Mud Crab Advisory Committee – Latest Meeting

The NTGFIA is now represented on the MUD CRAB FISHERY MANAGEMENT ADVISORY COMMITTEE. The following is a summary of the proceedings of the latest meeting.

The 15th meeting of the Mud Crab Fishery Management Advisory Committee (MCFMAC) was held in Darwin on 1-2 May 2008. Key issues of discussion and matters arising are set out below for information.
1. Stock assessment & 2007 catch summary
The stock assessment undertaken in 2007 by the South Australian Research and Development Institute showed that the fishery was overfished in 2004 and that changes to the management arrangements were needed. Whilst the increase in minimum legal size (MLS) of 10mm was an appropriate response at the time, insufficient time has elapsed to assess the effectiveness of the size limit changes. Based on new information provided for 2007, it appears the stock may be beginning to recover. However, it is not clear that current management arrangements are adequate to ensure long term sustainability.

The stock assessment report indicates that there is a lack of critical information on age, growth, mortality and reproductive ecology which limits stock assessment of the fishery using classical approaches. The report suggests that establishing fishery independent surveys may be a cost¬effective way of reducing the urgency of the need to collect this information, which will be expensive to gather. The report also notes that environmental factors strongly influence levels of recruitment.

The MCFMAC agreed there is a need to establish a new framework for management and assessment of the fishery (ie. a harvest strategy), which includes setting clear objectives for management. In addition, the MCFMAC agreed that a system for fishery independent surveys should be considered.

2. DEWHA recommendations on the ecologically sustainable management of the NT Mud Crab Fishery

The MCFMAC discussed the range of recommendations agreed to by the Department of Primary Industry, Fisheries and Mines (DPIFM) for the management of the mud crab fishery to ensure the continuation of sound management practices. Whilst acknowledging that the fishery has been granted a further five year exemption from the export regulations of the EPBC Act, effective from September 2007, the MCFMAC agreed that DPIFM give priority to implementing the eight recommendations set by the Federal Minister, and in particular, those with a nominated timeframe for completion.

3. Future management/research
Carapace width
The MCFMAC considered the appropriateness of the current minimum size limits of commercially harvested mud crabs. It was agreed by the MCFMAC that it would recommend the current size limits should remain and that the general issue of size limits be regarded as part of the ongoing consideration of management for the fishery, including development of a harvest strategy.
Recreational effort controls

The MCFMAC considered the current fishing controls for the recreational sector, taking into account the background to the decision by the Government in March 2006 to increase the minimum size limit of commercially harvested mud crabs by 10 mm and the views of MCFMAC members in relation to the possible application of a fishery-wide size limit. While a standard size limit was supported in principle, the MCFMAC considered that the effect on the fishery as a whole is minimal due to the low harvest of the recreational sector and differences in the geographic distribution of effort between the commercial and recreational sectors.

The MCFMAC considered a number of other options including recreational possession limits, gear usage and the take of berried female crabs, but made no recommendations for change at this time.
Trigger points. decision rules. timeframes

The MCFMAC agreed there was a need to establish a framework for future management arrangements culminating in a harvest strategy and incorporating trigger points, decision rules and timeframes.
The MCFMAC developed a framework to be used as a foundation in establishing a harvest strategy for the fishery.

The MCFMAC agreed to report progress on the harvest strategy to the Executive Director and agreed that a small group under the auspices of the MCFMAC would further develop the concept by the end of September, for presentation at the next meeting of the MCFMAC.

The MCFMAC was advised of progress with a durometer trial, a Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tagging trial, and a pilot scale Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) trial.
In relation to the pilot scale VMS trial, there was general support for the concept. However there needs to be further assessment undertaken, in particular to determine if there are appropriate resources available to analyse the considerable amount of data that will be generated. A report will be provided to the next meeting of the MCFMAC setting out advantages and disadvantages of the equipment and the practicalities of using it in the fishery, incorporating legal issues.

4. Future compliance
The MCFMAC supported a review of the current arrangements to allow licence unitisation of effort, recognising that a number of factors needed to be properly addressed.
The MCFMAC agreed on DPIFM setting up a small working group comprising DPIFM, industry and the Police Marine and Fisheries Enforcement Section to firstly ensure unitisation can be applied to lessees/nominees (ie. to develop a framework for unitisation), and secondly, to deal with the permanent transfer of units. The MCFMAC agreed this matter be progressed as a priority issue and that the working group provide a recommendation to the MCFMAC out of session for consideration as soon as possible.

The actions and recommendations arising from the meeting have been provided to the Executive Director of Fisheries for consideration .