2016 Fishery Independent Survey Finishes

The 2016 Fishery Independent Survey (FIS) project has just wrapped up, marking the eighth year since the first one was carried out in 2008. Some elements of the survey were revised to take into account the recommendations from a recent independent review by the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA). Those changes tightened up the survey procedures, and aimed to reduce variability.

The FIS used three commercial fishing vessels to conduct survey tows in the eastern, western and New South Wales regions of the SESSF between July and September of 2016. The vessels conducted a total of 190 valid shots over 16 trips comprising 72 sea days. In addition to catch rate data, the survey also collected a total of 16,278 length measurements from 28 different species and otolith (ear bones which are used to age fish) samples from 1,875 fish comprising 19 different species.

The main quota species caught were Blue Grenadier (44.1 t), Silver Warehou (23.7 t), Tiger Flathead (10.3 t), Mirror Dory (5.0 t) and Pink Ling (4.3 t). Pink Ling, Silver Warehou and Tiger Flathead, and were observed in the greatest number of survey shots.

The 2016 FIS is the fifth survey in the time series and over that time there has been a steady increase in the relative abundance of Western Pink Ling, Eastern Gemfish, Western Gemfish, Tasmanian Flathead, Ribaldo, Red Gurnard and Speckled Stargazer. All management units of Jackass Morwong, Blue Warehou, and Frostfish have declined and the relative abundance of Eastern Pink Ling, Eastern Gummy Shark, Western Gummy Shark, School Shark, Common Sawshark and King Dory have remained relatively steady.

Five species (Royal Red Prawn, Blue Grenadier, Jack Mackerel, Red Gurnard, Draughtboard Shark and Speckled Stargazer) show both an increase in total catch weight compared to all previous winter surveys and an increase in catch of more than 50% compared to the 2014 survey.  In contrast, four species (Eastern Gemfish, Silver Trevally, Alfonsino and Frostfish) show both a decrease in total catch weight compared to all previous winter surveys and a decrease in catch of more than 50% compared to the 2014 survey. Compared to the previous winter surveys, both the catch weights and the number of shots in which they were caught were considerably reduced in 2016 for Eastern Gemfish, Jackass Morwong, Ocean Perch, Deepwater Flathead, Silver Dory and Spikey Oreodory.

Undertaking a FIS is a significant financial investment for industry and the cost is partially offset by selling the fish caught during the survey. A ‘research allowance’ is allocated for all catches of quota species and is deducted from the following year’s commercial quota. Industry vessels are chartered under an arrangement where vessels are paid a daily or per-shot charter rate. To reduce costs and ensure that the vessel contracts are cost effective, SETFIA is the principle investigator (project manager) of the FIS. The implementation of a new cost recovery policy in 2017 will result in some funding from AFMA to cover 25% of the cost of future surveys.

All information from the FIS survey has been provided to CSIRO for use in the 2017 stock assessments and data summaries.