Picture: Grey Mackerel Scomberomorus semifasciatus
Save the Grey Mackerel - Gill netting of spawning aggregations must be stopped.
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The inconvenient truth about unsustainable gillnetting in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Are far North Queensland fisheries sustainable? Are we overfishing in the GBRMP? Will the outcomes of recent reviews solve the problems?
Presented here are are the first 2 of a series of 4 articles based on NSF reports (available here) written By David Cook for Lee Brake, editor of NQ Fish and Boat, based out of MacKay, in order to spread the word in easy-to-read, everyday speak in their monthly publication.
Twelve management changes required to the East Coast Gillnet Fishery to assist recovery of inshore fish stocks - a summary of concerns held for fisheries management in far North Queensland that is relevant to fisheries management Australia wide.
A community campaign for sustainable inshore fishing in far North Queensland - a report for the Minister John McVeigh and local MPs in far North Queensland.
A review of concerns relating to the offshore gillnet fishery in the inshore waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park - report August 2010
The whole story summarised in one document (Nov 08) Presentation (pdf) March 2010
THE BONES OF CONTENTION (pdf) Improved management of inshore fisheries in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park would benefit fishing and tourism sectors in FNQ 3rd Edition - updated as a brief & background paper for: Minister John McVeigh MP Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry Queensland - This paper seeks to document the contentious issues in fisheries management in North Queensland from a recreational fishing viewpoint.
Local residents, recreational fishers, local commercial line fishers and traditional owners all along the North Queensland Coast are concerned about the devastating effects of commercial gill netting targeting spawning aggregations of the Grey Mackerel and other inshore species. This is occurring in the shadow of the iconic and world famous Daintree World Heritage area and the iconinc Great Barrier Reef. Australian and International law provides protection for threatened habitats and species on land - but less than a kilometer offshore commercial boats from other Queensland Ports pillage annual gatherings of the Grey Mackerel legally, despite netting being banned for other mackerel species long ago. There are concerns that this species is being fished to commercial extinction and local fishers note the effects of indiscriminate netting on the stocks of other species such as Queen fish. Traditional owners and other residents are also concerned about the deaths of dugongs, sea turtles and other so called 'by-catch' in the nets used to target Grey Mackerel.
Local resident, semi-retired fisheries consultant and FFC member David Cook has formed the Action Network for Sustainable Fisheries in Douglas Shire and is coordinating the campaign for a moratorium on net fishing in the sensitive waters adjoining the Daintree World Heritage area. You can help our campaign! Learn more about the Grey Mackerel issue below by reading the information provided including articles from local newspapers and briefings prepared by Mr Cook
10/11/2014 - SUBMISSION TO the review of Queensland’s fisheries management, 2014 The need to develop new management measures to reverse the ongoing decline of inshore fish stocks of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and eventually achieve sustainable inshore fisheries at optimal stock levels with minimal adverse ecosystem impacts including reductions in fatalities of large marine animals - David C. Cook, BSc(Zool. Hons1), Post Grad Dp Fisheries Mgt Previously Co-ordinator Network for Sustainable Fishing in the Douglas Region (2007 – 2013) Wonga Beach Queensland, 4873 Australia 30 October, 2014.
The Network for Sustainable Fishing (NSF) is an informal network of individuals and organisations supporting all fishing sectors in Queensland fishing sustainably for the benefit of local communities. Many members with over 20 years fishing experience in FNQ consider our larger inshore fish species of the GBRMP to be currently at such low numbers that current stock of most inshore species can now be regarded as depleted. Website activity for NSF is undertaken by Fishers for Conservation; most of the material presented in this submission is available from www.ffc.org.au/Grey_Mackerel.html#latest.
18/03/2014 - The inconvenient truth about unsustainable gillnetting in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park - Articles 4-7 now available! Presented here are a series of 7 (and counting) articles based on NSF reports (available here) written By David Cook for Lee Brake, editor of NQ Fish and Boat, based out of MacKay, in order to spread the word in easy-to-read, everyday speak in their monthly publication.
