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Blacklip Abalone (2018)

Haliotis rubra rubra

  • Craig Mundy (Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania)
  • Lachlan Strain (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia)
  • Victorian Fisheries Authority (Victorian Fisheries Authority)
  • Rowan Chick (Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales)
  • Stephen Mayfield (South Australian Research and Development Institute)
  • Ben Stobart (South Australian Research and Development Institute)

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Summary

Blacklip Abalone is harvested in NSW, SA, TAS and VIC, with twelve management zones. Stocks are sustainable in four zones, depleting in 6 zones and depleted in 2 zones.

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Fisheries Stock status Indicators
Victoria Victoria Central Zone Fishery VCZF Depleting Catch, CPUE, fishery independent surveys
Victoria Victoria Eastern Zone Fishery VEZF Depleting Catch, CPUE, fishery independent surveys
Victoria Victoria Western Zone Fishery VWZF Sustainable Catch, CPUE, fishery independent surveys
VCZF
Victorian Central Zone Fishery (VIC)
VEZF
Victorian Eastern Zone Fishery (VIC)
VWZF
Victorian Western Zone Fishery (VIC)
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Stock Structure

There are substantial difficulties in applying classical stock assessment models to abalone resources, given the possibly large number of stocks in each fishery. In some regions Haliotis rubra rubra also displays spatially variable growth rates and maturity curves. All jurisdictions therefore rely on indicators and empirical performance measures, primarily catch and catch per unit effort (CPUE; as kg of abalone harvested per hour). CPUE from individual fishing events is relevant locally but not indicative of status broadly [Parma et al. 2003], and status of the many populations in a management unit cannot be assumed to be trending in the same direction. Thus, the average CPUE across each spatial reporting unit provides the broader perspective for fishery assessment. The annual catch by Blacklip Abalone fisheries is generally close to the established total allowable commercial catches (TACCs), with little over-catch or under-catch of the TACC. In some jurisdictions, additional fishery-independent data (density, size composition) are available from underwater research surveys.

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Stock Status

There are substantial difficulties in applying classical stock assessment models to abalone resources, given the possibly large number of stocks in each fishery. In some regions Haliotis rubra rubra also displays spatially variable growth rates and maturity curves. All jurisdictions therefore rely on indicators and empirical performance measures, primarily catch and catch per unit effort (CPUE; as kg of abalone harvested per hour). CPUE from individual fishing events is relevant locally but not indicative of status broadly [Parma et al. 2003], and status of the many populations in a management unit cannot be assumed to be trending in the same direction. Thus, the average CPUE across each spatial reporting unit provides the broader perspective for fishery assessment. The annual catch by Blacklip Abalone fisheries is generally close to the established total allowable commercial catches (TACCs), with little over-catch or under-catch of the TACC. In some jurisdictions, additional fishery-independent data (density, size composition) are available from underwater research surveys.

Tasmania

The Tasmanian abalone fishery has been quota managed with an annual TACC since 1985, and up to 1999 there was a single Tasmanian TACC that did not differentiate between species or area. In response to increased regional fishing pressure through the late-1990s, separate TACCs for Greenlip Abalone and Blacklip Abalone were implemented in 2000, and the Blacklip Abalone fishery was divided into two zones: Eastern Blacklip, Western Blacklip. In addition, finer-scale reporting of fishing within sub-blocks was introduced. Further spatial partitioning of the Tasmanian Blacklip Abalone fishery occurred in 2001, with the northern areas of the Eastern and Western Zone classified as a Northern Blacklip Zone. In 2003, the Northern Zone was split into two zones (Northern Blacklip and Bass Strait Blacklip) with different size limits. In 2009, the Western Blacklip Zone was split into Western Blacklip and Central West Blacklip zones. In 2013 the boundary between the Western and Central West Blacklip zones was moved northwards.

A live export market established in the early 1990s increasing rapidly to take the majority of the catch by the early 2000s. More than 65 per cent of the total Tasmanian wild abalone harvest is now exported live to Asia, with the remaining fraction processed in canned or frozen form. Since the development of the live export market the beach price for abalone destined for live export has been marginally higher than for processed export markets. This price difference has substantially altered fishery dynamics and created significant assessment and management challenges for the past two decades. Initially the margin between live and processed export product was approximately $2/Kg. In 2017 the beach price for export quality live abalone was almost double the beach price for canned product, exacerbating challenges around avoiding spatially concentrated catch within quota years as fishers, processors and investors seek to maximise profits.

