Coral Reef

Unit of Assessment:

Product Name:

Coral Trout


Plectropomus spp.; Variola spp.
Mostly Common Coral Trout, (37 311 078)
Plectropomus leopardus (Lacépède 1802))


Queensland east coast

Gear type:


Year of Assessment:




Fishery Overview

The Coral Reef Fin Fish Fishery (CRFFF) is a predominantly line-only fishery that targets a range of bottom-dwelling reef fish.  It consists of a commercial sector, focusing primarily on live coral trout, and iconic recreational and charter sectors.  The fishery operates predominantly in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) with operators generally using smaller tender boats (dories) from a mother vessel.

Commercial line fishing occurred in the GBRMPA area long before the establishment of the marine park in 1975.   In the period 1988 and 1994 there were between 361 and 416 commercial licences active in the fishery, fishing between 16,000-18,500 fishing days and harvesting between 2,873 and 3,725 tonnes of coral reef fish.  Effort grew after 1994, in line with the development of the export market for live coral trout.  Effort peaked in 2001 with over 700 operators fishing around 40,000 fishing days and harvesting approximately 4,400 tonnes of fish (Mapstone, et al, 2004).  In 2004 significant changes to the management of the fishery and the GBRMP were introduced including a quota management system, individual transferable quotas, re-zoning of the GBRMP to create more green (no take) zones and a re-structuring of the commercial sector (Simpfendorfer et al. 2008).  Catch and effort has decreased substantially since the introduction of the management plan, although CPUE has risen steadily. More recently, the QCRFFF has suffered from the effects of Cyclones Hamish and Yasi which caused a ~30% decline in the catch rates in affected reef areas (Table 1).



Figure  SEQ Figure * ARABIC 1: Total commercial catch and catch rate of coral trout by quota year between 1999-00 and 2009-10 (Source: DEEDI, 2011a)


Figure  SEQ Figure * ARABIC 2: Total commercial catch of coral trout in the QCRFFF between 2004-5 and 2013-4 (data source: DAF, 2015)


Commercial operators with an RQ fishery symbol and who possess a line fishing endorsement in the form of an east coast ‘L’ fishery symbol (i.e. L1, L2, L3) are permitted to take coral reef fin fish (RQ species, see Schedule Five of Fisheries Regulation 2008) in east coast Queensland waters.  The line symbol they are operating under dictates the area in which they can fish.  Commercial and recreational fishers (including recreational fishers on licensed charter vessels) are permitted to use up to three lines, with no more than six hooks (total), using either a rod and reel or a handline. 


“Coral trout” is managed as a stock complex comprising seven species:

·       barred-cheek coral trout (Plectropomus maculatus)

·       chinese footballer (blue spot trout) (Plectropomus laevis)

·       coral trout (leopard trout) (Plectropomus leopardus)

·       coronation trout (Variola louti)

·       highfin coral trout (Plectropomus oligacanthus)

·       lyretail trout (Variola albimarginata)

·       squaretail coral trout (passionfruit trout) (Plectropomus areolatus)

The common coral trout, or leopard trout, P. leopardus accounts for the majority of the catch (e.g. Leigh et al, 2014), though no specific estimates of catch composition were found.




Performance Indicator



1A: Stock Status


1B: Harvest Strategy


1C: Information and Assessment



2A: Non-target Species


2B: ETP Species


2C: Habitats


2D: Ecosystems



3A: Governance and Policy


3B: Fishery-specific Management System




Summary of main issues

·       Coral trout is managed as a stock complex of seven species, with the common coral trout, P.leopardus, accounting for the majority of the catch.  Information on P. leopardus is good, although information on stock abundance of other species is assumed only;

·       There is conflicting information on the level of compliance with closed areas in the GBRMP.  Annual status reports suggest high levels of compliance, although anecdotal evidence indicates potentially high rates of fishing in ‘green’ zones.







Target species


Stock projections suggest TAC reductions will result in the stock rebuilding to BMSY by 2020. 

Bycatch and ecosystems



Management system





Assessment Results

PRINCIPLE 1: Sustainable target fish stocks


1A: Stock Status   

CRITERIA: (i)The stock is at a level which maintains high productivity and has a low probability of recruitment overfishing.

