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Moreton Bay Net Free Zone
  |  First Published: July 2016



This article is a follow-up to last months’ article, looking at the Moreton Bay Net Free Zone in more detail. Now there is a more solid proposal being circulated, it’s time to provide the community with as good as possible summary of the available data.

To quote the Canadian Prime Minister, it’s 2016 – these things should just be happening. Call me cynical, but I decided to investigate, just in case that didn’t happen. This is what we are discussing in terms of the industry, and in working through this I am only using official figures (sources listed at the end of the article).

The Recreational Fishery

There are between 236,400 and 269,600 fishers immediately adjacent to the Net Free Zone (Brisbane, West Moreton). The recreational fishery is worth somewhere between $180 and $205 million (Brisbane and West Moreton) based on 2013-14 Statewide Recreational Survey.

Brisbane and West Moreton fishers represent between 943,000 and 1.15 million fishing days (all locations not just NFZ).

The CommercialFishery

The commercial fishery is worth around $1.1 million (based on 2013-14 data) on key species (bream, whiting, king threadfin. The commercial mullet fishery worth $1.35 million, which will remain untouched.

The total fishery value (excluding mullet) is worth $2.5-3.7 million.

The commercial net fishery represents on 4,300 fishing days per year (average last 5 years)

The Cost-Benefit

As there are no official figures on the gill net only figures, cost-benefit applies to replacing the entire commercial industry. In order to replace the income of the overall commercial effort (total) the recreational sector in Brisbane and West Moreton needs to grow by 3.6-6%. This assumes no benefit from tourism, as there is too much uncertainty to calculate a tourism benefit at this stage.

To generate that growth with no individual extra spend requires 8,649-14,578 extra fishers (resulting in 34,595- 58,312 additional fishing days). To generate that growth with no additional fishers requires $27.84-$48.92 extra spend per fisher (resulting in 34,500-58,152 additional fishing days). Therefore the growth will likely be a combination of new fishers and extra spend.

For instance, a 10% growth would add between $18-20.5 million in spend resulting in $5.7-$6.6 million in real income to the region, even without tourism.

This raises the question of, ‘What is the cost-benefit of removing commercial gill net fishing, but not tunnel net fishing?’ In other words, a partial release of commercial fishing effort.

The Political Discussion on the Net Free Zone

The move to establish a Net Free Zone in Moreton Bay is a political one. This is Labor policy, not a Fisheries Queensland management decision. As with the other Net Free Zones, the Moreton Bay Net Free Zone will have to be passed by parliament. There is no doubt that there will be some robust debate to come.

Sunfish are leading the discussion from the recreational end and have a proposal that they are circulating to stakeholders.

benefit of the partial release of fishing effort

There is a lot less clarity around what a Net Free Zone means than in the Fitzroy, Mackay or Cairns. In those areas, gill nets dominated in the species people were concerned about so it was pretty cut and dry. No nets equalled a clear benefit to the recreational fishing community.

In Moreton Bay, there is a much more mixed fishery with both tunnel nets and gill nets. The former will stay for the most part, the latter will go under current proposals.

A good example of where there is unease is in king threadfin. I have been contacted by a number of recreational fishers who are convinced king threadfin are targeted by tunnel nets not gill nets. They are concerned that the current Net Free Zone proposal won’t deliver the protection they want for threadfin.

First up, I am not sure why there aren’t figures that make it clear what the impact of the removal of gill nets will have. Fisheries Queensland will have the data, or should do given that there are different licenses for the different styles of netting.

If recreational fishers accept a Net Free Zone without seeing the breakup of gill net verses tunnel nets, then they would be accepting a proposal that could deliver minimal benefit on key species.

The ‘Recreational Use Fee’ levied on boat registrations is around $20. There are between 85,000 and 95,000 boats registered in Brisbane and Moreton Bay West (adjacent to the proposed Net Free Zone) so that generates between $1.7 million and $1.9 million.

