Moreton Bay Net Free Area discussions continue
  |  First Published: June 2016

May remained pleasantly warm on average with fairly low to moderate winds that made Moreton Bay a hive of fishing and boating activity last month. Given the public holidays and school holidays during that time, the boat ramps were kept busy. Catches were wide and varied – still a few whiting around on the beaches but bream become predominant. Banana prawns enjoyed an extended stay with the warmer days hanging on. Good catches of snapper were reported through the bay and offshore to the north.

The opportunity to catch fish more easily for those with lesser skills or those who are now impacted by age or infirmity has seen recreational fishing forums and media sites receiving high traffic as to the status of the Moreton Bay Net Free Area as per the Queensland Government’s last election policy. Sunfish Queensland has a policy identifying nine areas along the Queensland coast that have been identified by local communities as urgently requiring net free areas to provide social, economic and environmental benefits to these areas.

So, contrary to what I expect the opposition and some commercial fishing spokespersons may say, these discussions have been had along the length and breadth of Queensland in significant depth since at least 2008. This is without even considering that these issues have been on the political agenda sine Tom Burns and Pumicestone Passage in the 1990s.

As you can expect, there have been many and varied iterations. The submission we presented during the last electoral event was definitely the most polished to date, taking into consideration community expectations for fresh seafood, a high value prawn trawl industry in Moreton Bay and the significant environmental impacts that Moreton Bay has endured over the last 20 years.

Many who read this article are too young to have been following fishing media during the Burns Inquiry days or even for that matter the Inshore Finfish Review Stage 1 so I will give a brief history as to what instigated the most recent request for Moreton Bay to be gillnet free. In 1992 Minister Ed Casey said,

“Recreational fishers will be contributing directly to the cost, and administration of fisheries management under Queensland’s new Fisheries Act.” He went on to state, “…starting this week a $6 rise in pleasure boat registration fees will go towards management and maintenance of the State’s valuable fisheries resources. At the same time, recreational fishing representatives will have direct input into decision-making as members of the Fisheries Policy Council, set up under the new legislation, which was passed by Parliament last month. They would also be present on the Management Advisory Committees for Queensland Fisheries, and the Zonal Advisory Committees to be formed for different regions.”

That fee, which is now called the Personal Pleasure Vessel Levy and has become $20 per registration was intended among other things to create recreational only fishing areas – there was only one ever declared. So, we still pay the fee but have no input into the decision-making process and recreational fishing enhancement programs.

In 2008 Fisheries Queensland underwent Stage 1 of the Inshore Finfish Review. Stage 1 was determined to be a review that focussed primarily on the recreational sector and brought in significant changes to bag and size limits. Stage 2 of the review was to undertake a similar process with a primary focus on the commercial sector – this never eventuated.

Also in 2008 Moreton Bay Marine Park underwent a dramatic review and saw significant loss of access to fishers. The commercial sector received more than $15 million in the structural adjustment package and the recreational sector $2 million in an artificial reef package.

In effect, this means that there has been considerable impact on recreational fishers fishing from the shore and they have received no enhancement program or consideration of these impacts. Moreton Bay Net Free Area will attempt to redress some of those impacts in addition to the environmental impacts of gillnetting and the significant destructive impacts on local fish stocks caused by extensive localized depletions as a consequence of commercial fishing.

Since this proposal has a specific outcome and set of goals there has been a significant list of concessions made on behalf of the commercial fishing sector compared to the outcomes from the three northern net free areas.

This included no impact on the Moreton Bay Prawn Trawl Fishery, the Moreton Bay Crab Fishery or the commercial line fishery. As well as no significant impact on the ocean beach mullet fishery or the tunnel net fishery. The only fishery targeted is the environmentally devastating and socially and economically unacceptable gillnet fishery.

The previous map we submitted to government was designed to have the above effects or lack thereof. However, in addition what it inadvertently did was propose a significant and expensive compliance management problem. To rectify that we took a step back and tried to simplify the outcome. Gillnetting occurs in foreshore waters, so there would be no additional impact by closing off deep middle of the bay waters because there is no gillnet activity there. So this latest map that shows commercial logbook reporting grids that display the area we recommend to be closed to netting under the current considerations.

There is still the same net effect as our previous map, but with less compliance issues, clarity of where the ‘lines on the map’ are and no confusion for commercial fishers as they use these reporting grids every day they are on the water.

In summary, consultation has commenced, as the current payment suite to commercial fishers has been far and wide the highest paid in Queensland before. The majority of any local fish appearing in local markets comes from tunnel netting and not gillnetting.

At every opportunity you get, irrespective of the level of government, please support the Moreton Bay Net Free Area.

Next month I will break down what local fish is currently appearing in outlets and what fish are being caught by various means throughout Moreton Bay.

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