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Queensland Government Slashes Fishing Quotas, Fish Prices Set to Rise

On July 1, Fisheries Queensland cut the amount of Spanish Mackerel allowed to be caught.

For professional anglers, the amount dipped by approximately two-thirds from 578 tonnes to 165 tonnes.

Recreational fishers’ possession limits have also changed from three to one fish per person or from six to two fish per boat with two or more recreational fishers on board. Further, the extended charter limit has been removed, stopping recreational fishers from taking twice the in-possession limit for trips over 48 hours.

These changes were made based on fish stock modelling. The government’s stock assessment estimated that Spanish Mackerel could be down to 17 percent of its unfished biomass which has an accepted sustainable level of 60 percent or more.

However, Allan Bobbermen, Chief Executive of the Queensland Seafood Industries Association (QSIA) said this data must be re-examined.

He told the ABC that the modelling did not match what fishing businesses were experiencing in the field.

“If there was less to catch, we’d be catching less, but we’re not catching less,” Mr. Bobberman said.

Simon Hoyle and Alistair Dunn, experienced fisheries scientists with expertise in mackerel management, are also concerned after they conducted an independent report on the government’s modelling.

They said that the model showed “signs of misspecification, with bias apparent in the estimated growth curve, and instability in model fits.” They argued that before this model was used to recommend any management advice, it needed to be fixed.

“What Fisheries Queensland has relied upon in reaching decisions about future Spanish Mackerel catches simply should not be used in its current form for management of the fishery,” said Mr. Bobbermen.

He has asked Fisheries Minister, Mark Furner, to withdraw the new East Coast Spanish Mackerel Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) because of the information being questioned in the independent report.

According to Bobbermen, the TACC could lead to severe economic hardship for many coastal Queensland communities such as Ingham, Halifax, Lucinda, and Cardwell. It will also affect more than 200 commercial fishermen.

He said, “We did not get any warning, and in fact, we’re quite dismayed at the lack of due process and the lack of engagement by governments in relation to this whole matter.”

No Heads Up

This is not the only issue the fishing industry is facing in Queensland. Commercial fishers have said that Queensland’s wild-caught industry will be crippled by a surprise reform to ban gillnets from the Great Barrier Reef by 2027.

Gillnets are used to catch fish in a moving tide and have been shown to be a threat to much sea life, including dolphins.

The government has allocated $160 million (US$107 million) to reduce net fishing and other fishing activities affecting the reef.

Licences (N2 and N4) that cover Thursday Island to Maryborough will be bought out by the end of 2023. While Cape Bedford to the tip of Cape York will also become net-free, with N1 licences phased out by June 30, 2027.

Additionally, there are around 240 gillnet licences that will eventually be cancelled, and the government will also mandate the use of independent data validation on commercial fishing vessels.

Dermot O’Gorman, CEO of WWF-Australia, said that the decision was a significant moment for ocean conservation.

“This announcement is shaping up as a globally significant moment for ocean conservation, fisheries management and the Great Barrier Reef—one of the natural wonders of the world,” he said.

“The commitment to mandate the use of independent data validation on commercial fishing vessels is also welcome and long overdue.

“It means we’ll have a much better understanding of what’s happening out on the water, including how many threatened species are being accidentally caught.”

Federal Minister for the Environment Tanya Plibersek said in a media release that the removal of the gillnets will help boost populations.

“The removal of gillnets in net-free zones on the reef has already helped boost local fish populations. We want to see this happen right across the reef,” Ms. Plibersek said.

According to Mr. Bobbermen, these bans were made without any consultation or discussion with the fishing industry.

“We are shocked by these unnecessary bans and the lack of empathy shown to fishers, their families, and the communities that rely on the commercial fishing industry in the joint announcement by the state and federal governments,” Mr. Bobberman.

More Fish Imports

The effect of these bans will mean much less Australian fish but at much higher prices.

Australia has the third largest marine reserves in the world, with an economic zone covering 8.2 million square kilometres. But Australia is only the 57th largest seafood importer, with 70 percent of their seafood coming from other countries, such as China, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Australia catches 28 kilograms of seafood per square kilometre of ocean, whereas China, Thailand, and Vietnam catch over 5,000 kilograms of seafood per square kilometre—around 200 times more than Australia.

Estimates of China’s global fishing fleet are calculated at anywhere between 200,000 to 800,000 boats. The Chinese government says they have around 2,600 boast but research done by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) counters these numbers.

Banning Australian commercial fishermen from fishing causes the problem of overfishing to be exported to other countries. It means eating much more farmed or imported fish than Australian wild-caught fish.

However, it also means that after a seven-year campaign by WWF, dugongs, inshore dolphins, and turtles will have permanent protection from commercial gill nets.

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