There are between 70 and 80 active commercial net licenses. It is doubtful they contribute a similar amount as that would represent most of their income. Fishers would be well within their rights to ask what the proportion of tunnel net catch is in order to determine the benefit.

Size of the Commercial Net Industry

As fisheries haven’t released the separate proportions of net activity all I can work on is total net catch figures.

We can’t be sure that Brisbane will get the average Queensland gate price and there could be other errors. These are official figures both from ABARES and Queensland Fisheries but I will allow 20% error so that range is between $2.5-3.7 million gross income (see Fig.1).

There will be downstream impacts to wholesalers and retailers – sourcing $3.1 million in product from alternate sources is by no means impossible. However, there may be an impact on price to the consumer. The reality is that the seafood market is Australia wide and wholesalers don’t set prices solely based on local conditions. In 2013-14, $3.1 million represented 1.46% of Australia’s finfish market.

Cost-Benefit of Replacing Effort

I will cover the specifics of the recreational industry later, but a conservative value is between $180-205 million for Brisbane and West Moreton.

A dollar generated by the recreational industry is not $1 in income, so we don’t have to generate $5 million extra to cover it – the figure is more. How much a dollar represents in real income is actually a hard question, but using figures of from NOAA the ratio of sales (total spend) to income (money earned) is around 32.6% or 32c in the dollar (2011). I don’t think that’s an unreasonable figure. On that basis the recreational sector needs to add between $7.5-11.4 million to the economy to break even with the income generated by the commercial sector.

In all, the recreational sector will need to grow by between 3.6% and 6% to cover the income generated by the commercial sector.

I will use three scenarios to demonstrate the ‘break even’. This is based on increasing the value of the industry by $7.5-11.4 million. First scenario is no extra fishers, just extra income from more trips. The second is 50% of income from extra trips and 50% from extra fishers. The last is 100% of income from extra fishers and no extra spend per fisher.

Scenario I: No Extra Fishers, 100% from extra spend – Break Even

If the industry were valued at $180 million, each current angler would need to spend $31.70-48.92. This would equate to 39,921-58,152 fishing days with no increase in actual fishers.

If the industry were valued at $205 million, each current angler would need to spend $27.84-$41.31. This would equate to 34,500-52,440 fishing days with no increase in actual fishers.

Scenario II: 50% from extra spend and 50% from extra fishers – Break Even

If the industry were valued at $180 million, each current angler would need to spend $15.85-$23.46. This would equate to 39,345-58,231 fishing days with 4,925-7,289 increase in actual fishers.

If the industry were valued at $205 million, each current angler would need to spend $13.92-$21.15. This would equate to 34,547-52,512 fishing days with 4,324-6,573 increase in actual fishers.

Scenario III: 100% from extra fishers, No extra spend – Break Even

If the industry were valued at $180 million, each current angler would need to spend $0. This would equate to 39400-58312 fishing days with 9850-14578 increase in actual fishers.

If the industry were valued at $205 million, each current angler would need to spend $0. This would equate to 8,649-13,146 fishing days with 34,595-52,440 increase in actual fishers.

Build it and they will come?

There is a growing belief at government level that recreational fishers contribute significantly to the economy. In times of plenty, it’s easy to skip by recreational fishing but with the mining boom over, recreational fishing is an industry with significant growth potential. Fishing tourism for example is back on the agenda for the first time in many, many years.

In that context, Net Free Zones make sense, so long as there is a strong case for how that will be achieved.

I think that fishing tourism is important. It’s demonstrated strong benefits in the Northern Territory and Queensland has a lot of advantages in offering a range of fishing experiences that come with comfortable accommodation.

Without a clear understanding of what the ‘Nets Out’ means, it’s hard to feel any certainty on the economic case for tourism thus I have removed it from the cost-benefit.

Declaring My Own Biases

I am not a fan of Net Free Zones. Don’t get me wrong, I am working in the Net Free Zones and have seen first-hand how they benefit recreational fishers. The volunteer collected data is certainly showing a positive change in fishing outcomes. I would think most recreational fishers would want one in their area. However, I am not a fan because there are a million things that can be done at an industry level before such draconian measures are required.