8/2/2014 - GBRMPA ignoring both the science and public concerns about declining inshore fish numbers?.
The drafts of two recent major planning documents released for public comment by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority have come under fire from fishers throughout North Queensland. People such as David Cass of the Cooktown Fishing Restoration Group, David Cook of NSF Douglas Shire, Paul Aubin of CAREFISH, Cairns, Lance Murray of the Mackay Recreational Fishing Alliance, Kim Martin of Rockhampton and other founder members of the Queensland Recreational Fishers Network are all hugely disappointed by GBRMPA. Their planners have shown a disregard for both the science and public opinion frequently expressed through the LMAC process. LMACs are GBRMPA’s well-funded means of regular consultation with the public. Meetings are held quarterly at various centres and involve extensive travel by GBRMPA staff. “We are all extremely frustrated by GBRMPA’s failure to recognize and adequately address the threats to our inshore fish. Poor fish numbers are the result of poor fisheries management, poor surveillance, poor enforcement and poor awareness of the biology of our inshore species and of course the declining quality of the environment” says David Cook. David suggests that time has come to take a real close look at the future of LMACs and feels that there is now convincing evidence that members are wasting their time at quarterly meetings, suggesting that annual meetings would suffice. He reckons savings would be far better spent on improving fisheries management, surveillance and enforcement. A submission made on behalf of NSF members to recommend the necessary changes to the fisheries sections of the GBRMPA planning documents is available here.
30/11/2013 - Letter to Minister McVeigh re., Serious concerns remain over netting of grey mackerel (and other inshore species): the need to introduce adequate regional management of gillnetting effort giving due attention to the stock structure and size, spawning seasons and spawning locations of various species
SUMMARY - This letter outlines continuing widespread public concerns relating to FQ’s recent assertion that grey mackerel are “sustainably fished”. FQ’s analyses of grey mackerel catch data and the assumptions they make as presented in the Minister’s letter dated 20 September are challenged. Whilst this letter focuses on grey mackerel, it is noted similar concerns are being expressed for other important inshore species targeted by the ECIFF gillnet fishery.
3/06/2013 The inconvenient truth about unsustainable gillnetting in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
Are far North Queensland fisheries sustainable? Are we overfishing in the GBRMP? Will the outcomes of recent reviews solve the problems?
Presented here are are the first 2 of a series of 4 articles based on NSF reports (available here) written By David Cook for Lee Brake, editor of NQ Fish and Boat, based out of MacKay, in order to spread the word in easy-to-read, everyday speak in their monthly publication.
11/02/2013 - Twelve management changes required to the East Coast Gillnet Fishery to assist recovery of inshore fish stocks
A summary of concerns held for fisheries management in far North Queensland that is relevant to fisheries management Australia wide.
20/11/2012 - Network for Sustainable Fishing Douglas Region, End of Year Report to Douglas LMAC, Port Douglas,
In July 2006 the Douglas LMAC Sub-committee on Fishing reported widespread local concern that gillnetting was considered to be causing local overfishing and dugong and turtle deaths in the Douglas Shire inshore waters. Fisheries Queensland (FQ) were advised of these concerns by the DLMAC and by June 2007 three public meetings had been held discussing these and related issues. The main recommendations emerging from these meetings were: 1. make the local, inshore grey mackerel fishery line only, 2. close local waters to all roving or out-of-town gillnetters, and 3. buy back locally held gillnet licences after 5 years. Read full report here.
24/08/2012 - New report available summarising the campaign and with a collation of press coverage - A community campaign for sustainable inshore fishing in far North Queensland - a report for the Minister John McVeigh and local MPs in far North Queensland. See cover letter in post below. NOW AVAILABLE - Updated document: THE BONES OF CONTENTION (pdf) Improved management of inshore fisheries in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park would benefit fishing and tourism sectors in FNQ 3rd Edition - updated as a brief & background paper for: Minister John McVeigh MP Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry Queensland - This paper seeks to document the contentious issues in fisheries management in North Queensland from a recreational fishing viewpoint.