An empirical harvest strategy (HS) was developed for the Tasmanian abalone fisheries in 2014–15 and tested using Management Strategy Evaluation (MSE) [Buxton et al. 2015, Haddon et al. 2014, Haddon and Mundy 2016]. The HS was trialled in the Tasmanian abalone fishery assessment in 2015 and 2016, jointly with the previous ad hoc approach, and used as the basis of TACC decisions in 2017 [Mundy and McAllister 2018]. The HS assesses the fishery performance against target reference points for three performance measures (PM) derived from standardised CPUE (SCPUE) data: current CPUE relative to an agreed target (55th percentile of the annual standardised mean CPUE within the reference period); the four year gradient of CPUE (target gradient is zero); and the per cent change in CPUE in the past year (target change is zero). The reference period is adaptive, including all years from 1992 onwards. A scoring function is applied to the three PMs resulting in a score between zero and 10, where five is the target PM value and zero and 10 are the zone-wide lowest and highest values for that PM within the reference period. In the 2017 assessment, weightings were also applied to the three PMs at 065:0.25:01 respectively, as part of the control rule used to set the TACC from the performance measure scores. The HS is applied individually to each statistical reporting block, and a zone score is obtained from the mean block score weighted by block catch.

The zone target CPUEPM score is used as a proxy for biomass and the zone gradient SCPUE PM score is used as a proxy for fishing mortality. These proxies were developed specifically to meet the requirements of the SAFS assessment and reporting process, as a decision tool for determining when a fishery has transitioned across the threshold between two SAFS categories (e.g. depleting to depleted). However, these are relative indicators (detecting change over time) and are not considered to be indicative of actual biomass.

A target CPUE score of one is used as the limit reference point (LRP) defining the boundary between depleted and depleting for all Tasmanian management units. This LRP is typically five per cent above the lowest CPUE observed within the zone during the reference period. A negative zone gradient score gives evidence that fishing mortality is increasing, and the magnitude of the zone gradient provides some information on the magnitude of fishing mortality. The four year gradient PM score spans a possible range of negative five to positive five, giving a target reference point of zero, defining the boundary between sustainable and transitional–depleting classifications. The combination of a negative CPUE gradient and near-record low CPUE score represents a cautious proxy for the true recruitment overfished reference point. No reporting blocks have become depleted under this decision rule within the reference period, providing a degree of confidence that the LRP will prevent stock collapse, as predicted by MSE testing of the HS.

The draft Tasmanian Abalone Fishery Management Plan requires that size limits be established that protect abalone for two breeding seasons post-reproductive maturity. Research programs to obtain empirical data representing the geographic variability in growth rates and size at reproductive maturity have been underway since 1985, resulting in a range of LML regulations within the Tasmanian Blacklip Abalone fisheries ranging from 110–145 mm.

South Australia

In South Australia, the current harvest strategy in the Management Plan for the commercial abalone fishery [PIRSA 2012] produces a catch weighted determination of stock status for the fishing zone. However, the harvest strategy does not (1) identify performance indicators or reference points for classifying the fishery under the Status of Australian Fish Stocks framework; or (2) deliver a stock status consistent with fishery performance [Burnell et al. 2016, Stobart et al. 2016]. Concerns with the harvest strategy have resulted in a review currently underway. Consequently, in this assessment, a weight-of-evidence approach based on a range of indicators is used. Nominal commercial catch rates (CPUE based on meat weight in the Central and Western Zone management units and shell [whole] weight in the Southern Zone management unit), and densities from fishery-independent surveys, are used as the primary indices of relative South Australia Blacklip Abalone abundance [Burnell et al. 2016, Dowling et al. 2004, Shepherd and Rodda 2001, Stobart et al. 2016, Tarbath et al. 2014].

Victoria Central Zone Fishery

Consistent with other Victorian management units, commercial CPUE doubled from about 50 kg per hour in the early 1980s to around 100 kg per hour in the early-2000s. The increase is thought to be at least partly due to changes in fishing practices that improved fishing efficiency [VFA 2017a]. Similar patterns have been observed during the same period in the other Australian Blacklip Abalone jurisdictions, which have been partially attributed to increased exploitable biomass. The introduction of a TACC in the Victoria Central Zone in 1988 was anticipated to improve biomass and contribute to the CPUE increases to some extent. The TACC was stable for more than a decade prior to the introduction of marine parks, probably because catch quotas were not linked to biomass trends at that time [Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment 1996].

