Snapper has been small part of the South East Trawl Fishery’s catch for more than 100 years and is an unavoidable part of the sector’s 10,000 tonne catch of other species. There is also a separate, healthy commercial snapper catch in Port Phillip Bay licenced by Victoria which catches around 130 tonnes. Snapper is an iconic recreational species with anglers in Victoria catching more than 500 tonnes.
In recent years fishermen in the South East Trawl Fishery have unfortunately been forced to discard any snapper they caught in excess of 200 kgs per trip. Most, if not all discarded snapper is discarded dead. This management measure aimed to discourage trawl fishermen from targeting snapper but had the perverse outcome of often forcing the infrequent catches of snapper to be discarded dead.
The issue is particularly timely given recent data from Port Phillip Bay suggesting that the snapper there have undergone poor recruitment recently.
However, AFMA and SETFIA have found a better way.
Under the management arrangements in place SETFIA is able to grant an exemption to the 200 kg trip limit provided the skipper believes they can make a case that the snapper was taken incidentally. Skippers call before landing the snapper and are questioned about things such as the catches on other vessels in the area and their recent history of snapper catches. All landings under this exemption must be pre-reported to AFMA which allows them time to have someone meet the vessel or follow up later on to ensure that the catch was unavoidable. All vessels have satellite tracking which AFMA can review.
South East Trawl snapper catches since the co-management arrangement started have been lower than most years and in almost a year only four exemptions have been required. Some exemptions have been made for amounts just over the 200 kg limit and in total only about 8 tonnes of snapper have been landed under the scheme to date. Total South East Trawl catches over the last year are less than 20 tonnes or around 3% of the total catch.
Interestingly, much of this year’s snapper catch came from waters deeper than 200m which may come as a surprise to recreational anglers.