24/08/2012 Dear Mr Premier, Minister for Fisheries, Senator and local Members,
For over five years we were told by the Labor Minister for Fisheries and his department that we did not have a problem with our inshore fish numbers and that gillnetting was not harming our stocks. We were told that our state-wide stocks would not be harmed by what was happening locally. In other words they might have well told us we were imagining things. For over five years we argued until and beyond the point we were angry and cynical, we argued that we did indeed have a very serious problem and that the indications were we had local stocks of inshore fish that could be wiped out by current mismanagement of gillnetting and were also losing our dugong, turtle and inshore dolphins to gillnets. Then the research results started to come in, revealing we did indeed have local stocks of some species.
Research reports noted that these were highly vulnerable to overfishing of spawning aggregations and a change in management approach was necessary before permanent damage was done. Suddenly Fisheries Queensland was forced to claw its way out of the 1970’s and it became acceptable to recognize overfishing of inshore waters is occurring and a significant revision of gillnetting management and effort is required to bring stability and certainty and some opportunity for profit, back to the gillnetting sector. It was also accepted that arrangements need to be made for recreational and charter fishing (i.e. inshore fishing as opposed to reef) to recover.
Here is a permanent record of our campaign to try and get Fisheries Queensland and the Labor Government to take us seriously. A hard copy will be handed to Minister John McVeigh in Cairns next week and copies circulated the length of the GBRMP urban coast through a number of networks sympathetic to the cause promoted by NSF. LNP is to be applauded for its action to advance the gillnet licence buyback process and its establishment of a stakeholders working group but caution not speed is urged. The pitfalls are many and opportunities to ‘make a quick buck’ are well known to the more experienced in the industry, some have been there before.
I do urge you all to open the attached document, contents include five colourful collages of press cuttings and a Bibliography giving short summaries of key scientific findings supporting the need for better fisheries management along regional lines. As my wife has said to me many times over the past few years “There are people in Brisbane paid to do that, why are you doing it for free?”. Good question, all I can reply is that someone has to. Having been awarded a national scholarship to undertake the relevant post grad qualifications for the task, I put it down to the call of “duty”. NSF members would be most grateful for your support and interest in rebuilding our inshore fish stocks. (If anyone is confused as to why we do not have similar fisheries production to Asian Countries, please do not hesitate to ask, the reasons are very simple being resource and market-based, not political).
Kind regards, David Cook B.Sc.(Hons1) Post Grad. Dp Fisheries Mgt (UK)
17/06/2012 - Inshore netting update - Beach goers at Wonga Beach were surprised to stumble on an early Sunday morning raid being carried out by Port Douglas Fisheries Patrol officers. On-lookers reported seeing other dead but under-size threadfin salmon and bream being discarded from the net.
Two men who had slept on the beach by a campfire all night were interviewed by the officers. Sustainable Fisheries Network co-ordinator, David Cook, who lives at Wonga Beach said that a number of people had complained to him recently about gillnetting activities along the beach, suspecting it to be illegal. He said he had encouraged them to phone the toll-free Fish Watch Hotline (1800 017 116) which will put them through to the local Fisheries Patrol Office. “It’s really good to hear that the boys in blue came out from Port Douglas so early on a Sunday morning and made a successful seizure. Some of the big stores in Cairns sell these nets to the public and that should be made illegal for a start. They are as much to blame as the poor sods who can’t resist chancing their luck” Mr Cook said. Read more
12/06/2012 - New flyer available -
2,000 of the drag/bait net fliers were printed and 800 of these have been distributed the local Port Douglas Fishing Mag. Line Burner, also available online free.
