Reef closures a disaster
  |  First Published: February 2005

The first year of the Coral Reef Fin Fish spawning closures has been described by many in the fishing fraternity as a total disaster. Between the lack of publicity, confusion over what was closed, and a complete stuff-up of the closure dates, it can only be described as one of the biggest blunders in the history of Queensland fishing legislation.

The success of the barramundi closed season means that spawning closures have the support of most thinking anglers, but the implementation of the three nine-day reef closures was pathetic. Even fisheries management and enforcement officers couldn’t agree on what the closure meant. Some said it was closed waters legislation (no bottom fishing at all on coral reefs within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park) while others said it was only closed to the taking of coral reef fin fish in the Marine Park.

One game boat skipper asked me whether the closures impacted on him, as his clients had asked if they could do some bottom fishing while on a marlin charter. I even heard of one reef fishing charter operator who fished on in blissful ignorance until halfway through the first closure.

You’d think that fisheries management would ensure that at least those directly involved in the industry would receive detailed information about the closures. Through charter fishing licences and recreational boat registrations, the Government has the contact details of all those likely to fish the reef and could easily send out information.

Cairns reef charter boat operator Peter Todd contacted the Minister for Environment’s office the week before the second closure to ask what research was being done to confirm that coral trout (which were the main reason for the closure) were actually spawning during the closure. A few days before the second closure he had a hurried booking from GBRMPA to go out and dive the two main aggregation sites off Cairns, where the research was supposedly done to identify the correct spawning times for coral trout.

Toddy already knew from stomach inspections of trout caught on Aqua Cat that the trout had spawned on the new moons in September and October, and surprise, surprise: no spawning took place on the two aggregation sites off Cairns on the November new moon. Regular contact with fishermen along the east coast indicates that few, if any, trout spawned in November or December from at least Mackay north. All the first two closures achieved was to financially penalise marine-related industries that were already reeling from new zoning.

The financial impact of the Coral Reef Fin Fish closure is clear when you look at Peter Todd’s turnover for the same period in 2003 compared with 2004. During the time when the spawning closures would have occurred in October and November in 2003 Peter’s charter business turned over $59,330. In the same time period in 2004 it was a piddling $3100.

All marine-related businesses in the north have suffered as a result of new Federal and State legislation. The Federal Government has offered compensation for business affected by the RAP but the State Government is digging its heels in over compensation for the new State Marine Park zoning and the spawning closures. The application process for Federal compensation has been made difficult for small operators, so land-based businesses are working with accounting firm KPMG to apply for compensation.

The rise of The Fishing Party in Queensland is a direct result of voters becoming sick to death with the bulldozer approach of fisheries management. Over 30,000 people voted for The Fishing Party throughout Queensland.

Through the allocation of preferences, The Fishing Party was responsible for the Greens not retaining the balance of power in the Senate, when Barnaby Joyce from the National Party won the unexpected extra seat in Queensland. Without The Fishing Party’s preferences Drew Hutton would have won the seat and given Bob Brown and his Greens control of the Senate, and what a disaster that would have been for fishing! The Coalition will need to use its control of the Senate to fix some of the concerns of the fishing fraternity or there will be an even stronger voter backlash next election.

If fisheries managers want our support they need to get their research right, implement legislation that can be scientifically justified and develop better implementation and compensation strategies.

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