(a) Stock Status


The most recent assessment of Common Coral Trout estimated that the biomass in 2012 was 60 per cent of the unfished (1962) levels in areas open to fishing (Leigh et al, 2014). Given this current biomass ratio of the predominant target species in the species complex, the coral trout stock is highly likely to be above PRI.  Leigh et al (2014) estimated MSY to be around 2010 tonnes per year.  The current commercial TACC is set at 917t[1], and the recreational catch in the offshore component of the fishery is estimated at around 100t annually.  Accordingly, it is likely the stock is at or above the level capable of producing MSY.

Other species managed in the ‘coral trout’ complex have similar biological characteristics to P. leopardus, and have similar PSA productivity scores (Annex 1), except for P. laevis, which matures at a larger size and grows to a larger size.

These differences are recognised in the management arrangements for the fishery, which establishes a larger minimum legal size for P. laevis (50cm Vs 38cm) and a maximum size (80cm). Given P. leopardus accounts for the majority of the harvest and other species either have similar biological characteristics or are specifically managed in the case of P. laevis, it is reasonable to assume that other species within the coral trout species complex are likely to be in a relatively similar position.  This is consistent with the approach taken by Keag et al (2014).




1B: Harvest Strategy

CRITERIA: (i)There is a robust and precautionary harvest strategy in place.

(a) Harvest Strategy


The CRFFF harvest strategy for coral trout consists of a number of measures directly relevant to catch limits including: 

·       commercial quotas for the coral trout complex, allocated through Individual Transferable Quotas;

·       minimum and fish size limits that apply to all sectors;

·       recreational in-possession limits; and

·       combined recreational in-possession limit of 20 coral reef fin fish. 

There are also measures which control fishing effort: 

·       limited entry in the commercial fishery;

·       boat size and tender restrictions in the commercial fishery, and gear restrictions for all fishers;

·       two annual five-day spawning closures; and 

·       the fishery is also subject to restrictions on areas in which it can operate through zoning declared under GBRMP and Queensland Marine Parks Zoning Plan limits on operational areas. 

Together with the HCR described below, these measures constitute a harvest strategy which is designed to maintain the target stocks at or above MSY. Decision rules for the setting of coral trout commercial quota have been developed which aim to maintain the stock at around B68 (well above MSY), and quota reductions were enacted during 2014 for the first time according to these rules.  Accordingly, there is evidence the harvest strategy is responsive to the state of the stock.

The main weakness in the existing harvest strategy is the absence of measures linking recreational harvest to the state of the stock – i.e. the HCR covers commercial quotas only. Given the significant catches of target species by the recreational sector (estimated at around 200t in 2010; Keag et al, 2014), the absence of overall catch limits and the potential for significant expansion of catch in this sector is a weakness in the harvest strategy.

The most recent assessment estimates that current catch levels are lower than the estimated maximum sustainable yield for the stock. This suggests that current level of fishing pressure is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment overfished.

(b) Shark-finning



CRITERIA: (ii) There are well defined and effective harvest control rules (HCRs) and tools in place.

(a) HCR Design and application


Well-defined and understood HCRs have been agreed for the commercial component of the fishery (DAFF, 2014).  These decision rules aim to maintain stock size at around B68, well above MSY, for economic reasons.  The decision rules ensure that the exploitation rate is reduced as PRI is reached through pre-agreed reductions in commercial quota.





1C: Information and Assessment

CRITERIA: (i) Relevant information is collected to support the harvest strategy.

(a) Range of information


Numerous studies of the biology of the coral trout have been conducted over the past two decades (e.g. Mapstone et al., 2004 on the effects of line fishing on coral trout and other reef finfish species).  The biological stock structure of Coral Trout species is spatially complex and remains uncertain (e.g. Leigh et al, 2014); hence, status is typically reported at the management unit level rather than for individual biological stocks.  Nevertheless, information is sufficient to support the harvest strategy. 

Good information is available on the fleet structure of the commercial and charter sectors.  Some information is available on the fleet structure of the recreational sector.

(b) Monitoring and comprehensiveness


Stock abundance and catch removal data are available from commercial and charter logbooks, commercial quota catch documentation, and from the Long-Term Monitoring Programme’s fisheries independent surveys.

Recreational catch is monitored only periodically (every 3-5 years) and at a relatively low spatial and species resolution.  Given the substantial recreational catch in the fishery, strengthening of the recreational catch reporting systems is required to meet low risk against this indicator.

There are limited removals from the stock, other than from the 3 main sectors.

CRITERIA: (ii) There is an adequate assessment of the stock status.

