Surf Conditions Ideal
  |  First Published: August 2007

Surf fishing conditions don't come much better than they have so far this winter.

The constant west to south westerly winds have kept the surf calm and clear for weeks on end and it's likely to continue that way through August. Offshore breezes and a calm surf also provide ideal conditions for targeting spawning tailor and bream. Congregations of spawning fish along this coastline were once common place and on occasions do still occur. Many of the particularly large catches of these two species over the years have been of spawning fish. Bream and tailor schools can be in the same location for days during spawning and anglers fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time reap the benefits.

The last such major spawning occasion on Teewah Beach was a couple of kilometres south of Teewah in 1998, when hundreds of anglers caught chopper tailor through the day and night for over a week. I recall that we calculated that there was in the order of 5 tonne of tailor being taken each day. Previous to this, it was virtually an annual event and would occur at various locations along the beach. Recently Narrowneck on the Gold Coast had one such spawning event which drew crowds of anglers more commonly seen at Fraser Island, to a bite that lasted for over a week.

Mostly these days, the schools are of 1-2 year old fish that migrate within short distances of perhaps 20km of other same aged schools, taking advantage of a common food supply, mass spawning and there is safety in numbers for young fish. When conditions are deemed suitable for these schools to spawn, then they do so in the same location as each other. A surf gutter with low current levels and an offshore breeze is ideally where spawning would occur and each school holds in that gutter until moving on after they have finished spawning. There may be as many as 20 separate schools pass through that gutter over the period of a week, each school staying for several hours to a day before moving on. The evolutionary benefits are in the quantity of sperm and eggs in one location and the increased likelihood of fertilisation of those eggs and the benefits associated with a larger gene pool to maintain the health of the species.

Larger tailor, which also travel in schools of same aged fish, rarely have extended spawning periods that anglers can benefit from due to several factors. The simple lack of numbers of young fish maturing beyond 3 years old not being least of these. Estimated mortality rates of 1 year old fish available to the fishery are documented as being as high as 80% in 2004. But also, less natural predators for these larger fish means lesser reliance on others for safety and fish have a learned predator response to netting that causes adult fish to be very flighty to any netting activity and recreational catches. That's not to say that they aren't taken during spawning and the hauls of several tonnes of large greenback tailor taken commercially along Teewah Beach each year are evidence of that.

During the 70s and 80s, bream could be caught here in large numbers on a regular basis around the full and new moons from May to August. Some of the catches I witnessed were massive and particularly when club trips rewarded quantity of kept fish with points. The results in the local papers of these trips with figures in the thousands of bream were common place and that's just what the clubs were catching. I also recall a commercial haul of 20 tonne of bream and tarwhine from in front of Teewah in 1989 that ended what had been a good season until then. The circumstances were always the same in that the bream had left the estuaries and had congregated to spawn and everybody took advantage until it stopped.

Today such large catches are less common despite a massively increased number of anglers pursuing fish during their spawning season. However it would appear that when we as recreational anglers, do strike it lucky, we are still inclined to make hay while it lasts and fill the bag. In itself there is nothing wrong with that as long as bag and size limits are being adhered to. But are these limits really protecting our fish stocks when recreational anglers legally take their bag limit, but the sheer number of anglers multiplies the catch exponentially? According to figures in a Qld Dept of Primary Industries funded research paper from 2004, recreational angling accounts for 1000 tonne of tailor each year with commercial hauls totalling only 200 tonne. The same research, conducted by the Southern Fisheries Centre at Deception Bay also states that the fishery is at 40% of virgin levels and egg production half what it was in the 70s. It should be noted that tailor had been commercially targeted for 30+ years by 1975 with catches over twice what they are now and a dramatic drop in commercial catch rates is recorded for Qld and NSW in the mid 70s. So the egg production of 2004 may be half of what was already a depleted level of egg production recorded in the 70s.

Bream still do not have a bag limit in place and dart neither a bag or size limit and are both attainable by anglers with little skill when they're spawning. Tailor have what I consider a large bag limit of 20 per person and 30 fish at Fraser Island and are also easy fodder during spawning.

It's all very well to blame commercial netting practices for a decline in inshore fish numbers and I do to a fair extent, but recreational angling also has an obvious impact. So to my way of thinking, Fisheries must, in the interests of assisting in the management of our inshore fishery, be more diligent in establishing lower bag limits and increased size limits for these species during spawning seasons only. In fact it was recommended in the 2004 research paper that the size limit for tailor be increased to 40cm and all spawning species recieve greater protection. It also states that if recruitment levels in tailor were to decline then “the fishery would need a complete closure for several years to recover, and even then recovery would be uncertain.” As much as I wish that the current arrangements were adequate, the evidence is that they are not when commercial netting continues as it does and fish stocks are so obviously low. Recruitment can only be on a downward spiral and if a recovery is no certainty as has been demonstrated in the US and Africa, then to persist without change is surely playing with fire and unnecessarily.

Fisheries definitely see closed seasons as being of benefit and the protection of the coral trout and barramundi fishery during spawning seasons demonstrates that. The closure at Fraser Island of between Indian Head and Waddy Point during September and October is one attempt at assisting tailor spawning. However, in my opinion, it is of little benefit to tailor populations while netting at Sandy Cape continues and the tailors' main spawning grounds of Breaksea Spit remain unprotected. As do the green and loggerhead turtles that mate at the spit in September and October and are deprived of their food source by netting. Irrespective, it is not fixing the problem and tailor numbers continue to plummet. The only way for a speedy recovery of these inshore species is to better protect spawning stock both commercially and recreationally as is also recommended in the 2004 DPI&F report.

I have no doubt that the netting of this beach is causing major alterations to fish behaviour and migrations as has been well documented elsewhere and subsequently tern populations in this instance. Recreational fishing most certainly has a significant role to play in regards population levels of some species and recreational usage of our beaches impacts negatively on the health of migratory shorebirds and ghost crab populations. Bag and size limits are easy to fix and bird rookeries can and are being emplaced. But the current netting practices are dangerous and are not being addressed in the slightest shape or form. It appears obvious to me that Fisheries need to act very soon to avoid a catastrophe that is very real and by my observations very imminent.

On another subject, I have just received minutes from the last Noosa North Shore Working Group meeting and it effectively outlines their recommendations to the Minister for the 1st to 3rd cut beach closure and associated infrastructure. Those recommendations are: The Wilderness Track which runs behind the dunes from the 1st to 3rd cut will be upgraded to all weather bitumen with a speed limit of 50 kph. The camping area will double in size with the new area to the immediate south of the existing grounds. A day use area will be developed to the south of that and surf lifesaving facilities constructed in this area. The 3rd cut beach entry will be to the immediate north of where the existing track is in order to avoid the creek which creates problems in flood. The sand beach entry will be irrigated to keep the sand firm with no boards or concrete to be used due to likely erosion problems. The 1st cutting which will enable access to the south towards the river mouth will have parking and picnic facilities constructed. However, don't be surprised if the subject of a beach closure from the 1st cut to the mouth doesn't arise in the near future.

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