Fisheries Status Report
10 Sea Urchin Fishery
10.2 Description of the fishery
Two of the six species of sea urchins that occur in Victoria are commercially targeted: black (long spine) sea urchins (Centrostephanus rodgersii) and white sea urchins (Heliocidaris erythrogramma), which are also known as purple sea urchins.
See Section 2.12 on ‘protected aquatic biota’.
Unless authorised, the take of rock lobster, giant grab, jelly fish, scallop and abalone during commercial harvest of sea urchins is prohibited.
The fishery is divided into two zones. The eastern zone includes the coastal waters east of Lakes Entrance to the NSW border (primarily Mallacoota); the other zone is in Port Phillip Bay (PPB).
Recreational fishing can occur all along the Victorian coast.
The edible parts of the sea urchin are the egg masses (roe) which is harvested from inside the animal. Sea urchin roe is a prized delicacy in some Asian and Polynesian cultures, and the urchins are typically harvested seasonally when the roe is in the best condition.
This is a dive fishery, and fishers use both surface supplied (hookah) and compressed air diving equipment. Fishers use long metal tongs or gloved hands to remove urchins from the reef.
Urchins are harvested using methods similar to those used in the commercial fishery but techniques include snorkelling and scuba diving.
Management arrangements employed in the fishery
Modern fisheries management continues to move away from single-species approaches towards a broader consideration of fisheries in an ecosystem context. The management arrangements for the fishery are outlined in the Fisheries Regulations 1998 and the conditions on the permit.
Persons are not permitted to fish for sea urchins in:
- the inter-tidal zone (waters less than 2m deep), including PPB and Western Port bay.
- Marine National Parks and Marine Sanctuaries.
The sea urchin fishery was declared a Developing Fishery by a Ministerial Direction in 1998 and is managed under a permit system. Commercial fishers wanting to harvest sea urchins for sale must have a general permit. The nature of the fishery is that it provides a supplementary source of income to commercial abalone fishers, with the majority of the fishers operating in the eastern zone also authorised to dive in the abalone fishery around East Gippsland.
Up to 24 permits have been issued in the fishery at any one time, but only 10 permits are currently in operation. Permits are issued for a period of time between 1 to 3 years. Permit conditions specify fishing areas and permitted fishing methods. Only three of the 10 permits allow fishing within the PPB zone. Under the permit system, conditions may be amended by the Secretary. The DPI is taking a precautionary approach to the management of this developmental fishery and applications for new permits in recent years have been rejected in light of the pending review of management arrangements.
The Eastern Victorian Sea Urchin Divers Association (EVSUDA) represents the majority of the permit holders and has established a voluntary COP in the eastern fishing zone. The COP specifies measures to promote good resource management practices by permit holders.
Permit holders are required to meet a minimum harvest level of 3000 kg/year to retain their permit. The DPI estimates that divers would need to work for approximately 20 days per year to meet the licence condition (based on assumed average catch rate of 150 kg per day). This condition is in place to reduce latent effort and to ensure that management decisions can be made on an appropriate level of fishery dependant (catch) information.
To assist with monitoring and compliance activities, fishers are also required to report their intent to undertake fishing activity to DPI prior to undertaking fishing trips.
A RFL is required to take sea urchins (exemptions apply). A daily catch limit of 20 urchins applies to recreational fishers. Urchins must be landed whole, and the removal of roe or soft tissues prior to landing is prohibited.
Allocation between sectors
There is no formal allocation between the fishing sectors.
The management arrangements are accredited under the EPBC Act. The Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities assessed the fishery and declared the fishery as an approved WTO under section 303FN of the EPBC Act until 4 November 2011.
10.3 Catch data
Total catch of target species
As no estimate of the recreational catch is available the total catch is unknown.
Commercial catch of target species
The total commercial catch (live weight) in 2009/10 was 28 tonnes (see Table 18 and Table 19). The live weight is determined using an established conversion factor.
Incidental commercial catch
There was no reported catch of sea urchins in any other Victorian commercial fisheries. Such catch is considered negligible.
The last National Recreational and Indigenous Fishing Survey conducted in 2001 (Henry & Lyle, 2003) reported no recreational sea urchin catch in Victoria but DPI officers have anecdotal evidence of low levels of recreational sea urchin harvest from Victorian coastal waters. The majority of recreational catch is thought to occur in the waters around PPB.
