The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), Fisheries Queensland and the Queensland Seafood Industry Association (QSIA) are working in partnership on a project to bring together and review the available ecological information on the East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery (ECOTF).

The collaborative project is called 'Ecological Risk Assessment of the East Coast Trawl Fishery in the Great Barrier Reef'.

Over the past decade, a number of significant scientific projects have been completed providing a substantial information base to guide management of the East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery in the Great Barrier Reef and its interactions with the environment.

The management practices adopted for the fishery over the last ten years include limitations in the area available for trawling, substantial reductions in fishing effort and fleet size, the adoption of turtle excluder devices and other by-catch reduction devices, and the implementation of a satellite-based vessel monitoring system.

The Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2009 recognised that these management practices have substantially addressed the risk of trawling to the Great Barrier Reef.

Project update December 2011

Substantial progress on the Ecological Risk Assessment of the East Coast Trawl Fishery in the Great Barrier Reef has been made.

Strong support and expert advice has been provided from a number of organisations such as the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, CSIRO and trawl industry members.

Key findings to date include:

  • The ecological risk assessment of the East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery indicated that under current practices and effort levels overall ecological risks from trawling in the Great Barrier Reef are relatively low.
  • The assessment found that most seabed species, shelf habitat types, species assemblages and ecosystem processes are currently at low and acceptable risk from the East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery in the Great Barrier Reef.
  • The project has updated our understanding of the remaining risks from trawling in the Great Barrier Reef, and managers are working in partnership with industry to prioritise and address these few remaining risks.
  • Some high ecological risks remain from trawling, particularly for deepwater skates and several rays, sea snakes, Balmain bugs and an upper slope habitat (100 to 300 metres) in the southern Great Barrier Reef that includes deepwater eastern king prawn fishing grounds.
  • Fishing effort levels are a key driver of ecological risk and impacts from trawling. Risk may increase if fishing effort levels increase, and this needs to be carefully managed.
  • The overall environmental footprint of the East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery was lower in 2009 compared to 2005 as a result of a substantial reduction (over 40 per cent) in fishing effort and fewer active boats in response to less favourable economic circumstances.
  • The assessment findings validated previous management actions implemented to address ecological sustainability concerns about trawling, and found that risks and impacts from trawling have been significantly reduced over the last decade.
  • Positive steps are being taken by fishers to reduce the pressure on the Great Barrier Reef as part of their efforts towards a sustainable economic and environmental future.
  • Continuing to take positive actions to improve trawl fishery management and practices is important for maintaining the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef, for which the overall outlook has recently been assessed as poor, in the light of serious threats, especially from climate change.
  • Protection of areas through Marine Park zoning and areas closed to trawling under fisheries legislation is critical for protection of productive habitats, biodiversity conservation and maintaining ecosystem resilience.
  • Fishery management tools that actively manage effort within sustainable levels for each of the key trawl fishery sectors are required to control risks and impacts on harvested species and the environment.
  • Taking the target catch efficiently and at levels which maximise economic return reduces trawl by-catch and minimises the fishery footprint.
  • The ongoing program of by-catch reduction, adoption of best practice turtle excluder devices (TEDs) and by-catch reduction devices (BRDs) throughout the fishery, and related efforts to reduce remaining risks for species of conservation concern are important for improving community confidence in the sustainability of the fishery.

A detailed report on the Ecological Risk Assessment for the East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery is currently being finalised and will be available when completed.

Further information on the project

Information sheet 1: Ecological Risk Assessment of the East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery