Net Free Zones – The Great Fisheries Policy Failure

Posted in Industry News

Welcome back to our ongoing discussion regarding bad fisheries policy – we all know it as the Net Free Zones (NFZs) or the perfect case study for high schools or universities in how to create, fund and continue to fund bad public policy.  The fact that this non-scientific, politically motivated policy has been emulated in Victoria speaks volumes to how bad policy making is like a virus.

The Association’s media release can be sourced here: Net Free Zones the policy failure the public keep funding

David Swindells, QSIA Director was interviewed on the Queensland Country Hour (the interview starts at 5:17 and concludes at 10:08).

On Wednesday 13 March 2019 the Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries, Hon Mark Furner released a media statement proclaiming just how well the NFZs are doing.  Let’s dissect the release in the context that the NFZs have been place for over 3 years.

My analysis is highlighted in maroon.

Rockhampton net-free fishing zone performing well

Source: The Queensland Cabinet and Ministerial Directory – Wednesday, March 13, 2019

There are promising signs for recreational fishing in the Rockhampton region in the latest report card on how Queensland’s net-free fishing zones are performing.

Member for Rockhampton Barry O’Rourke said recreational fishers are increasingly happy with the net-free zone and in some cases are catching bigger fish. [Interesting to note that “some” fish are bigger, the NFZ’s have had over 3 years to perform.  Barramundi grow from fingerlings to the minimum legal size in about 3-4 years dependant on what fresh water flows there have been so where are these smaller recruitment fish from the last couple of years?]

“The full benefits of the net-free zones introduced in November 2015 [It doesn’t take this long or even longer for so called depleted stocks to recover] will take time to emerge, but we’re already seeing some positive changes,” Mr O’Rourke said.

“Recreational fishers in the Rockhampton net-free zone are now harvesting bigger barred javelin and the barramundi they caught in 2016 and 2017 were also larger.” [The last I understood about recreational fishing is that its all about the experience and the pleasure of the day out and being able to take a feed of fish home. I didn’t think that recreational fishers were out there harvesting fish as it stated in the media release.

Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner said the number of fish has not increased in the Mackay or Cairns net-free zones, but recreational fishers reported an increasing level of satisfaction. [The Minister seems to be avoiding saying that Rockhampton is having an increase in fish numbers.  This release is code for NFZs not having achieved what they were intended to.  The statement is a dangerous one in relation to the “level of satisfaction”, what is the definition of this? Do recreational fishers have a level of satisfaction in industry (commercial fishing businesses) not being on the water despite no increase in their catch, this set’s a dangerous precedent.]

The report, Performance of Queensland’s net-free zones, also shows that more fishers are travelling to fish at Rockhampton and the number of trailers counted at boat ramps in all their zones has remained steady. [In two lines this statement contradicts itself, how can more fishers be travelling to the NFZs when the numbers of trailers at the boat ramps remain static or steady?]

Mr Furner said surveys were done at boat ramps and tackle shops from 2015-18 to assess:

  • if fishing effort had increased;
  • whether important recreational fish species were larger and more commonly caught;
  • if fishers travelled further to fish the net-free zones; and
  • if recreational fishers’ satisfaction and expectations of fishing in the net-free zones had changed over time.

“The net-free zones were a key initiative in Queensland’s commitment to the Reef2050 Plan and were introduced to increase recreational fishing opportunities in regional centres and support tourism and economic growth,” Mr Furner said.

“To achieve flow-on benefits from the net-free zones, fishers need to be satisfied with their fishing trips and this depends on them catching more target species. [How would Fisheries Queensland know if recreational fishers are catching more target species now compared to pre-NFZ’s as there were no surveys undertaken as to what was being caught prior to the closures in 2015?]

Mr Furner said the effects of the net-free zones on recreational fishing catches will vary between regions, environmental factors such as floods and drought, and the reproductive and migratory capabilities of the targeted fish and their prey.

“We are building a legacy of a sustainable fishery for our children and grandchildren,” [At every opportunity the same tired line is being quoted “a sustainable fishery for our children”.  Using the Status of Australian Fish Stocks Reports (SAFSR) the inshore net fishery is sustainable.  Maybe its “a sustainable fishery that ensures the recreational fisher vote” is the more realistic slogan.]

Author: Eric Perez, CEO, QSIA

Image: QSIA

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Denis O’Connell OAM