15/03/12 - SUBMISSION TO UNESCO DELEGATION TO AUSTRALIA, MARCH 2012 The depleted inshore fisheries of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park need urgent management change. Available for download (pdf)..
The issue of the need for urgent management change in the depleted inshore fisheries of the GBRMP has been brought to the attention of UNESCO, through our NSF presentation to the delegates assessing the World Heritage status of the GBRMP, at the meeting in Cairns 13/03/12. NSF provided a five minute talk, along with regional NGOs and tendered our SUBMISSION TO UNESCO DELEGATION TO AUSTRALIA, MARCH 2012 The depleted inshore fisheries of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park need urgent management change.
14/03/12 - Queensland election commitments - All political parties have now publically recognized the huge level of community concerns over our over-netted inshore waters and have pledged $9m to 12m to “fix the problem”. The ALP commitment includes "A $12 million voluntary buy-out of netting licences and a structural adjustment of the netting industry will be carried out to protect turtles and dugongs and promote recreational fishing" See ALP Reef watch media release for detail. The LNP has released a policy that includes the following commitment "“... The LNP is committed to the health and wellbeing of our fisheries and will undertake a $9 million voluntary buyback program in consultation with the industry. The buyback will target large mesh and gill nets (sic.) with a special focus on important recreational fishing locations and areas of high conservation value. In addition, to ensure the long term sustainability of our fisheries, we will invest up to $1 million in a range of sustainability measures including enhanced monitoring of fisheries on a regional basis." More detail here
19/10/11 Avaliable for download: Submission from the NSF, Douglas Region, Far North Queensland to the current assessment of the ECIFF. Download - PDF - and Word versions. To be read in conjunction with our earlier ‘Review of Concerns ..’ which is a vital part of this submission.
This submission is in relation to the Environmental Assessment on the (QLD) East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery (ECIFF) under the Environment and Biodiversity Protection Act, 1999 and the Guidelines for the Ecologically Sustainable Management of Fisheries, Ed. 2, 2007
6/04/11 The urgent need to reverse the decline of fish stocks and other iconic marine life in the inshore waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine park.
This timely, copyright free and important presentation put together by the Network for Sustainable Fishing (NSF) Urban Coast of the GBRMP 6 April, 2011.
View the presentation in power point format
View the presentation in Pdf format
8/10/10 I would like to share this with you as this matter is of serious concern to us all.
Tourism is the lifeblood of Tropical North Queensland, they are recognized as probably the most important driver of our economies (no offence to mining / pastoralists / education / ADF etc)………..but we all agree that this industry does pump millions into the regions coffers.
Fishing is arguably the biggest participation “sport” in the world, Florida alone reaps over $2.3 billion from the singular pursuit of the iconic large-mouth bass. Darwin also derives millions of dollars from visiting anglers coming from all over Australasia / Japan / the States and Europe to target their barramundi – the official NT Government web site provides proof and I have sent this to you on previous occasions.
Apart from my current career in Real Estate, I was a calm water fishing guide here for almost 15 years, I have worked in the retail fishing industry, I have been a past director of Tourism Tropical North Queensland, I have been a member on the ZAC for the DPI, Fisheries prior to it being dismantled several years ago. I have undertaken fisheries research for Tourism Queensland and penned a report on the recreational fishing opportunities for the Mackay region – recommendations that have been adopted for the benefit of the industry down there.
So I do believe that I have a qualified opinion on this matter – THAT RECREATIONAL FISHING IN THIS REGION IS SO BAD, IT IS EFFECTING OUR LOCAL ECONOMY BY WAY OF LOSS OF TOURIST DOLLARS THAT COULD RUN INTO THE MILLIONS.
Cairns used to be the sportfishing capital of Australia. – FACT!
We had many world records to prove it.
We used to have a fleet of dozens of game boats that plied the waters of the GBR and contributed tens of millions to our economy. Now there are only a handful that work fulltime due to lack of custom.