(a) Stock assessment


Leigh et al (2014) assessed the stock of common coral trout (Plectropomus leopardus, which makes up the bulk of the ‘coral trout’ catch) using a regional, age-structured, forward-prediction population dynamic model. It was written in the software AD Model Builder (ADMB) (Fournier et al., 2012) and built on the general-purpose stock assessment model Cabezon (specifically, the Original Cabezon or OC model) (Cope et al., 2003).  The assessment model has been tuned for regional circumstances (e.g. green zone fishing) and is capable of estimating population size relative to reference points.

(b) Uncertainty and Peer review


The assessment attempts to account for numerous sources of uncertainty, although it is not known if the assessment has yet been peer reviewed.





PRINCIPLE 2: Environmental impact of fishing


2A: Other Species

CRITERIA: (i) The UoA aims to maintain other species above the point where recruitment would be impaired (PRI) and does not hinder recovery of other species if they are below the PRI.

(a) Main other species stock status









Coral trout







Red throat emperor







Other species




















Red Emperor







Saddletail snapper







Goldband snapper







Total catch in the CRFFF for the period 2008-9 to 2011-12 is given in Table 1.

Table  SEQ Table * ARABIC 1: Composition of the retained species catch in the CRFFF between 2008-9 and 2011-12 (DAFF, 2013).















Of these species, red throat emperor accounts for >5% of the catch and qualifies as a main other species.  Four other species made up more than 2% of the overall catch, although none of these species meet the ‘less resilient’ definition of low to moderate productivity using a Productivity Susceptibility Analysis (PSA).

DAFF (2013) reports that approximately 28% of the catch was discarded in 2011-12, principally as a result of high market selectivity amongst the live coral trout fleet.  DAFF (2013) suggests that discard mortality is likely to be low for the coral trout fleet fishing in shallow water, although anecdotal evidence indicates it is likely to be higher in deeper water.  The composition of discards is unknown, but under-sized target species are likely to account for a large proportion. 

Red throat emperor

Based on previous stock assessment results (data through 2004), the biomass was 70% of its unexploited level, and if fishing effort was held constant at 2003 levels it was expected that the stock biomass would increase further (Leigh et al. 2006).  The maximum sustainable yield was estimated to be in the range of 760–964 tonnes (t) per year.  Commercial catches since 2003 have decreased by at least 50%, from 700 t to <300 t, (DAFF, 2013), and charter catches have continued to vary between 50-100 t (DAFF, 2013).   Only 39% of the available quota was taken by the commercial sector in 2011-2012 (DAFF, 2013).

Since 2004–05, annual commercial catches have averaged approximately 250 t. The latest recreational estimate (for 2010) was 90 t, with the combined catch being well below the estimated maximum sustainable yield.  Accordingly, it is highly likely that red throat emperor is above the PRI.

CRITERIA: (ii) There is a strategy in place that is designed to maintain or to not hinder rebuilding of other species; and the UoA regularly reviews and implements

(a) Management strategy in place


The CRFFF harvest strategy for RTE is essentially the same as coral trout and includes: 

·       commercial quotas for RTE, allocated through Individual Transferable Quotas;

·       minimum fish size limits that apply to all sectors;

·       recreational in-possession limits; and

·       combined recreational in-possession limit of 20 coral reef fin fish. 

·       limited entry in the commercial fishery;

·       boat size and tender restrictions in the commercial fishery, and gear restrictions for all fishers;

·       two annual five-day spawning closures; and 

·       the fishery is also subject to restrictions on areas in which it can operate through zoning declared under GBRMP and Queensland Marine Parks Zoning Plan limits on operational areas;

·       reporting of commercial catches through quota catch documentation;

·       monitoring of performance through the Performance Management System (PMS).

These measures form at least a partial strategy which is expected to maintain the stock at levels highly likely to be above PRI.

(b) Management strategy evaluation


The 2006 stock assessment (Leigh et al, 2006) combined with recent catch data provide an objective basis for confidence that the partial strategy will work.

(c) Shark-finning



CRITERIA: (iii) Information on the nature and amount of other species taken is adequate to determine the risk posed by the UoA and the effectiveness of the strategy to manage other species.

(a) Information


Good quantitative information is available to estimate the impact of the UoA on RTE through quota catch documentation and logbook returns.   The information has been sufficient to undertake conventional stock assessment and monitor catch against MSY estimates over time.





