Rock Lobster Fishery Management

Fishery Management

The Tasmanian Department of Natural Resources & Environment (NRE Tas) manages the fishery with the Rock Lobster Fishery Management Plan (the Fisheries (Rock Lobster) Rules 2011) under the Living Marine Resources Management Act (1995).  The Rock Lobster Fishery Management Plan regulates both commercial and non-commercial catches in 8 management areas around Tasmania.

Schematic boundaries of the stock assessment areas for the rock lobster fishery.

Management of the southern rock lobster fishery is informed by the Tasmanian Crustacean Fisheries Advisory Committee (CFAC). The CFAC is composed of industry representatives, community group and scientific advisors who together advise the Tasmanian Minister for Natural Resources & Environment (NR&E) on changes to the management controls of the rock lobster fishery.

The sustainable management of the commercial and non-commercial southern rock lobster fishery is regulated by NRE through input and output controls. Input controls include entry limits, and spatial and temporal closures. Output controls include gear restrictions and limitations, bag limits, size limits, total allowable commercial catch (TACCs), total allowable recreational catch (TARCs) and individual transferable quotas (ITQs).

The annual rock lobster stock assessment conducted by IMAS researchers provides a review of current fishery status and model predictions of the future trajectory of the fishery. This stock assessment information is used to implement the harvest strategy — set annual total allowable catch limits and regional catch caps. The stock assessment model is also used to evaluate the impacts of other suggested management changes such as the recent increase in the lobster size limit in the North-West of Tasmania.

The Tasmanian rock lobster fishery is divided into 11 regional management areas. Over the past decade the fishery has progressed towards regionally focused management. This regional approach to managing the rock lobster fishery is required as rock lobsters once settled are sessile with little movement between regions. Different regions are also exploited at different intensities due to differences in ease of access and the population distribution. Consequently, a catch cap for the combined catch of recreational and commercial fisheries has been in place on the east coast since 2015 to reduce local exploitation pressures in Areas 1-3.

Details on the current management controls for the Tasmanian Rock Lobster Fishery is provided on the  Department of Natural Resources & Environment (NRE) website at the link:

East Coast Stock Rebuilding Strategy

The East Coast component of the Tasmanian SRL fishery has seen greater exploitation than other areas due to a range of factors including ease of access, comparatively sheltered waters and proximity to population centres. In combination with several years of record low recruitment state-wide in the late 2010s, the east coast stocks reached historically low levels prompting concern from all sectors of the community. The East Coast Stock Rebuilding Strategy (ECSRS) came into effect in 2013 with the interim objective (target) of increasing biomass and egg production to above 20% of the unfished levels by 2023. This target was later shifted to 2025.

The ECSRS initially limited the total annual (commercial and non-commercial) catch in the East Coast to 200 tonnes. The ECSRS management plan has been continually monitored by IMAS researchers and adapted by NRE when required based on the scientific evidence provided by the monitoring program and annual stock assessments. Amendments have included the lowering of the total annual catch to ensure the rebuilding trajectory remains on target.

Area 2021 2023 Improvement On Target
1 23.3% 25.2% 3.3% Yes
2 12.5% 15% 2.5% No
3 16.9% 20.9% 0.9% Yes

Virgin biomass projections in the three east coast stock assessment areas. The estimated 2021/22 level and projected 2023 level are shown in the table as well as the improvement since the inception of the ECSRS.

For the commercial fishery the catch is monitored in near real-time and the fishery is closed once the commercial allocation is reached. This has successfully restrained the commercial catch. However, this has had substantial impacts on some commercial fishers and has introduced issues such as a race to fish before the cap is reached.

Annual monitoring of recreational catches has taken place, however, catches are more difficult to manage due to the limited management measures available and as information of catches is only available after the season has finished. The recreational fishing catch allocation was only met in one season since the strategy was implemented.

The intensity and implications of illegal catches that threaten the sustainability of this shared resource is uncertain.

More details on this are available as a pdf here: Rebuilding Southern Rock Lobster stocks on the east coast of Tasmania: informing options for management.

