Abalone

The Abalone Fishery is one of  Victoria's most valuable commercial fishery. Almost all of the catch is exported to international markets, predominately in Asia. Abalone are caught along the majority of the Victorian coastline and the fishery is primarily based on targeting blacklip abalone (Haliotis rubra). Greenlip abalone are also targeted (Haliotis laevegata). The fishery is quota managed, with a total allowable commercial catch set annually based on the outcomes of a stock assessment process.

Fishery Overview

The Abalone Fishery is one of Victoria's most valuable commercial fisheries. Almost all of the catch is exported to international markets, predominately in Asia. Abalone are caught along the majority of the Victorian coastline and the fishery is primarily based on targeting blacklip abalone (Haliotis rubra). Greenlip abalone are also targeted (Haliotis laevegata). The fishery is quota managed, with a total allowable commercial catch set annually based on the outcomes of a stock assessment process.

There has been a considerable investment in abalone research to assist the management of this valuable resource. Research has focused on understanding the nature and dynamics of the resource. A broad spectrum of information is used to model the behaviour of the fishery and the response of the resource to the impact of fishing. The primary management objective in the Victorian Abalone Fishery is to rebuild the abalone resource to ensure sustainability economic productivity.

Current Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) for the 2017/18 quota season

Eastern Zone – 352.5 tonnes blacklip
Central Zone – 274.0 tonnes blacklip, 3.4 tonnes greenlip
Western Zone – 63.2 tonnes blacklip, 1.4 tonnes greenlip

Stock Status

Blacklip abalone(Haliotis rubra)stocks within the contemporary fishing grounds are fully fished.

Greenlip abalone (Haliotis laevigata)stocks have limited abundance in the Western and Central Zones.

Abalone Fishing

Abalone Fishing 
Figure 4. Abalone Fishing

Abalone is a mollusc (shellfish). It lives on rocky reefs from the shore out into the sea to depths of 30 metres. Abalone is collected by divers who use a chisel-like, iron bar to prise it from the rocks. The divers can stay under water for long periods by using hookah gear (they breathe air supplied to them through an air-hose connected to an air compressor on their support vessel), therefore commercial divers prefer using this, rather than SCUBA gear.

Management Arrangements

The Victorian Wild Harvest Abalone Fishery Management Plan specifies the objectives, strategies and actions for managing the fishery for at least five years from the declaration of the plan.

The commercial fishery commenced in 1962 and during its relatively short history has been subject to fairly intensive management in the form of legal minimum lengths, zonation of the fishery, limited entry and quotas.

There are 71 fishery access licences in the Victorian Abalone Fishery, which is subdivided into three management zones. The licences are distributed across the three management zones, with 14 in the Western Zone, 34 in the central zone and 23 in the Eastern Zone. This means a maximum of 71 divers can operate on any particular day.

Some divers harvest abalone on behalf of more than one licence holder and some holders own more than one licence. Licence ownership may be by individuals or businesses and units of quota may be temporarily transferred among licence holders for the duration of a quota year. The quota year commences on 1 April and continues until 31 March of the following year. The key management controls for the Abalone Fishery are outlined in the table below.

Legal minimum size limits

Element

Commercial Fishery

Recreational Fishery

Access to fishery

Entry limited to holders of an Abalone Fishery Access Licence

Limited number of licences for each fishery zone

Open access

Recreational Fishery Access Licence (unless exempt)

Management zones

Western Zone, Central Zone and Eastern Zone

Statewide

Output control

Total Allowable Commercial Catch and Individual Transferable Quotas

Daily bag and possession limit

Size limits

Legal minimum size limits

Legal minimum size limits

Allowed fishing method & equipment

Abalone tool

Skindiving, SCUBA, hookah equipment

Abalone tool

Skindiving, SCUBA, hookah equipment

Other input controls

Permanent closure for greenlip abalone in Port Phillip Bay

Fishing only allowed between sunrise and sunset

Permanent closure for greenlip abalone in Port Phillip Bay

Fishing only allowed between sunrise and sunset

Method of monitoring

Quota Management System

Random and targeted inspections

Random and targeted inspections

Commercial Fishery


Western Zone

Central Zone

Eastern Zone

Zone boundaries (Figure 1)

