Never let the facts get in the way of a good story

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What’s that saying, ‘never let the facts get in the way of a good story’.  I had the unfortunate luck of reading an article in the Cairns Post titled, ‘Call for trawler nets to relocate’ by Chris Calcino published on Friday 26 June.  I can’t blame Mr Calcino but I will be blame the paper for poor journalism.  The article borders on recreational fishing advocacy and not journalism – yes I said its not journalism and the following is my argument for your consideration.

From the outset ask yourself – why is a newspaper prepared to cite three individuals (a member of the State Government, a local Councillor and a recreational fishing advocate) that are all supportive of the extension of net free zones (NFZs) and a single, local commercial fisher?

So what did the Cairns community get in the Cairns Post hard hitting and balanced examination of extending NFZs? Commercial trawl fishing is ok or tolerated until a local Councillor, State MP and CAREFISH founder decide that they are not which it turns out is based on a complaints from locals – how many and who are they?  Its time this practice was called out as these ‘locals’ complaints being used to fuel an almost unhinged hatred of commercial fishing.  We will never know who made the complaint and government officials will hide behind privacy concerns yet commercial fishers are vilified in print.

Cairns Division 9 Councillor Brett Olds called for an extension to one of the most biased and unscientific policy platforms, the NFZs to be extended to exclude commercial trawlers from Trinity Beach region.  The Cairns Post assumes those people that might read its woefully researched story which does not tell the reader the following, you know, that adds some much needed context to the story:

  • There is minimal fishing by trawlers in the area with some Banana Prawn harvested in the area;
  • Leader Prawns used as brood stock are also commercially fished and used to provide brood stock for farmed prawn businesses;
  • When commercial fishing vessels use the local jetty it is typically to resupply and / or change crew;
  • Trawlers that can be seen from Palm Cove during the day are anchored in the recognised safe anchorage so that the crews can rest in sheltered waters; and
  • Stirred up water is a result of currents, weather mixing the silty bottom and the dumping of dredge spoil.

It is unsurprising that the CAREFISH spokesperson Paul Aubin backed the call for their introduction arguing that removing commercial fishers from the area will create a recreational fishing boon.  Where is his evidence that this is the case in the NFZs?

Do you need more context?  Of course you do so here is a scenario that undermines the economic argument for the NFZs and is a blight on all governments that support the policy.  Based on Fisheries Queensland’s FishNet data between 2004-05 to 2013-14 and using a yearly average catch for Barramundi, Blue and King Threadfin there was 73.6 t, 51.7 t and 62.2 t  per year respectively across the areas that constitute the NFZs, namely Cairns, Mackay and Rockhampton.

If the NFZs did not exist during the 2016-17 / 2017-18 / 2018-19 period – how much Barramundi, Blue and King Threadfin would Queensland, interstate markets and the community no longer have access to?

Scenario 1: Under this scenario, let’s assume a decrease of 5% in the catch rate for Barramundi, Blue and King Threadfin over the 2016-17 / 2017-18 / 2018-19 period.  The Barramundi catch would be approximately 201 t, while the Blue Threadfin catch would be over 147 t and the King Threadfin catch would be approximately 177 t for a total of 534.3 t of fresh fish lost to the Queensland and national economies.

Scenario 2: The second scenario assumes an increase of 5% in the catch rate for Barramundi, Blue and King Threadfin would lead to a Barramundi catch of 231.9 t, Blue Threadfin catch of 162.9 t and a King Threadfin catch of 195.9 t for a total of 590.7 t of fresh fish lost to the Queensland and national economies.

So where is the sense in losing between 543 and 591 tonnes of fresh local seafood?

If it helps the context argument, what we have lost thanks to the NFZs? A policy which seems to be backed by a Councillor, State MP and an organisation not known for its love of my industry support the loss of between 2.1 to 2.4 million 150g serves of fish.  This doesn’t feel like great economics.

Not surprisingly the State member, Mr Craig Crawford MP is backing the call of Councillor Olds and I quote his very carefully considered statement, ‘anything that gets recreational anglers a better time on the water’.  Really?  What an insight from Mr Crawford. You might have expected Mr Crawford to back local economic recovery of small commercial fishing businesses instead worrying about the recreational angler experience speaks volumes about the State Government’s economic credentials.

This industry does not publicly attack recreational fishing and the families that enjoy this leisure activity. When is enough really enough – my industry has not advocated for commercial fishing only fishing areas. Personally, I believe enough will be enough when this centuries old and sustainable industry has been forced into extinction by radical recreational fishing groups.

At a time when Queensland regions are recovering from the economic impacts CoVID-19 you would think the Councillor and State MP would have the best interests of local small businesses at heart. The recreational fishing experience will not drive our much needed economic recovery. Commercially harvested seafood is integral to the local, interstate and international visitor experience, you know, tourism experience.

Finally, and I need to state this again that context is important and the story in the Cairns Post speaks to a bias against commercial fishing.

Previous NFZs articles:

Author: Eric Perez, QSIA CEO

Image: QSIA

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