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Coral Reef



Unit of Assessment:

Product Name:

Coral Trout


Plectropomus spp.; Variola spp.

Mostly Common Coral Trout, (37 311 078)
Plectropomus leopardus (Lacépède


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

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)


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

barred-cheek coral trout (Plectropomus

chinese footballer (blue spot trout)
(Plectropomus laevis)

coral trout (leopard trout) (Plectropomus

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.







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 speci
es 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.
, 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

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;

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

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


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





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.

 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. 

throat emperor

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).

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

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:

national and international requirements; and

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

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:

for the development of the management strategy;

to assess the effectiveness of the

strategy; and

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

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





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


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. 

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

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;

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

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. 





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:

capable of delivering sustainability in the UoA(s)

the legal rights

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

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

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

(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

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

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

(a) Evaluation coverage


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

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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Annex 1: “Coral trout” species productivity scores