Since the peak in the early-2000s CPUE has shown a declining trend, and by 2017–18 was almost one quarter lower at 74 kg per hour. Some of the smaller short-term fluctuations in CPUE during the past decade may be attributable to increases and decreases in abalone size limits. The abalone viral ganglioneuritis (AVG) outbreak west of Cape Otway contributed to a 50 t decline in catches and probably reduced catch rates to some extent. The TACC was reduced substantially from 620 t in 2006–07 to 285 t in 2010–11, following which it has fluctuated between years by up to 8 per cent. The TACC has been set at 274 t for the past two years. Trends in abundance estimated from FIS data were consistent with observed declines in CPUE, showing a major decline since 2003 of approximately 50–60 per cent in the number of pre-recruit and recruits. Both FIS indices have been relatively stable since 2010.

The stable, but relatively low, levels in fishery-independent survey indices indicates that the decline in biomass observed over two decades may have stabilised, but there is no evidence of recovery and commercial CPUE has decreased by 14 per cent during the past decade [VFA 2017a]. However, pre-recruit abundance levels are similar to those for recruits, implying that that reasonable recruitment has been occurring at recent stock levels. The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be depleted and that recruitment is unlikely to be impaired.

Based on this evidence, the Victoria Central Zone Fishery management unit is classified as a depleting stock.

Victoria Eastern Zone Fishery

The Eastern Zone management unit was not affected by AVG but has seen impacts from environmental and ecosystem changes such as range expansion by the Long Spined Sea Urchin (Centrostephanus rodgersii). These urchins denude reefs of macro-algae, turning the reefs into ‘barrens’ that are unsuitable for abalone. Significant areas of reef in the Eastern Zone have been rendered unsuitable for abalone due to urchin expansion over the past 20 years [Gorfine et al. 2012]. Industry has a history of stewardship and working with fishery managers to sustain the fishery, including active control of urchins at reefs near Mallacoota for the last eight years. The urchin range extension has led to increased fishing effort on urchin-free reef areas, with increased risk of localised depletion.

In common with other jurisdictions, improvements in fishing methods have also occurred in this management unit and are thought to have contributed to fishing efficiency-related increases in CPUE from the mid-1990s–early-2000s. The introduction of a TACC in the Victoria Eastern Zone in 1988 was anticipated to improve biomass and contribute to the CPUE increases to some extent. The TACC was stable for more than a decade prior to the introduction of marine parks, probably because catch quotas were not linked to biomass trends at that time [Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment 1996].

At the zonal scale, commercial CPUE increased from about 70 kg per hour after quota introduction in 1989 to a peak of 120 kg per hour in 2012 [VFA 2017b]. It then declined by 21 per cent in 2017 before a 10 per cent increase during the most recent year. Most sub-zonal SMUs units have also shown declines in CPUE since 2012 with a subsequent 10–18 per cent upswing between 2016–17 and 2017–2018. There has been a 10 per cent decrease in CPUE between the most recent five year period and the preceding five year period, notwithstanding the 2017–18 upswing. However, the management unit is not currently considered to be depleted because CPUE indicates that biomass is now close to levels during the mid-1990s to mid-2000s (~ 90 kg per hour).

The fishery-independent survey indices show pre-recruit abundance declined from historically high levels in 1995 by almost 70 per cent in 2015, after which it has remained stable. From 1995–2015, the survey index of recruit abundance declined by 50 per cent and has since remained relatively steady [VFA 2017b]. In response to declining CPUE and survey indices, there has been an incremental reduction of TACCs since 2008–09, from 490 t in that year to 347 t for the current 2018–19 quota year. While there are signs of recent stability in the pre-recruit and recruit survey indices, it is too soon to tell whether this stability will continue, or if the current management arrangements and quota reductions are sufficient to prevent further decline and allow the stock to rebuild. The recent declines in CPUE across much of the management unit are concerning, as is the ongoing vulnerability of the management unit to further habitat loss from urchins. Although the evidence indicates that biomass is declining in the management unit, it is not yet considered to be a depleted stock.

For the periods 1995 to 2015 and 2012 to 2017, fishery independent and dependent performance measures respectively indicate that the biomass declined, but the stock is not yet considered to be depleted and recruitment is not yet impaired. Despite lower quotas, the fishing mortality is currently at a level that the stock is declining. The prospect of ongoing decline is exacerbated by habitat loss, indicating reasonable risk of the fishery becoming recruitment impaired.