Commercial catch has varied between 44 and 63 tonnes for the years 2000 to 2007.
The number of permits issued has declined in recent years. Logbook data suggests that remaining permit holders fish on average 116 days per year in PPB and 135 days per year around Mallacoota.
Due to the nature of the fishery (similar in nature to the abalone fishery), CPUE is not recorded as it does not provide a robust indicator of biomass.
Total catch of non-target byproduct and bycatch species
There is no significant bycatch or any byproduct species retained.
Sea urchins are known to aggregate on certain reef complexes and there is a potential risk of serial depletion of sea urchins in areas subject to repetitive fishing pressure.
This risk is managed by DPI by using input controls such as:
- Low commercial fishing effort through limited permit entry policy
- Conservative catch reference points
- Hand collection only
- No fishing in fisheries reserves and marine protected areas.
DPI monitors commercial fishing through a system where fishers must provide prior notification of their intent to fish before undertaking their trips.
|Black sea urchin||20||25||13||19||7||8||11|
|White sea urchin||9||12||7||12||7||9||4|
|Total||29t||37 t||20 t||31 t||14 t||17 t||15 t|
|Black sea urchin||0||2||1||0||0||0||0|
|White sea urchin||31||18||18||13||9||12||13|
|Total||31 t||18 t||18 t||13 t||9 t||12 t||13 t|
10.4 Fisheries Management
There have been no substantive changes to management arrangements in the last 12 months.
Minor amendments were made in early 2007 to catch and effort reporting and pre-fishing notification reports.
Management arrangements are reviewed annually in consultation with industry.
Given the developmental nature of the fishery and the small number of participants, consultation with the urchin industry occurs via informal structures. In general terms, consultation on significant management issues for the urchin fishery will be through meetings with permit holders for PPB and representatives from the EVSUDA.
Performance of the fishery
Blount and Worthington (2003) suggest that annual catch of up to 5% of the unexploited biomass of H. erythrogramma and C. rodgersii is sustainable. In PPB, the total biomass of white urchin was estimated as 9,100 tonnes. In eastern Victoria, the total biomass of the black urchin was estimated as 3,300 tonnes compared to 1,500 tonnes for the white urchin (Blount & Worthington 2003).
A reference point of 5% of the unexploited biomass for the sea urchin fishery is in place. Catches remain within the target range. Commercial catches are monitored annually by DPI to ensure the fishery is managed consistent with ESD principles.
There is no specific compliance strategy for the sea urchin fishery. However, DPI runs a general compliance program consisting of both education and enforcement activities that are relevant for a range of species, including sea urchins.
Fisheries Officers inspect around 30,000 recreational anglers each year in Victoria, (a small number of these contacts include inspections of recreational divers involved in fishing for sea urchins).
Compliance activities in the commercial fishery are undertaken in an opportunistic manner and on a needs basis as determined by surveillance activities and other gathered intelligence. This is supplemented by the commercial fishing activity reports that are made by permit holders.
The risk assessment process and intelligence network has indicated that this fishery is currently of low compliance risk, and as such, no relevant operations were conducted during the reporting period. The DPI will continue to monitor the situation and may conduct further targeted compliance activities to validate this assessment.
Cross-jurisdictional management arrangements
Commercial sea urchin fisheries exist in New South Wales and Tasmania, but there is no need for formal cross-jurisdictional management arrangements.
Management review processes
Commercial catch is monitored through catch returns recorded in commercial log books.
Under the management strategy for this fishery, a noticeable increase or decrease in total catch across the fishery will trigger a review of the management measures, in consultation with the fishing industry. This has not been required to date given the current level of catch (and effort) in relation to the trigger points.
Domestic and international agreements
It is a Commonwealth Government requirement that all interactions with protected species are reported in any fishery that has export accreditation under the EPBC Act.
10.5 Research and Monitoring
Previous studies have collected information on density, biomass and roe quality of sea urchins in PPB and eastern Victoria (Worthington & Blount, 2003). Information collected included an estimate of species density based on surveying fixed sites in each region and combining this with existing information to derive biomass estimates for each species.
