Project number: 2023-009
Project Status:
Budget expenditure: $638,074.00
Principal Investigator: Matthew J. Campbell
Organisation: Department of Agriculture and Fisheries EcoScience Precinct
Project start/end date: 20 Jul 2023 - 11 Dec 2025


This research aims to reduce the ecological impacts of the Queensland East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery (QECOTF) on non-target species including sea snakes and small elasmobranchs, improve animal welfare outcomes of Threatened, Endangered and Protected Species (TEPS), promote safer handling practices among fishers that interact with these species, and collect data that is needed and currently unavailable to assess ecological risk. This approach addresses the priority listed in the most recent FRDC call for proposals “Reduce threatened, endangered, and protected species bycatch in the Queensland East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery”. This research aligns with Outcome 2 (Best practices and production systems) of the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) 2020-2025 Strategic Plan. The proposed research also aligns with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals including number 14: Life below water; and 12: Responsible consumption and production. Conditions of the QECOTF’s WTO accreditation, which allows for the export of product generated by the fishery, require the mitigation of ecological risk posed to those species at intermediate or high risk, as determined in previous risk assessments. Specifically, sea snakes and small elasmobranchs (skates, rays and small demersal sharks) have been identified as two components of trawl discards that are prone to elevated levels of risk due to interaction with the QECOTF. The federal government, through the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW), have stipulated that continued export accreditation is contingent upon reducing the risk posed to these catch components. More importantly, the removal of WTO accreditation will likely lead to greater scrutiny of fishing practices within the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP). Lack of further action to reduce risks to TEPS may result in restrictions in access to trawl grounds within the GBRMP, which will lead to significant economic hardship for trawl fishers.

The key outcome of this research will be a reduction in the ecological risk posed to TEPS (sea snakes, skates, rays, and small demersal sharks) by the QECOTF. This research aims to reduce catch rates of TEPS through the introduction of efficient bycatch reduction devices and strategies. The project will also lead to improvements in the accuracy of risk assessments through the collection of data that are necessary to assess risk. Estimates of escape and post-trawl survival, along with basic life history information, are lacking for all but a few TEPS, and this research will go some way to rectifying this issue. These data will be collected by fishers as part of a pilot crew member observer program (CMOP), where interested fishers will be trained in species identification and data collection. This will provide fishers with direct involvement in the collection of data used to assess risk, which is likely to increase the confidence in the outputs of risk assessments on which the data are based. To further reduce ecological risk, project staff will develop protocols that aim to improve the handling, welfare and post-release survival of TEPS; whilst improving the safety of fishers interacting with potentially dangerous TEPS (e.g. sea snakes and rays).This is particularly important for sea snakes, which are usually grasped by the tail and flung overboard, which is a practice that is harmful to the sea snakes and is likely to lead to low post-trawl survival.


1. Quantify the effect of bycatch reduction devices on sea snakes in Queensland’s trawl fishery and facilitate the uptake of these devices by industry.
2. Develop strategies to reduce the number of threatened skates, rays and demersal sharks caught by prawn trawls in southern Queensland.
3. Implement a pilot crew-member observer program to train interested fishers in collecting valuable information on threatened species including sea snakes, skates, rays, and sharks.
4. Develop protocols for the safe handling of sea snakes, skates, rays and sharks that improves post-trawl survival.

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