2B: Endangered Threatened and/or Protected (ETP)

CRITERIA: (i) The UoA meets national and international requirements for protection of ETP species.
The UoA does not hinder recovery of ETP species.

(a) Effects of the UoA on populations/stocks


A number of types of endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species occur within the area fished by the CRFFF including sea turtles, marine mammals, marine birds and sharks.  Interactions with protected species in the commercial sector of the CRFFF are monitored through observers (albeit this program has been discontinued) and a mandatory, separate Species of Conservation Interest (SOCI) logbook which has been in place since 2002.  Only two interactions with ETP were reported between 2002-2010 (DEEDI 2011b).  Furthermore, line fishing is documented to have one of the lowest rates of bycatch and any major fishing gear types (Kelleher 2005). 

There is no further information available for this assessment which indicates which species were involved in the reported interactions and whether any injuries or mortalities resulted. 

However, even under the most conservative assumptions, it is highly likely that given the extremely low interaction rates the effects of the fishery are within limits of national and international requirements for the protection of ETP species.

CRITERIA: (ii) The UoA has in place precautionary management strategies designed to:

·         meet national and international requirements; and

·         ensure the UoA does not hinder recovery of ETP species.

Also, the UoA regularly reviews and implements measures, as appropriate, to minimise the mortality of ETP species

(a) Management strategy in place


The ‘strategy’ in place for minimising the impact of the fishery includes:

·       gear restrictions which limit operators to actively fished line gear which has a low rate of interaction with ETP species;

·       live release of ETP species;

·       monitoring of interactions through a mandatory, separate Species of Conservation Interest (SOCI) logbook which has been in place since 2002;

·       a system of spatial closures covering >20% of all reef habitat types within the GBRMP. 

An indicator within the CRFFF Performance Measurement System (PMS) evaluates whether the percentage of protected species released alive falls below 90%.  The extent to which the PMS is still actively monitored is uncertain, although DAF (2015) suggests the SOCI information continues to be assessed.  An education program on mitigation of impacts to ETP species was produced in 2005 (DEEDI 2011b). 

(b) Management strategy implementation


The strategy is based on assessments of interactions directly in the CRFFF, and there is high confidence it will work.  This includes some quantitative information based on SOCI logbooks and historical observer coverage.   The strategy is measured based on observer data from the CRFFF itself, and there is an objective basis for concluding that the strategy will work, i.e. the number of mortalities to ETP species has been very low (less than two over eight years – 2002-2010).

CRITERIA: (iii) Relevant information is collected to support the management of UoA impacts on ETP species, including:

·         information for the development of the management strategy;

·         information to assess the effectiveness of the

·         management strategy; and

·         information to determine the outcome status of ETP species.

(a) Information


The outcome status of ETP is monitored through a mandatory, separate Species of Conservation Interest (SOCI) logbook which has been in place since 2002, and has in the past been monitored by independent observers (albeit this program has been discontinued).

The information is adequate to manage the impacts to ETP species, mainly because there is little evidence to suggest interactions are problematic.  Nevertheless, in the absence of observer coverage the accuracy of reporting SOCI interactions in logbooks is unverified and the fishery would likely be better placed against this indicator with ongoing, periodic observer coverage. 





2C: Habitats

CRITERIA: (i) The UoA does not cause serious or irreversible harm to habitat structure and function, considered on the basis of the area(s) covered by the governance body(s) responsible for fisheries management

(a) Habitat status


Line fishing is a selective and non-destructive form of fishing gear.  None of the many studies conducted on the effects of line fishing on reef habitats have documented impacts of the fishing activity per se on the habitat.  While reef habitats can be dynamic, historic impacts have been due to other factors such as crown-of-thorn starfish outbreaks and more recent impacts to cyclone damage and global warming (Sweatman et al. 2011, Hughes et al. 2011, Tobin et al. 2011). 

Even if some impacts to habitats from line fishing were demonstrated (e.g. gear fouling/debris/anchor damage), the zoning policy of the GBRMP which closes large areas of habitat to fishing activities would serve to mitigate fishing-related impacts to the area as a whole. 

On the basis of existing information of the effects of line fishing in the CRFFF on habitats, the fishery is highly unlikely to cause serious or irreversible harm.

CRITERIA: (ii) There is a strategy in place that is designed to ensure the UoA does not pose a risk of serious or irreversible harm to the habitats.