An urchin biomass reduction trial is currently underway in eastern Victoria. This is a collaborative project between the Eastern Zone Abalone Industry Association and the Department of Primary Industries. The aim of the project is to evaluate the effectiveness of the physical reduction of urchin numbers in improving both abalone habitat and urchin roe quality on previously productive reefs.
Commercial fishers record catches in logbooks provided by DPI and submit these forms on a monthly basis.
Sea urchin stocks are also monitored as part of the abalone stock assessments, where divers note the prevalence of sea urchins and other key organisms.
No collaborative research projects or programs are currently in place.
Future research and monitoring
There are no planned research projects or programs currently proposed for this fishery, but further survey work will be considered as part of the review of management arrangements proposed to be conducted by DPI.
10.6 Status of target stock
Incidental data on sea urchin abundance is collected at specific sites as part of the annual fishery independent surveys for Victorian abalone communities. This information is considered by DPI scientists as part of the annual review of abalone stocks and reef ecosystems.
No current resource issues have been identified. The catch of sea urchins is estimated between 1 to 5% of the unexploited biomass and this falls within the sustainable harvest level.
Stock recovery strategies
10.7 Protected species
Interactions with protected species
There are no recorded interactions with protected aquatic biota.
Interaction reduction strategies
Due to the selective harvesting methods used in this dive fishery, no specific risks have been identified that require a management response.
It is a Commonwealth Government requirement that all interactions with protected species are reported in fisheries accredited under the EPBC Act.
The DPI developed a Protected Species Action Plan (November 2007) for monitoring and reporting interactions with protected species that was introduced in 2008. Under the plan, fishers are required to report any interactions with protected species on daily catch logs, and these reports are used by DPI to provide regular summaries to Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
Permit holders have been provided with a copy of the Actions Plan and a Protected Species Identification Guide.
10.8 Ecosystem effects including the effects of fishing
Ecological risk assessments
A risk assessment was conducted in 2007 (DPI, unpublished). Risks assessed as moderate or high are considered to require a management response. The following two threats were identified:
- Effect on the eastern sea urchin population from serial depletion
- Effect on Port Phillip Bay sea urchin population from serial depletion.
Under current management arrangements and harvest levels it is believed that the level of residual risk has been reduced to appropriate levels.
Fishery impacts on the ecosystem
The selective harvesting practices used in the fishery have minimal impacts on substrate and associated biota.
Ecological impact reduction strategies
The DPI is working to ensure harvest levels are maintained at safe levels, and do not exceed trigger points. The Eastern Zone Abalone Industry Association is currently proposing research be conducted to investigate reef habitats dominated by sea urchins in recognition of their potential to substantially modify the algal community such that it no longer provides suitable habitat for abalone
This proposal is supported by DPI due to the benefits it may provide to managing the abalone and sea urchin fisheries consistent with ecosystem based fisheries management principles.
External (non-fishing) impacts on the ecosystem and critical fish habitats
10.9 Social and economic values of fishing and fishery governance issues
Only limited social data is available for this developing fishery.
Ten general fishing permits exist in the fishery. Usually one permit holder would own and operate a boat with assistance from one deck hand. The fishery therefore provides a small amount of direct employment for such commercial operators.
Processing can be undertaken on land but the majority of processing is done by fishers on board their vessels (at sea).
Sea urchin roe is considered to be a delicacy in some Asian and Polynesian communities and may have cultural significance.
No formal economic monitoring is undertaken for this fishery and only limited economic data is available.
The gross value of commercial production in 2005/06 was $1.05 million and $0.91 million in 2006/07.
The fishery provides a supplementary source of income for some abalone divers in the East Gippsland region.
10.10 Fishery governance
Target catch/effort range
The fishery is classified as a developmental fishery and only limited historical catch data is available. A harvest strategy has been implemented to restrict annual catch to fewer than 5% of the unexploited biomass. Trigger points are also in place to maintain the sustainability of the resource.
Catch and effort is regulated through limiting the number of commercial permits issued and through a voluntary minimum size limit in the eastern zone. A bag limit is also in place in the recreational fishery.
The DPI has concerns over some of the data gaps in the fishery and as a precaution, is not currently accepting any new commercial permit applications until a more thorough assessment of the fishery is completed.