Based on the evidence provided above, the Victoria Eastern Zone Fishery management unit is classified as a depleting stock.

Victoria Western Zone Fishery

The Western Zone management unit has undergone significant changes over its recent history. Most notable was the impact of an outbreak of Abalone Viral Ganglioneuritis (AVG) in 2006. Industry has worked with fishery managers since that time to respond to the disease outbreak, including development of a draft harvest strategy for the fishery. Abalone mortalities due to the disease severely reduced the biomass and resulted in a major reduction in TACC for this zone from 280 t in 2001–02 to 20 t in 2008–09. While some fishing occurred on uninfected reefs for a period immediately after the disease was first recognised, by 2008 most areas in the Western Zone had been impacted and/or were closed to fishing. These events complicate comparisons between recent and historical fishery-dependent and independent data.

Progression of the disease through the fishery had abated by 2009. This enabled fishers and researchers to conduct a structured fishing program [Mayfield et al. 2011], where divers were assigned precise fishing locations, to gather information and assess the capacity of remaining stocks to support a viable commercial fishery. Only trends in commercial CPUE from 2011 onwards are used in this assessment, due to the large changes in fishing and management of the fishery that occurred because of the disruptive effects of AVG. Fishing has been kept low since that time by a precautionary TACC set at approximately 50 t. Since SAFS 2016, the TACC has been increased to 70 t reflecting increases in estimates of exploitable biomass of abalone with shell lengths larger than 130 mm. Recent TACCs have been set at around 10 per cent of the estimated biomass of legal-sized abalone [Helidoniotis and Haddon 2014, WADA 2016].

Commercial CPUE for the management unit increased by 73 per cent from 1979–2001, a period influenced by changes in the sophistication of management strategies, change in fishing practice and adoption of improved technology, which led to increased efficiency of the fleet. The introduction of a TACC in the Victoria Western Zone in 1988 was anticipated to improve biomass and is likely to have contributed contribute to the CPUE increases to some extent. The TACC was stable for more than a decade prior to the introduction of marine parks, probably because catch quotas were not linked to biomass trends at that time [Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment 1996]. The CPUE during 2001–06 declined slightly, until the 2006 AVG outbreak caused substantial declines in catch and catch rate. In 2007, the highest average annual CPUE on record occurred, most likely due to contraction of fishing grounds to disease-free areas and reversion from previous, larger voluntary size limits to smaller sizes [Gorfine et al. 2008, Mayfield et al. 2011]. After normal fishing practices resumed in 2011 and divers were free to choose where to fish, CPUE increased rapidly until 2013. This increase was likely to have arisen from divers being able to target the more productive reefs again after structured fishing ended. Catch-per-unit-effort during the past two years has been 77 kg per hour, the same as the pre-disease average for the period 1992/93 - 2003/04, and comparable with the other two management units [VFA 2017c].

The FIS data from 2003 onwards clearly show the impact of the AVG mortalities. Survey abundance indices for both pre-recruits and recruits showed 32 per cent and eight per cent less abundance respectively in 2018, compared with the pre-disease averages during 1995–2006 [VFA 2017c]. Since 2010 pre-recruit abundance has increased more than three-fold and recruit abundance has increased by 75 per cent since 2008 [VFA 2017c]. During the past year the former has again decreased by six per cent and the latter by 21 per cent. This might mean that the recovery has reached its zenith, but further years of independent monitoring will be required before this can be determined. The above evidence indicates that the biomass of the stock is unlikely to be depleted, and that AVG did not disrupt the fundamental breeding and juvenile recruitment processes.

Fishery-dependent and independent information indicate that the management unit has been stable since 2011, although at a much lower biomass than pre-AVG. The recent stability of the commercial CPUE under the higher LML of 130 mm, combined with stability of the fishery-independent pre-recruit and recruit survey indices, indicate that the current management arrangements are constraining fishing pressure sufficiently to avert decline in exploitable biomass. Signs are now evident of an increase in pre-recruit abundance during recent years, indicating that the stock has been rebuilding despite progressive increases in TACC [VFA 2017c].

The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to become further depleted than was caused by AVG, and that current recruitment is unlikely to be impaired. Although the stock is not expected to be able to support pre-AVG catch levels in the short to medium term, the above evidence indicates that the current level of fishing pressure is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment impaired.

Based on the evidence provided above, the Victoria Western Zone Fishery management unit is classified as a sustainable stock.

