Over 200 delegates from 20 countries attended the International Conference & Workshop on Lobster (and Crab) Biology and Management 2023 (ICWL 2023) at the Esplanade Hotel, Fremantle during 22-27 October, 2023.
The event organisers received 260 abstracts, organised the delivery of over 157 oral and 20 poster presentations and facilitated shared learnings from leading lobster and crab researchers and managers across many of the world’s fisheries. A special feature of presentations included involvement of student researchers and keynote addresses each day by selected guest speakers. The agenda also provided for an Industry Day on the 26th which provided a broad range of topics of particular relevance for those involved in fishing, aquaculture or at the business end of processing, marketing or support services.
Financial support for the conference was assisted through sponsorship notably by Western Rock Lobster (WRL), the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD W.A.). Of special note included travel sponsorship of invited speakers by OECD Co-operative Research Programme: Sustainable Agricultural and Food Systems for the Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management (EBFM) workshop on the 22-23 October. There was also support provided for students, early career scientists and scientists from developing countries by the Jock Clough Marine Foundation, Western Australian Marine Science Institution, Paul Kanciruk Student Travel Award, and DPIRD.
An active social events program helped facilitate an atmosphere of fellowship, information exchange, renewal of long-term relationships between longer term delegates from past conferences and new networking and co-operative research opportunities. This started with delegates having an open invitation to attend Fremantle’s Blessing of the Fleet, followed with registration and arrival barbecue and welcome by Ms Heather Brayford, Director General of DPIRD. Other events including a poster evening, conference dinner and end of conference sundowner, were held.
It is not feasible to summarise all that which was presented given the diversity of interests, countries, fisheries and topics here. To facilitate the availability of the presentations as papers, the presenters have been requested to provide fully authored papers by Christmas 2023, which ultimately will be published in a special edition of Fisheries Research for all to access. A summary will also be provided in The Lobster Newsletter. The very brief summary below provides a taste of topics and issues covered.
The opening of the conference was undertaken by Professor Peter Klinken, WA’s Chief Scientist and a Keynote address by Gretta Peci on “Fisheries in a warming world and changing ocean, what’s in store and what’s needed to ensure a thriving future.”
The Chief Scientist reminded delegates of the importance of science, the need for greater collaboration across all professions, industries, governments and institutions. The huge technical capabilities in computerisation, artificial intelligence, data manipulation and new science development that is unparalleled in the world’s history. The real threats of climate change both in terms of rising temperatures and increasing ocean acidity and the impact on fisheries coupled with the need for an effective systems approach to address the uncertainties associated with managing the future for fisheries and ocean uses setting the scene for Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management.
Gretta provided the background to and evidence associated with climate change predictions, the significance of this threat and urgency for the fisheries world including governments, managers, researchers and industries to understand and adapt, to deal with consequences and uncertainties. This included finding new solutions. The matter of principal concern was recent evidence of ocean temperatures rising faster than predicted and the priority behind closely monitoring and urgently responding to this threat as the trend is expected to continue.
These presentations were followed by many examples throughout the conference of EBFM approaches across lobster and crab fisheries across the world. Some more successful than others, complicated by the issues of scale, jurisdictional governance issues in the management of individual stocks and institutional and funding arrangements to facilitate the research needed. EBFM as a systems approach was increasingly being followed and evidenced by so much of the science and case studies presented. The evidence of climate change impacts was reported, both positive and negative in examples along with successes being achieved in improving the understanding behind the sustainability and performance of fisheries resources and their resilience.
The involvement of indigenous knowledge and commercial and recreational fishers in research and management was themed in a number of papers. The importance of fishery-independent survey indexes of breeding stock levels and recruitment as was ocean modelling used to facilitate understanding over time and space in the movement of larvae for both research and management needs were also covered for different lobster and crab resources.
Aquaculture developments in lobsters in all its aspects prove to be a significant theme at the conference with over 27 presentations. These covered advancements in the knowledge of tropical rock lobster and slipper lobster following greater than $26m investment in research for commercial aquaculture development in Australia. The ongoing expansion of research into commercial production by Ornatas warrants ongoing monitoring by WRL.
The ongoing growth in commercial cage production of rock lobster from an estimated 200-300 million wild-caught puerulus of two tropical lobster species in south-east Asia and the progress in the production of juvenile clawed lobster in Europe for re-stocking purposes were also reported. Accuracy of substantial production estimates (reported between 5,000 and 15,000 tonnes annually) being at considerable variance between traders, official records and those researchers close to production across Vietnam. Opportunities within Indonesia and potentially the Philippines for further cage culture investment in wild puerulus grow out was identified. Aquaculture of European Clawed lobster for restocking purposes was also presented.
Other fisheries science themes of considerable importance included habitat and environment, diseases and parasites, behaviour, life cycle and recruitment. Fisheries science linked to stock assessments was a major theme reporting on new developments in data collection using imagery, fishery-independent surveys, best practice stock assessment methods, tagging approaches and interpretive risks arising from climate change where relevant.
Andre Punt provided a defining virtual keynote presentation on “Stock assessment of rock lobster stocks, past present and future” noting his relevance and influence in modelling across most southern hemisphere lobster jurisdictions including Western Australia.
The Industry Day, allowed Fedele Camarda from WRL, to outline to delegates, an entertaining family history perspective across generations, the W.A. history of rock lobster management from its origins to today. The industry day featured 30 presentations covering topics of interest including gear research, ghost fishing, lobster translocation, reducing plastic, summary aquaculture development overviews, methods to improve lobster handling, results of seismic and heatwave events, lobster global trading, work on pot design and industry-led research projects.
One event of special note was a panel discussion from seven representatives across the world as well as from delegates in the audience, were requested to define the top three issue/challenges facing future management and sustainability in their lobster and crab fisheries. The results were diverse but defining, very much depending on jurisdiction and state of lobster research and management. Clearly issues around the uncertainty of climate change impacts, requirements for data and facilitating collection of more accurate and wider set of data requirements, management of protected species interactions from fishing, economic viability of industry and accommodation of indigenous and artisanal requirements, rated highly. The emerging pressures of spatial squeeze on fisheries access from wind farms, marine parks and growing uses of the marine domain by multiple developments and users was also a significant issue. Other issues raised included bycatch management, insufficient compliance, trade and geopolitical impacts and impacts of pollution.
In the summary presented to this event, EBFM was recognised as a valuable framework for future management of lobster and crab resources in a changing world. This appeared not to apply to EBM approaches that requires integrated decision making and planning across all users of the marine environment spatially and from a resource use perspective. Whether oceans policy developments provided a sufficient evaluation decision framework adequately resourced across multiple jurisdictions at sufficient scale to be effective was not known. The conference was left with the challenge to develop such a framework through undertaking specific research into various governance options, institutional and legal requirements to provide effective management across multiple and diverse uses of the ocean resources. A matter requiring investigation and perhaps a topic for a future ICWL conference.
At the end of the conference there was an announcement by the Spanish delegates of the intention to hold a new ICWL conference at Mallorca, a significant tourist location in the Mediterranean in October 2026. The sponsors for this successful conference were thanked by the organisers and attendees and are listed below. A special thanks is extended to Nick Caputi and Nic Sofoulis, inclusive of many who volunteered their time to make this conference possible and a success.