(a) Management strategy in place


The main ‘strategy’ to limit habitat damage in the fishery is to limit gear to benign hook and line apparatus.  The fishery is also subject to significant spatial closures under the GBRMP Zoning Plan.   Evidence is likely to be available that the strategy is achieving its objective.

(b) Management strategy implementation


The zoning plan and compliance information showing fishers comply with requirements to use line fishing apparatus provide some objective basis for confidence that the strategy will work and that the measures are being implemented.

CRITERIA: (iii) Information is adequate to determine the risk posed to the habitat by the UoA and the effectiveness of the strategy to manage impacts on the habitat.

(a) Information quality


Despite ongoing information gaps, the GBRMP area is one of the most well-studied marine environments in the world.  Habitat types were mapped in considerable detail to support the rezoning of the GBRMP in 2004.  This mapping exercise was informed by decades of independent scientific research.

(b) Information and monitoring adequacy


The physical impacts of line fishing gear on habitats are expected to be minimal.  This may not have been quantified fully due to higher research priorities being placed on other issues.  However, existing information is likely to be sufficient to understand the potential impacts and spatial (areal and vertical) overlaps. 

Sufficient data on habitats are being collected by other GBRMP monitoring programmes which aim to address a broad range of potential impacts to reef environments.  As the effects of line fishing on habitat per se are expected to be very small compared to other potential sources of impacts (e.g. climate change, cyclones), fishery-related changes to habitats are not monitored by CRFFF itself.






2D: Ecosystems

CRITERIA: (i) The UoA does not cause serious or irreversible harm to the key elements of ecosystem structure and function.

(i)(a) Ecosystem Status


The ELF study specifically examined the effects of line fishery on the communities of several regions within the GBRMP (Mapstone et al. 2004).

Some of the main findings of ELF were that:

·       zoning strategies have been effective in protecting sub-populations of the fishery resource

·       from the impacts of harvest and thus these strategies have the potential to sustain harvested species;

·       differences between fished and unfished reefs varied by region and were likely to depend on the relative intensity in the fished areas of various regions; and

·       there was no clear evidence that the removal of key predator populations (e.g. coral trout) resulted in differences in community structure. 

Based on these results it can be concluded that there is evidence (i.e. the effectiveness of the zoning programme in maintaining undisrupted communities; and the fact that fished communities often do not show any significant changes in community structure) that the key elements of the ecosystem are not being disrupted or harmed.

CRITERIA: (ii) There are measures in place to ensure the UoA does not pose a risk of serious or irreversible harm to ecosystem structure and function.

(a) Management Strategy in place


The fishery largely operates within the GBRMP which is subject to a comprehensive ecosystem-based zoning plan incorporating large, representative areas of no-take zones across each reef and non-reef bioregion. 

The harvest strategy also contains several elements that serve to reduce impacts to ecological communities:

·      two five-day closed seasons to protect spawning fish

·      minimum size limits to control exploitation; and

·      quotas and bag limits to control exploitation of individual species. 

While the PMS contains an indicator which will be triggered if “the diversity index for a region shows a decrease of at least 10% in each consecutive year over three years OR decreases by 20% from the preceding quota year” it is not clear whether this indicator is actively assessed. 

The management measures above have been in place since 2004 and are informed by considerable independent scientific research (e.g. the ELF experiment). There is a strong argument that a full strategy that restrains impacts on the ecosystem to ensure the fishery does not cause serious or irreversible harm is in place.

(b) Management Strategy implementation


The measures (zoning, spawning closure, size limits and quotas/bag limits) are already working to maintain community structure based on several years of experience since their implementation as monitored by the PMS.  Data are drawn from the CRFFF itself in the form of logbooks, observers, and fishery-independent (LTMP) surveys.

CRITERIA: (iii) There is adequate knowledge of the impacts of the UoA on the ecosystem.

(a) Information quality


Given the extensive study of reef fish assemblages within the CRFFF (e.g. Mapstone et al. 2004 and many others), it is concluded that key elements of the ecosystem are broadly understood.  It is also the case that the main interactions of the fishery on these key ecosystem components have been investigated in detail, in particular under the comprehensive ELF studies. 

Continuing monitoring programs collect data designed to detect changes in risk levels to the ecosystem, e.g. the PMS ecosystem indicator and the LTMP age structure data.