South Australian border to  Longitude 142o31'E, and south to  Latitude 40oS

Longitude 142o31'E to  Longitude 148oE, and south to  Latitude 39o12'S

Longitude 148oE to New South Wales border, and south to  Latitude 39o12'S

Maximum number of licences

14

34

23

Number of blacklip individual quota units

280

680

460

Number of greenlip individual quota units

14

34

0

Maximum number of licences per boat

Not limited

Minimum quota holding per licence

5 units

Maximum quota holding per licence/individual

No maximum

Total Allowable Commercial Catch

The Victorian Fisheries Authority (VFA) undertakes a process to set the Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) for abalone each year. Before setting a TACC, the department undertakes a stock assessment which provides information on the status of abalone stocks. This information is considered by the department and industry at TACC Forums in each management zone. At the forums, a TACC is recommended, through a weight of evidence approach, on a sustainable level of catch. Based on the forum recommendations,  proposes a draft TACC for each abalone management zone, which is released for a period of public consultation before making a final decision. The process for setting the abalone TACC is summarised in the flow chart.

Abalone Chart 

Stock Assessment

Research and development is an important component of abalone fishery management. There has been a considerable investment in abalone research in Victoria and the other south-eastern states. The combined expertise and facilities of these states ensures that the abalone resource is well researched and monitored.

Nonetheless, there are biological processes and ecological relationships that are not well understood, owing to the difficulties posed by conducting field experiments in areas subjected to strong wave energy. In addition, monitoring early life history processes such as larval, post-larval and juvenile abalone densities has mostly proved intractable as a consequence of sporadic patterns of spawning and settlement as well as occupancy of cryptic habitat. This invariably leads to the need for assumptions or the use of surrogate measures to conduct stock assessments.

The abalone resource is well monitored and understood relative to many other commercially exploited species. The setting of TACCs and legal minimum lengths are informed by an annual stock assessment. The stock assessment gathers data sourced from the fishery as well as independent monitoring undertaken by the department. The abalone stock assessment program uses the following information:

  • Fishery independent abundance surveys;
  • Length frequency from commercial catch sampling and independent monitoring;
  • Dive related information (e.g. depth, temperature and location);
  • Diver observations;
  • Catch rates / catch per unit effort data;
  • Catch history;
  • Fishery modelling; and
  • Other available research, such as maturity, spawning potential, natural mortality, growth and biomass estimates.

TACC Forums

Industry TACC Forums are undertaken in each of abalone management zone to consider the information provided by the stock assessment and provide recommendations to the Minister on the TACC and associated management arrangements. The workshops are facilitated by an independent chairperson and are open to attendance by all commercial quota holders, commercial abalone divers, representatives of the recreational fishing sector and other relevant stakeholders.

The department presents the annual abalone stock assessment to the forum including fishery modelling that has been undertaken. Industry is also able to provide their views and observations on how the resource is fishing, as well as discuss any research they may have undertaken independently. This information is considered by divers, licence and quota holders, VFA fishery managers and scientists, and other stakeholders in a structured weight of evidence approach to recommend a TACC.

The forum process is designed to:

  • Recommend the TACC for abalone during the following fishing season.
  • Identify and maintain sustainable catch levels and appropriate legal minimum lengths for individual spatial management units;
  • Be responsive to changes in the fishery, both natural and human-induced;
  • Provide flexibility around adjusting legal minimum lengths and catch targets;
  • Facilitate agreement over management actions;
  • Allow prioritisation of research and stock assessment effort; and
  • Increase industry participation in the management of the fishery.

Reports and publications

Abalone Central Zone Fishery 

The establishment of a single representative body for the Victorian Abalone Industry Central Zone.

A Review of Rebuilding Options for the Victorian Abalone Fishery

Victorian Wild Harvest Abalone Fishery Management Plan (2015)

Review of the Disease Investigation Relating to a Herpes Like Virus Infection of Abalone in Victoria

Development of Management Strategies for Herpes-like Virus Infection in Abalone

An Epidemiological Analysis of the Events Surrounding a New Disease in Abalone