Rock Lobster Rules Review Update

Tasmanian Association for Recreational Fishing Inc

The Rock Lobster Management Plan Review commenced in April 2009 with the current set of rules in place until February 2011. Since the review commenced TARFish have been involved in meetings with the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DIPWE) and the Tasmanian Rock Lobster Fisherman’s Association (TRLFA), the commercial rock lobster fishers. The meetings have been to understand the issues the fishery faces and what measures may be required to ensure the rock lobster fishery is sustainable for all stakeholders into the future.

The Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute (TAFI) estimates each year how many legal sized rock lobster there are in Tasmania’s marine waters. According to TAFI the total number of legal sized lobsters has been decreasing since 2006, this is a worrying signal.

TAFI also monitor how many small rock lobsters settle in Tasmanian waters each year to ensure that what we take out is less than what is coming in to the fishery. It takes about 3-4 years, on average, for a small rock lobster to grow to legal size therefore it is important to monitor these small lobsters each year as they are the future stocks we will be catching. Since 2000 we have had low levels of small lobsters settling in our waters, this is a worrying signal.

There are a number of other issues the fishery faces and some of the reasons for these issues are known, but as is the case with most environmental issues the actual causes are not always known but management measures have to be considered without all the relevant information.

The DPIPWE released a discussion paper in May on proposed changes to the recreational sector. They held public meetings during May to discuss the proposed changes in Strahan, Smithton, Burnie, Launceston, Hobart, Tarana, St Helens, Triabunna and Dover. TARFish attended all public meetings providing comment to the DPIPWE on the proposed changes and also to hear recreational fisher’s thoughts. A snapshot of comments from recreational fishers present at the meetings included:

    * Is the recreational rock lobster resource allocation of a guaranteed 170t per annum continuing? In 2005 TARFish, TRLFA and the government hammered out an agreement to allocate a minimum of 170t each year to recreational fishers. Each year since the agreement was reached TAFI estimate the total recreational catch and according to their latest estimate recreational fishers have not caught anywhere near their allocation, the latest annual recreational catch estimate is 107t. Some people have questioned the accuracy of the estimate that TAFI calculate each year. TARFish have taken on this concern and have contracted an independent expert in recreational fishing analysis who will review the way TAFI calculates the estimate and will provide a report by the end of June. This report will be publically available in July.
    * Proposed changes do not appear to be fair and equitable between the commercial and recreational fishers. Proposed recreational bag limit reductions are from 20% to 60%
    * Why aren't the DPIPWE considering the recently released TAFI Report A Socio-Economic Assessment of the Tasmanian Recreational Rock Lobster Fishery? The report identifies that recreational fishers spend $24 million each year chasing rock lobster and the economic impacts of any proposed changes must be calculated so that the social and economic impact on regional communities is understood.
    * Why aren't the DPIPWE considering making East Coast inshore waters, less than 20 metres, as non commercial fishing areas? This will lead to a reduction in inshore waters take of around 60t per year. Inshore East Coast waters have been identified as a particular problem area for rock lobster stocks.
    * If the proposed bag limit reduction from 5 to 2 for the East Coast is implemented it will mean that more fishing pressure will be transferred to the North and West Coast waters. This could create a problem of increasing fishing pressure on regional rock lobster stocks that currently does not exist in those regions.
    * If the proposed bag limit reduction is implemented on the East Coast what measures will be implemented to ensure commercial fishers do not take the DPIPWE estimated 10t left in the water by the recreational sector?
    * Why should there be bag limit reductions from 5 to 4 on the West Coast when stocks are not under threat on the West Coast?
    * Why aren't the DPIPWE seriously considering an annual catch maximum for individual recreational fishers? A small number of recreational fishers catch more than what is considered their fair share each year. Comments indicate that a small number of recreational fishers are catching more than 80% of the total annual recreational harvest of 107t. Some believe that these recreational fishers are catching in excess of 200 rock lobsters per fisher each year and if the DPIPWE considered measures to manage these recreational fishers then there would be no need for the vast majority of recreational fishers to be burdened with all the other measures being proposed by the DPIPWE.
    * Why are the DPIPWE proposing reduced bag limits for the entire East Coast when TAFI reports are stating that "The decline in recreational rock lobster catches between the two most recent surveys was almost exclusively due to a halving of the catch taken from Area 1."? Area 1 is the South East of the state from Maria Island to Dover.

During the public meetings it became evident to TARFish that recreational fishers concerns were focused around a couple of key issues and we met with the new Minister for Primary Industries, Bryan Green, in mid May to let him know the 2 key issues were: maintaining the 2005 resource allocation agreement (minimum 170t for the recreational sector) and understanding the social and economic impact of any proposed changes on our coastal and regional communities.

The next stage in the process is for the DPIPWE to gather all input from public submissions, which close on 8 June, and to receive comments from the 2 ministerial advisory committees and the 2 recognised peak bodies, TARFish and TRLFA. Between July and November the DPIPWE will develop a set of Draft Rules which will be published and we will have 60 days to make comment on the Draft Rules.

I would encourage all recreational fishers to have a careful look at the proposed changes, and the Draft Rules, and make your comments, ideas and feedback known to the DPIPWE. We have the opportunity to contribute to the ongoing sustainability of a very important fishery that provides significant social, economic and cultural benefits to all coastal and regional areas of Tasmania.  

Mark Nikolai

Chief Executive Officer

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