Luke Matikainen waiting to launch a boat at the Mackay Marina.
Luke Matikainen waiting to launch a boat at the Mackay Marina. Luke Matikainen

Fishers can expect 'biggest changes industry has ever seen'

THE recreational and commercial fishing industries could be on the verge of some of "the largest changes in Queensland fishing".

Under State Government direction leaders in those industries joined environmentalists and government representatives for the first time last week to thrash out necessary changes to boost inshore fish stocks.

Fish include sea mullet, shark, whiting, bream, flathead, tailor, small mackerels, threadfins and barramundi.

Fish catch numbers have been declining since 2005; with just 3974 tonne caught last financial year compared to 5533 tonne back when the fisheries department started collecting data.

And that drop has been seen in every species, from the tip of Cape York to the NSW border.

It is one of the key areas of concern for the newly established East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery Group who will determine the capacity of the local fishery, and what share a commercial fisher should have compared to your mum and dad angler.

In June, 2017 the State Government established a sustainable fishing strategy with an aim to increase current fish stocks by about 10 per cent by 2020 and 20 per cent by 2027.

The strategy will be advised by groups such as the East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery Group who met for the first time on Wednesday and Thursday.

Debbie Seafood owner and professional fisherman Mark Ahern was one of two Mackay men at the forum, and he sat opposite John Bennett, the president of Mackay Recreational Fishing Alliance.

Both men describe the other's view as polarising but told The Daily Mercury that whatever the outcome, all types of fishers were going to end up with a reduced catch limit.

Instead of every fisherman racing to catch as much as they could until a species fish quota was exhausted, the think tank has proposed three alternatives.

These were to change licences to include quotas for specific species, licences for regions which have specific quotas and controlling the equipment and time fishers spend on the water.

And if commercial fishermen have their quotas reduced then bag limits for recreational fishers will also be reduced, the two men said.

But for the industry that puts food on the workers' families tables and everyone else that eat fresh fish in Queensland, Mr Ahern hopes this is the last time commercial fishers are the whipping boys of regulation.

He said the industry had already been through big changes.

Over the past six years the government has banned commercial fishermen from using nets in three zones between the Fitzroy River and Trinity Bay and spent $16million on a buy back scheme, removing 120 net licences from the industry.

Despite these changes, Mr Ahern is spending his time back in Brisbane in think tanks talking about regulation, something he has done a lot of in his 22 years in the industry.

Mr Ahern, who employs 35 people across his restaurant, retail and wholesale business, said the group still needed to determine its preferred policy and then stick to it by determining how many fish could be caught and who could catch what percentage.

If that meant taking more licences out of the commercial industry, so be it, he said, but any decision needed to allow those remaining in the industry to make a living.

The meeting notes suggest fish quotas would be determined on a regional basis. But Mr Ahern said it was unfair to expect a fisherman to try and provide for his family during a bad season, if he was restricted to his region.

As an example, Mr Ahern said if the Mackay region didn't get heavy rain, which is needed for a good barramundi season, fishermen should be able to head to the Burdekin where there are fish.

But Mr Bennett said the state should be broken into five or nine areas because fish stock depletion was a regional problem.

"Some regions are devoid of fish but Queensland has a sustainable amounts along the east coast," he said.

"But we need accurate stock assessment and accurate data to know how big the quotas should be in each area."

While commercial fishermen are likely to bear the brunt of any catch limit reductions, Mr Bennett acknowledged recreational fishers should also have reduced bag limits.

The group is expected to provide a harvest fishing strategy to the department by the end of 2018.

Working group discusses fishery future

THE East Coast Inshore Fishery Working Group met for the first time in Brisbane on January 10-11.

The group is expected to provide advice on the operational aspects of managing Queensland's east coast inshore fishery and the development of a harvest strategy, in keeping with the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy.

The group started off by talking about their aspirations for the fishery and what they wanted to achieve through the working group. Members agreed that improvement was needed in management of the fishery and it was important that all sectors be part of the solution.

The working group was provided with an overview of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017-2027. The members discussed the policy objectives and how their input will be used to shape the future management of the east coast inshore fishery.

Fisheries Queensland provided an overview of the current status of the fishery.

The working group noted that the number of commercial net licences has reduced significantly over the last 10 years, to the point that there are now less than 200 active N1 and N2 licences. It was acknowledged that there aren't any significant sustainability concerns about the target species (e.g. barramundi, threadfin, mackerels, whiting, mullet etc.), noting concerns about potential for localised depletion for some stocks (e.g. threadfin, grunter) which require further investigation. One of the most important issues was the need to improve selectivity of the fishery to reduce interactions with protected species and minimise bycatch.

The working group gave priority to the following; more detailed recreational catch and effort data; research on the dynamics of spotted mackerel (e.g. impacts of boat traffic on behaviour); better data on species of conservation interest, including improved reporting and impacts of interactions on populations; king threadfin biology and stock structure; better validation of logbook data; and better information on total mortality, including estimates of discards and fate across sectors (including shark depredation, barotrauma etc).

The next meeting was scheduled for March.

*Notes from the first meeting of the working group

Perfect offshore conditions


Rural View resident Christina Harrison heading out to on the water on her new boat.
Rural View resident Christina Harrison heading out to on the water on her new boat. Campbell Gellie

IT SEEMS almost every Mackay resident with a boat left the coast on Saturday in what were almost perfect conditions on the water.

The Mackay Harbour boat ramp was packed early with a queue of utes and trailers heading back to the Captain's Corner roundabout. Parking was at a premium with people who left launching their boat too late forced to find a spot a rather long way from the ramp.

Adding to the frustration was the cars without trailers being parked in the spots made for boaties. But that didn't matter to Rural View resident Christina Harrison, who was taking her new Quintrex out for the second time.

"We call this living the dream," she said.

She was also taking out her new hot pink Femme Fatale fishing rod.

"I always use these types of rods and I always catch fish on them," she said.

Current rules

The East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery has commercial total allowable catch (TACC) limits for sharks and rays (600 t), grey mackerel (250 t), spotted mackerel (140 t) and tailor (120 t).

During the catch period, 2016-17, 218 t (45%) of the northern shark and 107 t (89%) of the southern shark quotas were used, 177 t (71%) of grey mackerel, 30 t (22%) of spotted mackerel and 72 t (60%) of tailor were also used

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