In this article, I look at the mismanagement by Fisheries Queensland (FQ) of Black Jewfish from the East Coast (EC) to the Gulf of Carpentaria (GOC).
I am sure that over the years most of us have caught Black Jewfish to some degree, some by incidental catch, other’s that specialize in the catching of these fish. As I can attest to, as well as many other fishermen, these fish in some areas are virtually in ‘plague proportion’, so I ask why did FQ have a knee jerk reaction and issue a pathetically low annual total allowable commercial catch (TACC) for both the EC at 20 tonnes and GOC 6 tonnes?
To understand how these unbelievably misguided TACCs came about, we first have to look at the core reasons that FQ gave for decimating the livelihoods of some commercial operators in a sustainable species fishery.
FQ – Reason #01
Black Jewfish are so slow growing that we need to protect them before they are fished down to critical mass.
What an absurd and arrogant statement for FQ to make when their own science and information tells them the opposite. Black Jewfish is second only in speed of growth and sexual maturity to Spanish Mackerel.
Below are extracts that FQ would have access to stating the exact opposite:
1. Black Jewfish grow to around 45 kg and 1.5 meters long, with a rapid growth rate, reaching 60 cm in around 2 years and sexual maturity in around 4 years at 80-90 cm. Source: Dr Ben Diggles, 14 March 2012.
2. Research carried out just over the border in the Northern Territory shows Black Jewfish in coastal waters grow extremely fast, reaching around 60cm in length in their first 2 years and 90cm in their third year. It is reasonable, in the absence of similar research in Western Australia, to assume that Black Jewfish on the west coast would perform much the same. It was found that Black Jewfish live for around 12 to 14 years however their growth rate slows up at around 10 years of age.
Source: FishBase www.fishbase.org
FQ – Reason #02
Black Jewfish form spawning aggregations where they are vulnerable to exploitation so they need protection.
True in part. Yes, they do form spawning aggregations, sometimes huge, as do a lot of other species. In the GOC this was recognized many years ago by Indigenous communities around Bamaga.
Seisia and Injinoo and strip closure were implemented to protect these spawning stocks. The grounds in which they spawned were recognized and it was proven that fish return to these same areas every year to spawn.
These strip closures in the GOC have a double effect, not only do they protect the spawning Black Jewfish stock from recreational pressure at their critical time but also these fish spawn in the Summer months when the Barramundi closure is in place so they cannot be net fished either.
Black Jewfish spawn in the summer months. The absolute hypocrisy of FQ to have the TACC ‘roll over’ and open up on the 1st of January is ludicrous. If FQ are truly trying to preserve stocks it defies belief that the fishery would open when these fish are full of eggs and spawning.
We know via research that Black Jewfish gather in spawning aggregations in historical areas that are well known by both commercial and recreational fishers so instead of crucifying industry with pitiful TACC’c why didn’t FQ explore the options of:
- Spawning aggregation strip or spot closures during the spawning season?
- Open up the TACC to start again after the spawning season has finished?
FQ – Reason #03
The increase in price of Black Jewfish swim bladders has made these fish vulnerable to overfishing especially in the black-market trade with unlicensed fishers.
The Northern Territory has in place a tagging program for commercial fishers where every Black Jewfish swim bladder must be tagged and recorded.
This system has been in place for quite awhile and is proven to be working well, all but stopping the unlicensed fisher black market trade so we ask, why did FQ not first explore this option for the EC and GOC? Instead of going to disgustingly pitiful TACC’s.
Another issue worth exploring is the legislation put in place by FQ to stop us processing Black Jewfish onboard our vessels while at sea, especially here in the GOC. I believe this was another management tool ( a blunt instrument, as explained to me by a senior fisheries manager) used by FQ to greatly hinder the commercial taking of Black Jewfish in the GOC where the majority of all fish species caught is processed (filleted) on board. It seems like now we are able to process on board Jewel fish, which is classed as a ‘lesser jew species”.
I have had meetings with FQ managers about the processing of Black Jewfish on board as well, as it is no different to processing Jewel fish only to be told that it is not an option at the moment, as I said, rules made to hinder our profitability.
Something worth noting is that for years in the GOC there was no provision in the logbooks to record Black Jewfish, they were simply processed and went in with the ‘mixed fillets’. Had FQ put a provision in the logbooks to record the capture of these fish then the TACC would of been significantly higher, another major piece of incompetence of FQ that we now have to pay the price for again.
I have wondered from the start just how this mismanaged legislation came into being in the first place. I would suggest that maybe there had been significant influence from the recreational sector? After all, in the first year of implementation, once the commercial TACC was reached there was a ‘no take’ for the commercial fishers for the next 10 months but recreational and charter fishers were still allowed to keep taking these fish unhindered, you be the judge.
These are just more glaring examples of FQ mismanagement, using ‘kneejerk’ reactions and managing by imagination and speculation instead of using evidence-based science.
Once again, industry has to cop the brunt of FQ blunders, this sort of toxic management from FQ has been going on for far too long and needs to stop, remember people, change will only come if we push for it.
Author: Queensland Seafood Industry Association (QSIA), Shane Snow, QSIA Director.
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