(b) Investigations of UoA impacts


The main interactions of the fishery on these key ecosystem components have been investigated in detail, in particular under the comprehensive ELF studies. 





PRINCIPLE 3: Effective management


3A: Governance and Policy

CRITERIA: (i) The management system exists within an appropriate and effective legal and/or customary framework which ensures that it:

·         Is capable of delivering sustainability in the UoA(s)

·         Observes the legal rights

·         Created explicitly or established by custom of people dependent on fishing for food or livelihood; and

·         Incorporates an appropriate dispute resolution framework.

(a) Compatibility of laws or standards with effective management


The Queensland Government management and legislative framework is consistent with local, national or international laws or standards that are aimed at achieving sustainable fisheries in accordance with MSC Principles 1 and 2.

(b) Respect for Rights


The rights of customary fishers are recognised by the s14 exemption in the Fisheries Act that allows for an “Aborigine or Torres Strait Islander” to take fish for “the purpose of satisfying a personal, domestic or non-commercial communal need”.  Additional customary rights may be sought under Commonwealth Native Title legislation.

CRITERIA: (ii) The management system has effective consultation processes that are open to interested and affected parties. The roles and responsibilities of organisations and individuals who are involved in the management process are clear and understood by all relevant parties.

(a) Roles and Responsibilities


The roles and responsibilities of the main organisations and individuals involved in the management process are explicitly defined and well understood, despite the complexities associated with fisheries management in the GBRMP.  FQ are responsible for day-to-day management of the QCRFF.  GBRMPA are responsible for the broader management of the GBRMP, including spatial management decisions.  Accountability relationships between the main agencies and their responsible Ministers are clear.  Formal processes exist to coordinate activity within and adjacent to the GBRMP between Commonwealth and State governments through the GBR Ministerial Council (although this committee has not been active in recent years).  Compliance functions are carried out primarily by the QB&FP, although GBRMPA and DERM staff are also authorised officers under the Fisheries Act.   

(b) Consultation Process


Consultation is undertaken on a targeted, ad hoc basis, primarily with key stakeholder representative organisations.  No ongoing, systemic process for consultation (e.g. ReefMAC) currently exists, although the existing processes, including the release of Regulatory Impact Statements seeking public comment on important regulatory changes. 

CRITERIA: (iii) The management policy has clear long-term objectives to guide decision making that are consistent with MSC fisheries standard, and incorporates the precautionary approach.

(a) Objectives


The Fisheries Act 1994 and Fisheries (Coral Reef Fin Fish Fishery) Management Plan 2003 contain clear long term objectives that are consistent with MSC Principles 1 and 2.  These are explicit and required by legislation. 






3B: Fishery Specific Management System

CRITERIA: (i) The fishery specific management system has clear, specific objectives designed to achieve the outcomes expressed by MSC’s Principles 1 and 2.

(a) Objectives


High level fishery-specific objectives were previously outlined in the Fisheries (Coral Reef Fin Fish Fishery) Management Plan 2003, although in April 2015 the provisions in the plan were consolidated into the Fisheries Regulation 2008 (the Regulation) (DAF, 2015).  The Regulations and Act contain generic, high level of objectives consistent with MSC Principles 1 and 2 but these are not fishery specific. 

More measurable ‘operational’ objectives and performance indicators were included in the Performance Management System (PMS) for the fishery, although this was largely replaced in 2014 for coral trout with a five-year quota setting cycle that includes a series of quota setting decision rules (DAF, 2015).  Performance indicators had been developed in the PMS for target species, retained (‘byproduct’) species, bycatch species, ecosystem impacts and socio-economics.  Some of the operational objectives and performance indicators were not perfectly aligned with MSC principles (e.g. the ‘bycatch’ objective is to ‘maintain an acceptable bycatch ratio in the commercial fishery’, rather than an explicit statement about maintaining the health of bycatch populations and the avoidance of threats to biological diversity), although others were well aligned (e.g. the ecosystem objective is to ‘minimise the impact of line fishing on reef ecosystems’).

The status of the non-target species elements of the PMS are somewhat uncertain, although DAF (2015) notes that “the core elements of each PMS will be monitored via the stock status assessment process and through the annual SOCI reporting requirements”.  It is not clear that specific long term and short term objectives exist for some MSC components (e.g. non-target species; ecosystem) in the absence of the PMS.

Accordingly, the fishery can be considered to have implicit, rather than explicit objectives consistent with MSC principles 1 and 2.