New management initiatives
In consultation with industry, the DPI has committed to converting sea urchin permits in to licences to provide a greater incentive for future industry development. The conversion will take into account key considerations relevant to licence allocation and sustainable fisheries management.
DPI is currently developing a new Integrated Catch and Effort reporting system which aims to facilitate electronic catch reporting including for the sea urchin industry. Sea urchin permit holders currently submit catch and effort returns on paper.
In assessing the management arrangements, DPI will also be seeking to strengthen management arrangements associated with identified risks including:
- Processing product at sea
- Improving data collection methodologies.
Henry, G.W. and Lyle, J.M. Eds. (2003) The National Recreational and Indigenous Fishing Survey. FRDC Project No. 99/158. NSW Fisheries Final Report Series No. 48. NSW Fisheries, Cronulla, NSW.
Worthington, D and Blunt, C. (2003) Research to develop and manage the sea urchin fisheries of NSW and eastern Victoria. NSW Fisheries Final Report Series No. 56. FRDC Project No. 1999/128.
|Recommendation||Progress as of December 2010|
|1. DPI to advise Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities of any material change to the Victorian sea urchin Fishery’s management arrangements that could effect the criteria on which EPBC decisions are based, within 3 months of that change being made.||Ongoing
No changes to the management arrangements requiring notification to date.
|2. Within 18 months DPI to develop a fishery specific objective linked to performance indicators and performance measures for impacts on the ecosystem.
No specific performance measure for the ecosystem exists and measures have focused on the target species to date.
In Port Phillip Bay, the total biomass of white urchin was estimated as 9,100 tonnes. In eastern Victoria, the total biomass of the black urchin was estimated as 3,300 tonnes compared to 1,500 tonnes for the white urchin, (Blount & Worthington 2003).
The findings from Blount and Worthington (2003) suggest that annual catches of 1 to 5% of the unexploited biomass of white and black urchin should be sustainable. DPI and industry has considered these findings and has decided to implement a 5% reference point for both black and white urchins.
Please also see material under “Performance of the fishery”
|3. DPI to monitor the status of the target species and ecosystem of the fishery in relation to the reference points. Within three months of becoming aware of a reference point being triggered DPI to finalise a clear timetable for the implementation of appropriate management responses.||
Under sections 67 and 152 of the Fisheries Act 1995, Victorian fisheries can be closed quickly on a spatial, temporal or gear –specific basis by ‘Fisheries Notice.’
|4. DPI to develop and implement a robust system to validate commercial logbook reporting of catch and effort in the fishery within 2 years.||In progress and ongoing
Routine inspections of logbooks completed by permit holders are conducted by DPI to validate the quality of data.
DPI is also in the process of building a new catch and effort recording system for commercial licence and permit holders. A component of the new system will provide for permit holders to enter their catch data into a secure database accessed through the internet. In time, it is envisaged that entering personal catch data directly into the new on-line system will replace the requirement to send in returns from the Departmental logbook each month to DPI.
|5. DPI to continue to develop and implement research strategies to address key gaps in the knowledge of sea urchin biology and ecological community. Should new information lead to the realisation that current take is unsustainable, or is having harmful effects on the target species or on the wider ecological community, DPI should implement strategies to address these issues.||
Please see section 4 under monitoring programs.
|6. Within 18 months, DPI to develop a process to improve estimates of recreational and Indigenous take and factor these into management arrangements.||In progress and ongoing
Recreational and indigenous fishing trends are being monitored through routine field staff observations/inspections. This process is based largely in the Port Phillip Bay region as anecdotal reports indicate that the indigenous or recreational take of urchins in East Gippsland is negligible or nil.
|7. Within 2 years DPI to develop and implement finer scale data collection and reporting and management measures to mitigate the risk of localised and serial depletion of sea urchins in the fishery.||Complete
Finer scale data collection and reporting systems have been implemented in commercial logbooks. The need for finer scale spatial management has been mitigated by highly conservative trigger reference points and current catch levels.
The proposed online catch reporting system has potential to provide more real time catch monitoring for the industry and managers. This provides a possible tool to encourage the more planned distribution of fishing effort by commercial divers should this be required in future.