I would far prefer to see a joint industry-driven solution that allows for both sectors to assess the opportunities and adjust. That adjustment should be funded by the industry.

Of course, that would require a vision for where the industry as a whole is headed.

I am a realist. Years of inaction have created the kind of community pressure that only something like a Net Free Zone can release. The community was promised a significant investment in improving the recreational fishery by Labor as far back as the Burns Inquiry. Fishers have been paying towards such improvement via a levy on boat registrations.

It’s taken a long time and a lot of advocacy over the years to see that come to pass. While it’s not my preferred solution, I understand why it’s seen as vital by most recreational fishers.

As such, I think it’s important to get the Net Free Zones right.

the Sunfish Proposal

The full proposal is quite lengthy so I will keep to the key points. The map hereby is the proposed area of coverage and the impacts include:

• The particular commercial license endorsements that need to be removed from the proposed net free areas of Moreton Bay are: all N1 endorsements and all N11 endorsements.

• All K endorsements be restricted to mullet only no incidental catch.

• Tunnel netting regulations need to prohibit the use of gillnet materials.

• Tunnel netting be stopped in some sensitive areas such as Deception Bay to Toorbul Point.

They state that the following won’t be affected:

• No impact on the Moreton Bay Prawn Trawl Fishery.

• No impact on the Moreton Bay Crab Fishery.

• No significant impact on the ocean beach mullet fishery.

• No significant impact on the tunnel net fishery.

• No impact on the commercial line fishery.

The Commercial Sector is Changing

One factor on the side of the commercial sector is they have plans that will be of benefit to the community. While it is their place to communicate that plan they are taking positive steps along the path of innovation and creating more value within their product.

This is essential to the long-term health of the commercial industry and I think a step in the right direction.

Overlap of commercial and recreationalfishing

There are a range of species where there is some level of competition between recreational and commercial species. It’s the common food species where there is the biggest overlap. Five species fit that profile – whiting, bream, tailor, flathead, and school mackerel (see Fig. 3).

The other species of interest to recreational fishers will be baitfish. Around 30 tonnes of baitfish per year is taken by commercial fishers, and a good portion of that would be used locally. There is no clarity on method of capture so this supply may or may not be affected.

the recreational fishery outlook

The Sunfish proposal contains figures from the 2010-11 Recreational Survey, so I will provide updated figures from the 2013-14 Survey (see Fig. 4).

The fishing effort is pretty fierce. Even allowing for the standard error Brisbane fishers managed around 2,700 years in just one physical year. Not all of this effort is in Moreton Bay but it highlights the fact that recreational fishing is still very important to local fishers. One fishing year is equivalent to 2,700 years of fishing effort if you just take Brisbane fishers alone. By comparison, commercial effort is around 11.8 years per year in W37, W38 (see Fig.5).

Local Recreational Economics

I am not an economist, but I do try and demonstrated as simply as possible.

The 2000 National Recreational Fishing Survey projected that Queensland fishers spend on average $555 on fishing per year. I will use that figure with a 2% CPI adjustment which brings annual spend to $761 per fisher. Without another survey, that is as good a figure as we have. There will be others that come up with higher values for the industry, but I would prefer to be conservative (see Fig.6).

Commercial Fishery Economics

The wild commercial harvest industry was valued at $191 million in 2013-14 (ABARES). A summary of the key species include:

• Prawns were the largest wild-caught fisheries product in Queensland. An estimated 5,988 tonnes of prawns were landed in 2013-14. The total value of wild-caught prawn production was $70 million in 2013-14.

• Crabs represented the second most valuable species caught in Queensland in 2013-14. A total of 2,793 tonnes were landed, which contributed $30 million to total production value in the wild-catch sector.