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Biology

Blacklip Abalone biology [Officer 1999, Shepherd 1973, Tarbath et al. 2001, Tarbath and Officer 2003]

Biology
Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Blacklip Abalone 20–50 years, 150–220 mm SL  ~ 5 years, 80–130 mm SL  
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Distributions

Distribution of reported commercial catch of Blacklip Abalone

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Tables

Fishing methods
Victoria
Commercial
Diving
Recreational
Diving
Management methods
Method Victoria
Charter
Bag limits
Gear restrictions
Licence
Size limit
Spatial closures
Temporal closures
Commercial
Effort limits
Gear restrictions
Licence
Limited entry
Size limit
Spatial closures
Total allowable catch
Recreational
Bag limits
Gear restrictions
Licence
Size limit
Spatial closures
Temporal closures
Active vessels
Victoria
34 in VCZF, 23 in VEZF, 14 in VWZF
VCZF
Victorian Central Zone Fishery (VIC)
VEZF
Victorian Eastern Zone Fishery (VIC)
VWZF
Victorian Western Zone Fishery (VIC)
Catch
Victoria
Commercial 314.91t in VCZF, 355.65t in VEZF, 64.44t in VWZF
Indigenous None
Recreational Unknown
VCZF
Victorian Central Zone Fishery (VIC)
VEZF
Victorian Eastern Zone Fishery (VIC)
VWZF
Victorian Western Zone Fishery (VIC)

New South Wales – Indigenous (Management Methods) (a) The Aboriginal cultural fishing authority is the authority that Indigenous persons can apply to take catches outside the recreational limits under the Fisheries Management Act 1994 (NSW), Section 37 (1d)(3)(9), Aboriginal cultural fishing authority; (b) In cases where the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) applies fishing activity can be undertaken by the person holding native title in line with S.211 of that Act, which provides for fishing activities for the purpose of satisfying their personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs. In managing the resource where native title has been formally recognised, the native title holders are engaged with to ensure their native title rights are respected and inform management of the State's fisheries resources.

Victoria Indigenous (Management Methods) In Victoria, regulations for managing recreational fishing may not apply to fishing activities by Indigenous people. Victorian traditional owners may have rights under the Commonwealth's Native Title Act 1993 to hunt, fish, gather and conduct other cultural activities for their personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs without the need to obtain a licence. Traditional Owners that have agreements under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 (Vic) may also be authorised to fish without the requirement to hold a recreational fishing licence. Outside of these arrangements, Indigenous Victorians can apply for permits under the Fisheries Act 1995 (Vic) that authorise fishing for specific Indigenous cultural ceremonies or events (for example, different catch and size limits or equipment).

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Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Blacklip Abalone - note confidential catch not shown

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References

  1. Burnell, O, Mayfield, S and Bailleul, F 2018, Central Zone Greenlip Abalone (Haliotis laevigata) and Blacklip Abalone (H. rubra) fishery in 2017. Report for PIRSA Fisheries and Aquaculture. South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide. SARDI Publication No. F2007/000611-9. SARDI Research Report Series No. 1003. 84pp.
  2. Burnell, O, Mayfield, S, Ferguson, G and Carroll J 2016, Central Zone Abalone (Haliotis laevigata & H. rubra) Fishery. Fishery Assessment Report for PIRSA Fisheries and Aquaculture. 2016.
  3. Buxton, CD, Cartright, I, Dichmont, C, Mayfield, S and Plaganyi EE 2015, Review of the Harvest Strategy and MCDA process for the Tasmanian Abalone Fishery. Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies.
  4. Dowling, NA, Hall, SJ and McGarvey R 2004, Assessing population sustainability and response to fishing in terms of aggregation structure for Greenlip Abalone (Haliotis laevigata) fishery management. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Science 2004; 61: 247–259.
  5. Ferguson, G, Mayfield, S and Hogg, A 2018, Status of the Southern Zone Blacklip (Haliotis rubra) and Greenlip (H. laevigata) Abalone Fisheries in 2016/17. Report for PIRSA Fisheries and Aquaculture. South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide. SARDI Publication No. F2014/000359-3. SARDI Research Report Series No. 985. 29pp.
  6. Gorfine, H, Bell, J, Mills, K, Lewis, Z 2012, Removing sea urchins (Centrostephanus rodgersii) to recover abalone (Haliotis rubra) habitat. Department of Primary Industries, Queenscliff, Victoria, Australia.
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