We used to have the recognition as the best place in the world to come to grips with a monster marlin off the continental shelf and anglers paid upwards of $5,000 a day for the privilege.
We used to have a calm water fleet of dedicated guides working the waters from the “not so mighty” Daintree in the north to the Hinchinbrook Channel in the south – now there only half a dozen full time. Now I’m talking local here, not remote Cape York (Cooktown, Princess Charlotte Bay, Aurukun, Seisia, Weipa, Karumba, Mornington Island & Normanton etc etc.
I personally had two custom built vessels, employed three full time guides and was about to commission my third vessel from Cairns Custom Craft when I took a step back, analyzed the situation and determined that I could not sustain the anglers “perception of a great fishery” any longer and my client numbers were dwindling. I used to take up to a dozen anglers a day in Trinity Inlet alone.
But I got sick of making excuses as to why the fishing was so poor that I could not justify taking clients money and honestly say………the tides must be wrong / the water is too cold / too hot / there has been too much rain and fresh water / that we needed more rain to flush out the system……..everything but to admit that the fish stock have become so badly depleted but commercial netting and that’s why we had to be content with piddly 25cm grunter and catfish instead on glorious barramundi / fingermark / king & blue salmon / queenfish etc etc etc.
I still have my finger on the pulse however as I am the owner of an award winning web site called Fishing Cairns www.fishingcairns.com.au back in its heyday, voted the best new tourism web site in Queensland and it won the prestigious IT&T awards (I have the “Oscar” to prove it). I was also runner up in the David Koch (Sunrise) sponsored Australian E-Commerce Business Awards in the same year.
From this involvement, as a world recognized fishing charter booking agent, I can attest to the decline in visiting anglers to our once flourishing region. The experience just does not cut it anymore and the feedback / grapevine is spreading the word like wildfire.
The attached is not an isolated incident, it is repeated on a weekly basis and by many who can’t be bothered to put pen to paper and express their total disillusionment with the local fishing scene.
The solution is quite simple – GET RID OF THE NETS IN INSHORE / COASTAL / TIDAL areas in highly populated / tourist destinations where the true economic value of the now limited resource may be enhanced by recreational sport fishers.
Note – I have caught over 400 barra this year and only three of them were of legal size, Keith Graham and I fished the Daintree last Sunday for a total of 8 barra but the biggest went 55cm……still way short of the legal size of 58cm.
06/08/10 FFC in the news
Inshore fishery devastated, fishers say August 3, 2010 AAP
The FFC media release received good coverage in the Brisbane Times, the Sydney Morning Herald, The West, Nine MSN and others, and in an interview screened on channel 7 news, we would like to sincerely thank all FFC members and journalists involved.
Errata - Before anyone gets all tangled up about it we would like to point out that at no stage did David Cook or anyone associated with the report say anything about 'dragging' of nets. The (mis)quote referring to dragging of nets, attributed to David in some of the reports, unfortunately must have been 'misread'. The source material for this coverage is the media release below and there is no reference to dragging of nets in that. Oh, and nobody ever said "devastated" either.
In case anyone was wondering - the gill net fishery in question operates by stringing out gill nets, sometimes directly in the path of circling spawning aggregations of fish, dugong, turtles or other wildlife - it is so called 'dredge' or 'trawl' as well as 'beach haul' fishing that drags nets.
03/08/10 Fishers For Conservation Media Release
Great Barrier Reef overfishing and Dugong deaths in inshore waters exposed.
Fishers For Conservation has today welcomed the release of a comprehensive report reviewing the gillnet fishery in inshore waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. This gillnet fishery, which operates by dragging large nets in the inshore waters of the Park, is “unsustainable at current levels” according to lead author, David Cook. “We are losing our breeding schools of king salmon, queenfish, grunter, fingermark and grey mackerel and now it’s almost impossible to catch a barramundi big enough to keep”.