CRITERIA: (ii) The fishery specific management system includes effective decision making processes that result in measures and strategies to achieve the objectives and has an appropriate approach to actual disputes in the fishery.

(a) Decision making


The Queensland State Government’s fisheries decision making process is broadly known, and there is evidence through the PMS that the management system is broadly meeting its stated objectives.  The Queensland Government Minister responsible for the fisheries portfolio has ultimate responsibility for the management of the fishery, and is empowered to make changes to the Fisheries Regulations and Management Plan (although both of these are disallowable instruments in the Queensland State parliament). The Minister is advised by Fisheries Queensland who, in turn, seek input from stakeholders and technical agencies. 

Some decisions may be made by the Chief Executive of FQ under a declaration. The most recent example of management change in the CT fishery has been the reduction in TACC in 2014 in accordance with the quota decision rules.  This is probably sufficient to demonstrate the management system is responsive to the state of the fishery, although the evidence pre-dating the 2014 quota decision was weak (largely given quota levels had not been changed since their introduction in 2004).

(b) Use of the Precautionary approach


The use of the precautionary approach is required under the Fisheries Act (an example of the precautionary approach in practice in this fishery might be the blanket application of a conservative 38cm MLS for small cod species).  Fishery decisions appear to be made based on the best available information.

(c) Accountability and Transparency


The primary mechanism by which the fishery has historically been monitored is through the PMS, with results publicly reported through Annual Status Reports (ASR).  Where trigger points are breached, FQ are required to assess the reasons for the trigger and provide a formal management response within 3 months.

The reasons for action or otherwise are reported in the ASR.  Where significant management changes are required, a RIS is released calling for public comment.  The RIS provides an explanation of the background to the proposed changes and alternative options considered.  In recent years, status reports have only been completed for the purpose of EPBC assessments and the 2016 report does not report on performance against the full PMS.

In the absence of any formal consultative structure, it is not clear that explanations are provided for any actions or lack of action associated with findings and relevant recommendations emerging from research, monitoring evaluation and review activity.

CRITERIA: (iii) Monitoring, control and surveillance mechanisms ensure the management measures in the fishery are enforced and complied with.

(a) MCS Implementation


The MCS system in the fishery primarily comprises commercial logbooks, quota monitoring through the AIVR system, at sea and land-based fisheries inspections of all sectors primarily by the QB&FP, but also by NPSR staff, occasional aerial surveillance, clear sanctions set out in legislation enforceable through the courts (or administratively depending on the severity of the offence) and promotion of voluntary compliance through education.  Priorities for the MCS system are based on formal risk assessments, updated at least every 3-5 years or with major changes in the fishery.

The main ongoing potential weakness in the compliance system is the inability to demonstrate high compliance with closures in the GBRMP.  The 2014 stock assessment of common coral trout (Leigh et al, 2014) assumed rates of fishing in green zones were around 20% of the adjacent blue (open) areas, based on discussions with industry and managers.

(b) Sanctions and Compliance


There is conflicting information on the rates of compliance with the management system, particularly with GBRMP green zones.   Rates of compliance reported through the ASRs are generally very high (96%), and information is provided by fishers to support the effective management of the fishery.

Nevertheless, Leigh et al (2014) reported that “Commercial fishers believe overwhelmingly that large amounts of fishing take place inside green zones. One fisher put the rate of noncompliance at about 80% of commercial fishers, and thought that between 20% and 50% of the entire commercial catch on the GBR came from green zones. Another comment was that the courts didn’t impose effective penalties. A fisher may take a catch of $80k in a green zone, and pay fines of only $20k. A scientific tagging study also found that fishing in green zones was the only plausible way to explain the results (Davies, 2000)

Although this information is anecdotal only, sufficient uncertainty exists for this SI to be scored precautionary high risk.  A plausible rebuttal together with objective evidence demonstrating high levels of compliance would be required for this SI to be scored medium or low risk.

(c) Systematic non-compliance


If the anecdotal rates of fishing in green zones described by Leigh et al (2014) above are proven, this would qualify as systematic non-compliance and the fishery would fail an MSC assessment.  Based on the existing information, the UoA does not meet the low risk SG.

CRITERIA: (iv) There is a system for monitoring and evaluating the performance of the fishery specific management system against its objectives.
There is effective and timely review of the fishery specific management system.

