Well, where do we start with this article? Let’s start at the issue of the mismanagement from Fisheries Queensland (FQ) of the Spotty Mackerel net fishery on the East Coast?
Emotive management, blatant lack of science, recreational and greens pressure, speculation, guesstimation and imagination, this fishery had it all when the legislation from FQ to stop the netting of this sustainable species came into being.
For years now we have been told that fish stocks are overexploited with some on the verge of depletion. FQ have offered a simple explanation in that stocks are overfished because of the lack of individual transferable quota (ITQ) or total allowable commercial catch (TACC), FQ essentially wanting to “privatize” a public resource. The high human cost in any quota managed fishery is for young people trying to get a start in that fishery.
Many historic towns have seen their fishing industries shrink and even disappear due to ITQ or TACC. The map of stagnant dying rural fishing villages is much the same whether one is talking about on home soil or Denmark, Iceland or Alaska, one thing they all have in common is quota.
So, let us look at some history with “Spottys” of where there were starting to be net caught and where we are now with the catching sector.
Spotted Mackerel were caught using a variety of set nets and line fishing methods. Since 1997, the use of ring nets was the main reported method of capture, although anecdotal evidence suggests that this occurred far earlier. The CRC Reef Research Centre Technical Report no. 58 notes the following:
‘Page i: Summary – In 1999-2000, commercial catches of Spotted Mackerel in Queensland increased significantly in response to the development of overseas export markets, where subject to management intervention, an increase in effort was likely to continue while attractive prices were being offered and overseas markets continued to expand’.
‘Pages 7-8 – Since 1997, the markets for Spotted Mackerel changed substantially with the development of valuable export markets, primarily in Japan, for whole fresh fish (Williams 2002). Previous to these export markets, all Spotted Mackerel landed were destined for the domestic markets, with significant quantities sold fresh in the Brisbane and Sydney markets’.
‘Page 33 – Coincidentally, 1997 was also around the time when the export markets for whole Spotted Mackerel commenced (Williams 2002), and from 2000 was almost solely the preferred market product type (Fig, 3.7). Reported commercial fishing effort (i.e. number of boats and days fished) in the Spotted Mackerel fishery had increased slightly over the past decade, except in 2002, where a significant increase in the number of days fished was observed, possibly in response to the investment warning issued that year (Fig. 3.8, 3.9)’.
I wonder about some statements from the CRC Reef Research Centre report:
- “where subject to management intervention”
- “while attractive prices were being offered and overseas markets continued to expand” and,
- ”possibly in response to the investment warning issued that year”
Do these statements suggest that the banning by FQ of ring netting or netting of this species may have been driven by a different agenda? It definitely was not evidence-based science. I believe it was because it had become a profitable new export market for industry putting at risk recreational fishing access – you be the judge.
It is interesting to note that prior to the new management arrangements being implemented with TACC for “Spottys” a number of meetings were held in Hervey Bay involving commercial fishers, the serving ALP member for Hervey Bay (Andrew MacNamara), the Premier (Peter Beattie) and the fisheries minister (Henry Palaszczuk). It was decided and accepted by all present what the maximum number fish per trip would be set at 150, however it was never discussed by FQ just how these fish were to harvested.
Commercial fishers that were present took it for granted and trusted that they would still be able to harvest these fish using nets once the TACC was implemented. Between those meetings and implementation of legislation it was decided by FQ to ban the netting of these fish with a change to line caught only arrangements with NO consultation with industry.
Fisheries Queensland, being fully aware at that time that this species did not line fish well at all implemented a line only caught arrangement. Is it any wonder where our distrust of FQ comes from when they pulled bastard acts like this? This gutter act was fully supported by the Fisheries Minister at the time, Henry Palaszczuk.
Management intervention in December 2002 resulted in the banning of netting for Spotted Mackerel, with commercial fishers now restricted to hook and line.
Analysis # 01: Science
If we look at a little bit of science with “Spottys” we can see that in the majority of areas where these fish were ring netted that the average size of the fish had not really changed to any extent before the ban of net fishing came into place.
Spotted Mackerel have been tagged in Hervey Bay and recaptured off Townsville and Cairns, this tells us that “Spottys” are a transitional nomadic species. This means that it is virtually impossible to fish them out, being on the move all the time shows that a patch of fish in say Hervey Bay today won’t be there to catch tomorrow as they keep travelling.
Analysis # 02: Management
Historically, the Spotted Mackerel fishery in Queensland was managed through a variety of input controls including constraints on the number of vessels that could operate in the fishery (i.e. limited entry), specification of those vessels and associated fishing gear.
An annual TACC of 140 t was set for this fishery and still stands today. As of the 25-04-2020, the total caught was 78,711 kgs or 56% of the TACC which runs from 01 July to 30 of June the following year.
Research history prior to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) Project 92/144 shows that there had been little directed research conducted on the Australian East Coast Spotted Mackerel fishery (Begg et al 2005, pp. 8-9) notes:
‘Although this FRDC project provided fundamental baseline information on the biology and sector interactions within the fishery there still remains little known about the reproductive potential and early life history stages of spotted mackerel including their development, distribution, fecundity, recruitment, nursery and spawning habitats. Fisheries-independent measures of stock size and sustainability of the resource are also lacking’.
This above paragraph says it all really, where was the science to validate the stopping of net fishing for this species? There was none, or very little of it.
Analysis # 03: Radical Recreational Fishing Groups
Conflict between commercial and recreational fishers had been developing over the past decade (prior to 2002). Much of the debate and conflict has arisen owing to a lack of information, disagreement over the comparative harvest of each sector, and potential allocation disputes over the resource.
In addition, reports from recreational fishers alleging declining catch rates of Spotted Mackerel in some recognised fishing grounds, and patchy occurrence during recognised peak fishing seasons has further fueled the debate over the sustainability of the Australian east coast Spotted Mackerel fishery.
Scenarios like this have and do fuel radical recreational fishing groups running their own greedy agendas to pressure governments and FQ to restrict viable, sustainable fisheries. I ask, is this a sound basis for “world class fisheries management”? I think not.
I look back on many decisions that have financially crippled many fishing businesses, decisions made by FQ over many years, especially on TACC or ITQ species. We have all witnessed the maximum amount of dories in the reef line fishery increased (which has been a good thing), the boat size and pot limits in the Spanner Crab fishery increased, all by FQ, and I have been told by fisheries managers that these limits have been increased because “what does it matter how many boats or the size of the boats that are used or the amount of gear that is used, it is a quota managed fishery”.
I just wonder where the logic was from FQ when banning net fishing for “Spottys”? After all it is a quota fishery so what should it matter how the species is harvested? After all, the harvest can never exceed the TACC, (as quoted by FQ) I think we all know the answer to that and what influence went into that decision from FQ, but as I have said before, you be the judge.
Just more incompetent toxic fisheries management, the time for change is here and now, nothing changes unless WE push for it.
Begg GA, O’Neill MF, Cadrin SX and Bergenius MA, 2005, ‘Stock assessment of the Australian east coast Spotted Mackerel fishery’, CRC Reef Research Centre Technical Report no. 58, accessed 2 May 2020: Report link
Cameron DS and Begg GA, 2002, ‘Fisheries biology and interaction in the northern Australian small mackerel fishery’, Final Report to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra. Project Number 92/144 and 92/144.02, accessed 2 May 2020: Report link
Williams LE, 2002, ‘Queensland’s fisheries resources: Current condition and recent trends 1988-2000’, Department of Primary Industries, Queensland. Information Series QI02012.
Author: Queensland Seafood Industry Association (QSIA), Shane Snow QSIA Director
Image: Shane Snow
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