Mr Cook has drawn on his years of research on the issue and collaborated with Queensland co-authors from Rockhampton, Mackay, Cairns and Cooktown to produce the fully referenced report documenting recreational, commercial, and charter fishers concerns for failing inshore fish stocks and wildlife deaths. “The result is a 62 page report that carefully documents most of our concerns and also explains to the lay person some fisheries management science that seems to have been overlooked”.
Mr Cook, a qualified coastal fisheries manager with extensive experience explained that “the report contains a list of recommendations for early intervention and is being sent to the Premier, the Federal Minister for Sustainability, local candidates for the federal election and other politicians with interests in sustainability, jobs and tourism.” Mr Cook pointed out that this issue was not to be confused with the reef fishery which appears to be well-managed and sustainable. However, “there is a different sweep of fish species that live in our estuaries and inshore waters and these are the ones that have been hammered by the big netters”.
Fishers For Conservation spokesperson, and qualified marine biologist, Josh Coates said, “We have been supporting the local fishers fight to keep net boats from targeting spawning aggregations for over three years now.”
“This kind of fishing is unsustainable. It targets fish when they are at their most vulnerable and prevents them from reproducing. A disturbing side effect of this kind of fishing is the entanglement of Dugong, turtles and other endangered wildlife.”
“In this day and age, it is shocking to think that this is going on in the shadow of the World Heritage listed Daintree and the world famous Great Barrier Reef. It is time to apply a bit of common sense and protect these fish stocks”. Download report
Contact for further Comment
02/08/10 Crucial new report documents over fishing and threats to Dugong and other marine life in Great Barrier Reef inshore waters - North Queensland.
This groundbreaking report is fully comprehensive, referenced and contains a list of recommendations for early intervention. The report has been sent to the Premier, the Federal Minister for Sustainability, local candidates for the federal election and other politicians with interests in sustainability, jobs and tourism.
Lead Author, Mr Cook accepts there is some confusion in the public arena with the reef fishery as this appears healthy and very good catches can be made “but there is a different lot of fish that live in our estuaries and inshore waters and these are the ones that have been hammered by the big netters – offshore netting in our inshore waters is unsustainable at current levels” said Mr Cook “We are losing our breeding schools of king salmon, queenfish, grunter, fingermark and now it’s almost impossible to catch a barramundi big enough to keep”.
Network for Sustainable Fishing, 2010. A review of concerns relating to the offshore gillnet fishery in the inshore waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in relation to the Guidelines for the Ecologically Sustainable Management of Fisheries; with recommendations for early intervention. Ed. David Cook, NSF. Publ. Fishers for Conservation, 62pp. www.ffc.org.au/Grey_Mackerel.html#latest.
30/07/10 Letter to the premier regarding Grey Mackerel, Dugong, Whales and more
Migaloo being seen at Snapper Island for the third year running, where, as by now you will be well aware, they set very long, very strong gillnets up to 1.2 km long (water deeper than 20 m – plenty of that near Snapper Is. but ‘only’ 600m length in waters down to 2 m deep) for grey mackerel and shark, was reported in Port Moresby’s ‘National’ newspaper, last Monday.. Imagine my astonishment, in my hotel room in PNG, when I read that the city newspaper’s editor thought it was of interest for their local paper.
Now, same week as the Douglas Region’s ‘Independent’ newspaper’s horrific picture and article about the netted dugong with its tail hacked off at Wangetti beach (Douglas region), more Snapper Island-related international news, this time in the worldwide distributed SCRFA Newsletter, about our call to have all grey mackerel fishing closed at Snapper Island for two years or until stocks recover and then be re-opened to commercial and recreational line fishing only. Concerned scientists worldwide are closely following this story as confirmed by my colleague of the 1990’s, SCRFA Director, Prof. Yvonne Sadovy, please see front page and page 7.
