Standard Talk (15 mins) Australian Society for Fish Biology Conference 2022

Discovering the potential for increased catches in a prawn trawl fishery with a problematic past (#35)

Craig Noell 1 , Lachie McLeay 1
  1. SARDI Aquatic Sciences, Henley Beach, SA, Australia

The Gulf St Vincent Prawn Fishery (GSVPF) in South Australia has undergone substantial change over its 50-year history. The fishery has endured periods of steady or increasing catches and catch rates, subsequent declines in fishery performance, and complete closures leading to several parliamentary enquiries. In 2014, an effort-based quota system was introduced. Traditionally, total allowable commercial effort (in nights) has been determined according to a decision matrix based on trends in commercial and survey CPUE. Outputs from a newly updated bioeconomic model have informed recent revisions to the harvest strategy and revealed unexpected findings. Despite the problematic history of the fishery, including clear evidence for overfishing in the last century, the model fits indicated that the resource has been lightly fished for some time and the relative biomass has fluctuated at or above 60% of unfished levels with no long-term downward trend. Given these findings, the bioeconomic model was then used to predict the effort and CPUE (commercial and survey) that would on average hold the stock at a conservative target level of 60% unfished biomass levels, with a limit level conservatively set at 40% of unfished levels (and estimated MSY). A relatively low risk strategy consisting of these revised reference levels and maximum number of nights was subsequently adopted resulting in a potential increase in the nights available to be fished. Industry has acknowledged that this strategy will lead to lower average catch rates in the fishery, but the trade-off is that it will result in higher average (although still fluctuating) total catches. Overall, the risk to the stock should still be low because the harvest strategy still requires that effort be quickly reduced if the stock declines.