(a) Evaluation coverage


Historically, the performance of the management system has been monitored through the PMS, although evaluations have been rare in recent years. 

DAF (2015) indicates that “the broader applicability and suitability of the PMS is now being reviewed as part of a broader management reform package being implemented by DAF” and that “given these developments, it was determined that Queensland would not monitor and report against the existing fishery PMS in its entirety. Rather, the core elements of each PMS will be monitored via the stock status assessment process and through the annual SOCI reporting requirements”.      To that end, there are mechanisms in place to evaluate some parts of the fishery-specific management system although arguably not all key parts. 

(b) Internal and/or external review


Performance of some aspects of the management system (e.g. coral trout quotas) are subject to annual internal review.  The fishery is also periodically assessed externally by the Commonwealth Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.  Recent assessments have been at 3 yearly intervals according to the fishery’s WTO declaration. 






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DAF (2015). Submission for the reassessment of the Queensland Coral Reef Fin Fish Fishery Wildlife Trade Operation approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity and Conservation Act 1999. 7pp.

DAFF (2013). Coral Reef Fin Fish Fishery. 2011–12 fishing year report. 13pp.

DAFF (2014). Coral Trout Commercial Quota (the Quota) Setting Decision Rules.

DEEDI (Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation).  2011a.  Annual Status Report 2010, Coral Reef Fin Fish Fishery.  Queensland Government.  Accessed online at http://www.dpi.qld.gov.au/documents/Fisheries_SustainableFishing/2010-CRFFF-ASR.pdf

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Keag, M., Newman, S., Marton, N and Saunders, T. (2014). Coral Trout Plectropomus spp., Variola spp.  in M Flood, I Stobutzki, J Andrews, C Ashby, G Begg, R Fletcher, C Gardner, L Georgeson, S Hansen, K Hartmann, P Hone, P Horvat, L Maloney, B McDonald, A Moore, A Roelofs, K Sainsbury, T Saunders, T Smith, C Stewardson, J Stewart  & B Wise (eds) 2014, Status of key Australian fish stocks reports 2014, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra.

Kelleher, K.  2005.  Discards in the world’s marine fisheries.  An update.  FAO Fisheries Technical Paper.  No. 470.  United Nations Fisheries and Agriculture Organization, Rome, Italy.  131p.  Accessed online at http://www.fao.org/docrep/008/y5936e/y5936e00.htm

Leigh, G. M., A.J. Williams, G.A. Begg, N.A. Gribble and O.J. Whybird.  2006.  Stock assessment of the Queensland east coast red throat emperor (Lethrinus miniatus) fishery. Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Brisbane, Australia. pp127.

Leigh, G.M., Campbell, A.B., Lunow, C.P. and O’Neill, M.F. (2014).  Stock assessment of the Queensland east coast common coral trout (Plectropomus leopardus) fishery.  115pp.

Mapstone B.D., C.R. Davies, L.R. Little, A.E. Punt, A.D.M. Smith, F. Pantus, D.C. Lou, A.J. Williams, A. Jones, A. M. Ayling, G.R. Russ and A.D. McDonald.  2004.  The Effects of Line Fishing on the Great Barrier Reef and Evaluations of Alternative Potential Management Strategies. CRC Reef Research Centre Technical Report No 52.  CRC Reef Research Centre, Townsville, Australia. 

MRAG Asia Pacific (2015).  Coles Future Friendly Sourcing Assessment Framework.  12pp.  

Simpfendorfer, C., A. Ballagh, A. Williams and L. Currey.  2008.  Harvest patterns of the “Other Species” quota group in the Coral Reef Fin Fish Fishery.  James Cook University, unpublished paper. 

Sweatman H, S. Delean and C. Syms.  2011.  Assessing loss of coral cover on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef over two decades, with implications for longer term-trends.  Coral Reefs 30:  521–531. 

Tobin, A., A. Schlaff, R. Tobin, A. Penny, T. Ayling, A. Ayling, B. Krause, D. Welch, S. Sutton, B. Sawynok, N. Marshall, P. Marshall and J. Maynard.  2011.  Adapting to change: minimising uncertainty about the effects of rapidly-changing environmental conditions on the Queensland Coral Reef Fin Fish Fishery.  Fishing and Fisheries Research Centre, James Cook University, Townsville



Annex 1: “Coral trout” species productivity scores



[1] https://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/LEGISLTN/CURRENT/F/FisherCRFFQD15.pdf