency data suggest fewer larger bight redfish between 2011 and 2013, but larger fish were found in subsequent years. Ageing data also indicate a reduction in the abundance of older bight redfish, but these reappeared in the most recent data. These changes may reflect movement of fish rather than changes in abundance.
The 2019 tier 1 stock assessment (Sporcic, Day & Burch 2019) estimated the spawning stock biomass in 2018 to be 0.65SB0, which is above the target reference point (0.41SB0). The 2019 assessment estimated spawning biomass to be 4,879 t in 2018 (Figure 11.5). While there was an updated assessment in 2019, the 2015 assessment informed the management of the stock for the 2019–20 fishing season. The 2015 tier 1 produced an RBC under the 20:35:41 harvest control rule of 1,024 t for the 2020–21 fishing season and a long-term average RBC of 912 t. The 2019–20 bight redfish TAC was set at 600 t. The TAC was set lower than the RBC due to concerns over the large decrease in relative abundance from the 2015 fishery-independent survey and because the TAC was set for 5 years.
Stock status determination
The 2019 stock assessment estimated spawning biomass in 2020–21 to be above the target reference point. Catch in recent seasons continues to be well below the RBC. This indicates that the fishing mortality is unlikely to have depleted the stock to a level below its biomass limit reference point. 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 in the GABTS is unknown. A single biological stock is assumed for assessment and management purposes.
Catch of deepwater flathead peaked at 2,629 t in 2004 (Figure 11.6a). Commonwealth landings have been relatively stable at, or at less than, 1,000 t since 2008–09 (Figure 11.6b). It would appear industry capacity and variability in catch rates are leading to catches consistently below the TAC. Landed catch in the 2019–20 fishing season was 693 t (Figure 11.6b).
The target reference point for deepwater flathead of 0.43SB0 was derived from a bio-economic model of the fishery rather than the HSP proxy (Kompas et al. 2012) and accepted by GABRAG in 2011 (AFMA 2011). The 2016 tier 1 stock assessment for deepwater flathead (Haddon 2016) predicted the spawning biomass at the start of 2019–20 to be 44% (0.44SB0) of unexploited biomass. The 2019 tier 1 assessment (Tuck, Day & Burch 2019) predicted spawning biomass at the start of 2018 to be 0.37SB0, which was below the target reference point of 0.43SB0 (Figure 11.7). The biomass in 2018 was estimated to be 3,358 t. The 2016 assessment using the 20:35:43 harvest control rule produced an RBC of 1,218 t, with a TAC set at 1,128 t for the 2019–20 fishing season. While there was an updated assessment in 2019, the 2016 assessment informed the management of the stock for the 2019–20 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 2011, 2015). The relative biomass estimated from the 2018 fishery-independent survey showed a further decline to 3,396 t (Knuckey, Koopman & Hudson 2018). However, updated stock assessments suggested no change in depletion rate between 2013, 2016 and 2019 (Haddon 2016; Klaer 2013; Tuck, Day & Burch 2019), although the estimate of spawning stock biomass decreased to 4,083 t. The tier 1 assessment provided good fits to the catch rate, length and age data, but a poor fit for the fishery-independent trawl data (Tuck, Day & Burch 2019). These changes may reflect movement of fish rather than changes in abundance. There is no evidence of a truncation in size or age structure of deepwater flathead (Tuck, Day & Burch 2019).
Stock status determination
The 2019 stock assessment estimated spawning biomass in 2020–21 to be above the target reference point. Catch in recent seasons continues to be below the RBC. This indicates that the fishing mortality is unlikely to have depleted the stock to a level below its biomass limit reference point. 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.
Catch of ocean jacket peaked in 2005 at 527 t (Figure 11.8a). Commonwealth-landed catch has been less than 250 t since 2008–09 and was 148 t in the 2019–20 fishing season (Figure 11.8b).
Source: Sporcic & Haddon 2014
Source: AFMA catch disposal records
Formal stock assessments are not conducted for ocean jacket in the GABTS. However, standardised catch rates are analysed for the stock (Sporcic & Haddon 2019). Standardised catch rates have been variable through time, with the most recent catch rates similar to those at the start of the series (1986), and have been relatively stable over the past 5 years (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 6 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, recent catch rates are relatively stable and on par with those at the start of the series. Additionally, recent catches have been low and unlikely to have driven the stock into an overfished state. 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 9.34, 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 the stock was no longer found on those grounds (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/h) 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. 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 2019–20 fishing season.
Source: AFMA catch disposal records
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 in the late 1980s. 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.
More than 96% of the historical catch (1988 to 2005) and more than 99% of the more recent catch (2001 to 2005) was taken in areas that have since been closed to orange roughy fishing through the ORCP (replaced by the Orange Roughy Rebuilding Strategy in 2014; AFMA 2014). Until sustainable harvest levels can be determined, fishing will only be allowed in closed zones under a research program that has been approved by AFMA. The orange roughy incidental catch allowance (Albany and Esperance) remained at 50 t for the 2019–20 fishing season, with zero reported catch.
Stock status determination
Given that there was no catch of orange roughy in the sector in 2019–20, the stock is classified as not subject to overfishing. No recent survey or representative catch-trend data are available to determine the abundance of orange roughy in relation to reference points. As a result, the level of biomass of this stock is classified as uncertain.
Tristan New, AFMA
11.3 Economic status
Key economic trends
Gross value of production (GVP) in the GABTS declined by 7% in 2018–19 to $8.5 million. This was the result of a fall in landed catch more than offsetting an increase in average prices. The value of deepwater flathead—a key commercial stock in the sector—declined by 9% to $4.1 million (to be around 50% of total GVP), and the value of bight redfish (the second most valuable stock caught in the sector) fell by 17% to $1.1 million (to be around 13% of total GVP).
Between 2008–09 and 2018–19, GVP in the GABTS declined by 23% in real terms (Figure 11.11). Reductions in GVP occurred across a number of species; however, deepwater flathead and bight redfish accounted for most of the decline. Since 2008–09, there has been a trend of declining GVP, which has been the result of a similar declining trend in landed catch more than offsetting a rise in average prices.
Changes in hours trawled have generally been closely related to changes in GVP over the period 2008–09 to 2018–19 (Figure 11.11). Hours trawled in the sector decreased by 25% from the 2008–09 fishing season to the 2018–19 fishing season, while GVP declined by 23% in real terms between the 2008–09 and 2018–19 financial years.
Performance against economic objective
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 2 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 GABIA 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.
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).
Estimates of net economic returns (NER) for the GABTS are not available. In 2018–19, the average off-road diesel price increased by 14%, while total trawl-hours declined by only 6%. This, combined with lower GVP in 2018–19, suggests that NER are likely to have been lower in 2018–19 than in 2017–18.
The most recent stock assessment for bight redfish estimates biomass to be above the target (Sporcic, Day & Burch 2019), 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 above the MEY target (Sporcic, Day & Burch 2019). Hence, it is unlikely that profitability in the fishery is being constrained by stock size.
11.4 Environmental status
The GABTS ecological risk management report (AFMA 2008, 2012b, 2015) indicated that 2 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 1 of the following mitigation devices: sprayers, bird bafflers or pinkies with zero discharge of fish waste.
In accordance with accreditation under the EPBC Act (see Chapter 1, ‘Protected species interactions’) AFMA publishes and reports quarterly on interactions with protected species on behalf of Commonwealth fishing operators to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE). No interactions with species protected under the EPBC Act were reported in the GABTS in 2019.
These reported interactions with protected species form a part of the ongoing monitoring by DAWE of the performance of fisheries within their accreditation under the EPBC Act.
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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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