• Other key species landed in Queensland’s wild-catch sector included coral trout ($27 million, 840 tonnes), lobsters (mainly Queensland bugs) ($20 million, 818 tonnes), barramundi ($7 million, 813 tonnes) and scallops ($5 million, 2,514 tonnes).

Looking at the species that most overlap in the Net Free Zone (total Queensland figures 2013-14): Bream ($1.07 million, 134 tonnes) average $7.99 per kilo; whiting ($3.0 million, 838 tonnes) average $3.59 per kilo; tailor (not available); mullet ($4.2 million, 1477 tonnes) average $2.50 per kilo; king threadfin ($1.34 million, 305 tonnes) average $4.39 per kilo; sharks ($1.72 million, 305 tonnes); grey mackerel ($3.99 million, 719 tonnes); snapper ($523,000, 64 tonnes); and other ($5.5 million, 1284 tonnes).

If we apply the value proportionally to the W37, W38 Net Fishing in 2013-14 we get: Bream ($714,000, 89.42 tonnes); whiting ($310,000, 86.44 tonnes); mullet ($1.35 million, 473.64 tonnes); king threadfin ($50,700, 11.54 tonnes); sharks ($79,500, 26.5 tonnes); grey mackerel ($37,500, 6.7 tonnes); and snapper ($65,000, 8 tonnes).

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Data sources used in this article:

Commercial catch economic value – ABARES Australian fisheries and aquaculture statistics 2014

Recreational economic value – The National Recreational and Indigenous Fishing Survey
Commercial Catch Data
Recreational Fisher Numbers and Effort – Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey 2013–14
Sunfish Proposal – Moreton Bay Net Free Area Submission 250516
NOAA – Fisheries Economics of The U.S. 2011

Fig. 1

Total net commercial sector based on W37, W38 share (best of 3 years)

SpeciesValue
Bream (Including Tarwhine)$840,000
Whiting$320,000
Snapper$65,000
Grey Mackerel$37,500
Sharks$79,500
Other (share of total other on ABARES)$1.76 million
Total$3.1 million

Fig. 2

See attachment – pie chart

Fig. 3

Overlap of commercial and recreational fishing

Summary of the net fishery in grids W37 and W38 calculated in tonnes.

Species201020112012201320142015
Whiting103.6094.83116.8692.7682.29115.08
Bream53.2664.7887.58101.2677.18140.46
Tailor42.2545.8736.6516.1932.9534.56
Spinefoot43.5828.0738.1329.2011.7143.62
Flathead27.7744.1936.9126.2723.5431.74
Mackerel school14.5125.1526.1516.2119.5625.62
Bream black9.907.76312.3720.7110.4811.23

Fig. 4

The following is a breakdown of fishers in the region. Of these fishers a little over 3,500 are part of a club so club fishers represent around 1% of fishers in the region.

RegionNumber of FishersStandard Error
Brisbane 236,000 13, 000
Gold Coast 42,0004,700
Sunshine Coast 59,0006,400
West Moreton17,0003,600

Fig. 5

Commercial fishing effort

Breakdown of the number of days fished from 1 November 2013 to 31 October 2014.

RegionDays FishedStandard Error
Brisbane 992,00091,000
Gold Coast 112,00022,000
Sunshine Coast 202,00028,000
West Moreton58,00016,000

Fig. 6

RECREATIONAL ECONOMICS

Number of fishers (Brisbane, West Moreton)23,6400-26,9600
Number of fishing days (Brisbane, West Moreton)94,3000-11,57000
Average trips per fisher per year (Brisbane, West Moreton)3.99-4.29
Annual spend (Brisbane, West Moreton)$180-205 million
Commercial net fishing annual days (less mullet)3774.6 (5 year average)
Commercial net fishing annual take (less mullet)510T (5 year average)
Total commercial wild fishery QLD (2013-14)$191 million

* Note that not all trips are in the Net Free Zone. This is simply a measure of the value of the Recreational Fishery based on where people live in regions adjacent to the Net Free Zone.

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