Rock Lobster Translocation Program

The growth and development of southern rock lobster and the efficiency with which they are caught varies across the fishing grounds around Tasmania. Cool, deep reefs located off the south-west coast are hotspots for juvenile rock lobsters with average catches of over 30 per pot. The high abundance of southern rock lobsters in the south-west is due slower growth rates than the west coast. Due to this slow growth lobsters in this area incur substantial natural mortality before becoming legal sized and are hence under-utilised. Juveniles in the south-west are also pale greenish in colour and attract a lower market price once they do reach minimum size limits than lobsters on the east coast. Translocating lobster from deep SW waters to higher growth areas results in increased productivity and in colour changes after 1-2 moults. Consequently, a translocation program was set up to maximise the value of these lobsters.

In 2005, a study was conducted that moved 1000 tagged southern rock lobsters from high density, low-growth reefs in the south-west to low-density reefs around Tasmania. The tagged animals demonstrated growth rates up to five-fold higher than those at their original location and developed into premium grade quality for market after changing to a reddish colour. Progressively larger translocations were conducted which translocated 30 000 lobsters annually from the south-west to more productive and depleted areas with as much success as the test study.

Translocated rock lobster being released. Photo courtesy of NRE.

A southern rock lobster translocation program was initiated in 2011 by industry and integrated into the Tasmanian Government’s East Coast Stock Rebuilding Strategy (ECSRS) in 2015. As of March 2018, over 145 000 lobsters had been translocated from deep reefs to sites between Ansons Bay and Cape Hauy (between 41 and 43oS) on the East Coast of Tasmania since 2015.

The translocation program increases the productivity of the fishery and enhances the recovery of the population under the East Coast Stock Rebuilding Strategy (ECSRS). Increased productivity and biomass under the translocation program provide benefits the environment and community alike through higher stock numbers, that result in improved catch rates for recreational and commercial fishers, and healthy rocky reef ecosystems that have higher resilience to forming barrens. The implementation of the Tasmanian Government’s translocation program is overseen by stakeholder representatives from NR&E, IMAS, TARFish and the Tasmanian Rock Lobster Fishermans Association (TRLFA) who have a vested interest in the sustainable management of the rock lobster fishery and healthy rocky reef ecosystems. Scientists from the Fisheries and Aquaculture Centre at IMAS continue to monitor and assess the success of the translocation program.

You can help – tag recapture reporting

You can assist in the research that supports the Tasmanian Government’s sustainable management of the commercial and recreational rock lobster fishery and the establishment of a healthy east coast Tasmanian rock lobster population.  If you recapture a tagged lobster please report it along with as much information as you can on size, date caught, location and tag number.

Lobsters as Reef Protectors

Rock lobsters play an important ecological role in maintaining healthy Tasmanian rocky reef ecosystems in addition to holding substantial direct and indirect social and economic values for the Tasmanian community. Rock lobster populations with a balanced size and age distribution are essential to sustain these ecosystem services (benefits) they provide to the community. However, decades of overfishing have resulted in the removal of large southern rock lobsters from waters around the East Coast of Tasmania.

The functional role large rock lobsters play in rocky reef ecosystems means they may prey on long spined urchin populations and buffer the negative environmental impacts of this new species in Tasmanian waters. The long-spined sea urchin is undergoing a climate change induced range expansion poleward along the Australian coast creating urchin barrens in places were productive rocky reefs with iconic kelp forests once stood (More information in the longspined sea urchin assessment).  Management initiatives, such as the East Coast Stock Rebuilding Strategy (ECSRS) and Rock Lobster Translocation Program, aim to restore overfished and depleted rock lobster populations to ensure the maximum benefit to the environment and multiple users of the resource. The increased biomass of rock lobster, particularly large animals, in the east coast of Tasmania may increase the resilience of rocky reef ecosystems to the destructive range expansion of the long spined sea urchins under climate change. However, further research is required to better understand the potential for rock lobsters to regulate long spined sea urchin populations.