Dart over to Double Island Point
  |  First Published: July 2007

The fishing at Teewah Beach has been pretty quiet of late. However, the rain received in early June has caused the river to rise slightly and this should trigger some action.

Double Island Point has been producing good fish. Big golden trevally, the odd snapper and a 20kg Spanish mackerel were taken here in early June, while several jewfish were caught in the gutters just south of the headland. Beach anglers are finding some dart and whiting, but bream and tailor seem to be absent. A couple of snub-nosed dart have been beached and smaller versions of the golden trevs are being found around the dart.

Bream should become more available this month, and the odd school of chopper tailor will hopefully find their way into the gutters. Dart schools can become visible in July during westerly conditions and often have rat kingfish skirting around them. Metal slugs retrieved quickly past these schools have returned many kingies for me over the years.

Flathead are the only constant during winter on this beach and are well worth targeting with frogmouth pilchards, pipis or plastics.

There has been a lot of discussion on the subject of vehicle and camping permits that are to be implemented on Teewah Beach. At this stage it appears that the working group is recommending a cap of 1500 campsites at Christmas and Easter and 750 at other times. A weekly, monthly and yearly vehicle permit would be available at rates similar to those charged at Bribie and Fraser islands.

Also to come into play is a speed limit of 50km/h for Teewah and Rainbow beaches and Inskip Point. It's a shame that such measures need to be adopted but the reality is that this beach has become far too busy and dangerous at peak periods and something had to be done.

Where have the fish gone?

As a young angler, July was a time of year that I really looked forward to. The northern migrating tailor would consistently feed at dawn and dusk and no matter how cold it was, I would always have a bait in the water for them.

Big yellowfin bream and tarwhine were regular by-catches, along with annoying and plentiful shovelnosed rays and whalers. It was almost certain that tailor would invade a well-chosen gutter each afternoon and again at first light the next morning.

In those days I did nearly all of my fishing within walking distance of Teewah. However, in more recent times, I have found that I need to drive further afield to find suitable formations and fish. Up until about 1995 this wasn't much of a problem, as the fish were still readily available, and this made the fuel costs somewhat more bearable. However, in the last decade there has been a steadily increasing number of fruitless trips up or down the beach in search of fish that just aren't there.

This year we have been fortunate in that prevailing south-easterly winds have kept the surf largely free of algal blooms, allowing anglers to fish the summer months. Despite this, catches of any kind have remained isolated and my own searches for tailor have been very unrewarding.

With the clean surf comes the ability to see marine life and for the first time in six years we have been able to assess visible fish numbers over a six-month period when netting isn't taking place. Quite simply, there are very few fish to be seen other than small schools of juvenile dart and the odd sea mullet.

Having scoured this surf for fish for the past 35 years and knowing what was once there, I am fearful that we may have a significant problem. It is my belief that either inshore fish stocks are dangerously low, or surf species are simply avoiding this heavily netted stretch of coastline. However, given that most of south east Queensland’s inshore coastline is netted, avoidance of netted beaches seems an unlikely reason for the low numbers of fish.

In locations where netting is banned such as south of Ngkala Rocks on Fraser Island, fish are being caught and are visible in the water. However if these non-netted areas are attracting all of the fish that are avoiding the netted beaches, then these concentrated fish numbers are not sufficient. And with the migratory and spawning behaviours of most inshore fish species, there is little likelihood that such closed areas are contributing significantly to population levels.

Netting isn't the only cause of population decline; altered spawning behaviour is likely to be an underestimated influence. Drought, habitat loss, pollution and recreational fishing pressures have all played a role. In my opinion, there is only one avenue open to fisheries to reverse this trend. They need to restructure inshore commercial netting practices and put in place recreational bag and size limits that are appropriate for the population levels and spawning habits of each species. The drought, water quality and habitat factors cannot be addressed in the short term, which leaves such measures seemingly the only ones available.

I don’t believe that reducing the number of commercial licenses on its own would greatly reduce the tonnage of fish taken per year, but it would assist in creating viability for those remaining license holders. Accurate stock assessments to set quotas for commercial fishermen that allow for the sustainability of each estuary within a specific fishery are urgently required. The Noosa River system appears to be particularly low in mullet stocks if recent catch trends are anything to go by and as such should have a lower mullet quota set so as to maintain this resource. Other streams with healthier populations may have higher quotas, although I am not aware of any well-populated streams that are currently netted.

I believe there is one thing that could potentially benefit fish stocks more than any other, and that is to net the mullet prior to them exiting the river mouth. Although on the face of it this is an illogical thing to do, I believe there are distinct advantages in doing so. The reasoning behind this opinion is that when fish are netted on the open beach, they emit distress signals that cause other fish within quite a large radius to abandon the area. Over time this has caused alterations to the migratory paths of species, which inevitably affects the locations at which spawning takes place and subsequently reduces recruitment levels. If mullet netting were to take place inside the mouths, then the vocalisations emitted would be confined by the banks of the estuary and would have no impact on fish such as tailor that are in the open sea on a spawning migration northwards.

Mullet, which have traditionally exited the estuary mouths and turned northward to spawn in the surf gutters, are now tending to head eastward and offshore in order to avoid the nets 400m to the north of so many of our estuaries. If netting was only occurring inside the mouth, the mullet that manage to avoid the nets would then be able to follow their instinct to spawn in the northern gutters, allowing for higher recruitment levels.

No doubt the idea of netting inside the river mouths would be totally unpalatable to many caring individuals and groups. Other fish species, water birds, crabs, yabbies and other animals could potentially be adversely affected by netting here. However, it appears to me that mullet could be targeted by commercial fishers in a way that would mean little by-catch and minimal habitat destruction. Of greater consequence in my opinion is the netting further upstream and in the lakes of the Noosa River that are the nursery for many fish species and prawns.

Netting of the open beaches for tailor, bream, whiting, dart, tarwhine, golden and giant trevally and other incidental species would have to be vastly reduced or abandoned at least temporarily. Potentially there are ways in which these species can be targeted in specific locations at certain times of the year but in the short term a recovery process is necessary.

Research in this field is required to ascertain what is occurring with our inshore fish species. My observations are just that and are not backed by collated scientific evidence. The conclusions I draw are a result of my experiences and observations in this region, combined with research conducted elsewhere that directly relates to the scenarios that appear to be present here.

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