I am sure we all hope we don’t see the two stories combined in one, next time round – Migaloo cut free from a 1.2km grey mackerel gillnet near Snapper Island, in the only place in the world where two World Heritage Areas meet? Hoping is not enough, what if, after being released, Migaloo washed ashore on the Daintree coast, too stressed out to make the journey south. Migaloo would take a bit longer to bury than all the dugong that have been coming ashore recently with net marks. Can you imagine the fury? This is a very real risk. Remember netting at this scale is new to the WHA, it is the result of uncontrolled effort creep as small boat fishermen moved to much larger boats and much longer gear in response to declining stocks.
Imagine the speed at which the numerous photographs would spread the round world with the backdrop of our Iconic Daintree’s rugged rainforest coastline! It wouldn’t just be the Port Moresby ‘National’ that ran the story! Imagine the international outcry. It would be interesting to see what Japan would make of it. By then, you may have to agree it would be time to discretely drop that slogan, “Queensland, the Smart State”. I for one would hang my head in shame that I hadn’t been able to put the stupidity of this new scale of netting on the breeding grounds across to you and your advisers more convincingly in time to save not only Migaloo, but our rapidly diminishing dugong numbers (now estimated to be down to 3% of their 1960 numbers along the urban coast of the GBRMPA) and our even faster diminishing stocks of our iconic inshore fish species such as barramundi, king threadfin, fingermark, and the Douglas region’s grey mackerel.
Please do be prepared for the release of our major paper, finally next week. This will be impossible for any legitimate fisheries manager to ignore. It’s been a long time coming but you will find it is worth the wait and you will realise why it has taken so long as it clearly explains the science behind the problem in easy to understand terms and is fully referenced. Clearly if your fisheries advisers refuse to accept the science, then we regret we shall have to seek political assistance from a party that is prepared to listen to the facts, understand the science, and the economics. We really hope this will not be necessary and that Migaloo is the cue you need tho put this problem out for competent independent review and development of sustainable fisheries management plans. Removal of fishing of spawning aggregations whether reef or estuarine is in the long term interest of the commercial fishing industry and would be a huge boost t o local tourism, fishing related enterprises and jobs in any communities and would give families the encouragement to take their kids fishing knowing they had a good chance of catching a decent sized fish. And we would probably all end up eating more local fish as stocks are given the chance to recover.
Regards, David Cook Co-ordinator, Network for Sustainable Fishing
30/05/10 Following last week’s disturbing article in the Cooktown Local News, please see attached letter published from our e-Network.
In the well chosen words of professional scientist, Tony Ayling, he would “be highly surprised if the dugong had not died in the nets of the same netboat” he had sailed past for the previous three days at Cape Kimberley/Snapper Island whilst Tony was surveying corals. Tony remarked he is highly surprised that this type of netting is allowed in such sensitive an area.
28/05/10 MARINE COMMITTEE HOSTS REEF RESEARCHER The effects of Great Barrier Reef Marine Park management zones on fish stocks will be the subject of a talk at Mossman Bowls Club next Thursday (June 10). James Cook University researcher Dr David Williamson will present his team's findings on how zones are affecting fish populations. The team has been investigating the effects of Marine Park zones on inshore reefs of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park since 1999. Read more
17/05/10 - Please email now! - Copy, paste and adapt the following from a FFC member, and send to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Minister, As a concerned Australian I call on the minister to become aware of, and take urgent action, regarding the targeting of spawning aggregations of Grey Mackerel off the Northern Queensland coast.
The Grey mackerel (Scomberomorus semifasciatus) is endemic to only a small area including the inshore waters of North Australia. Ignoring a local pro fisherman's reported 'gentlemans agreement' to not target the annual aggregations with nets, large boats from 'offshore' fisheries are targeting these schools with heavy winch haul net gear reportedly wiping out whole schools before they have the chance to spawn.
I call for a moratorium to be called on the targeting of Grey Mackerel spawning aggregations by netting, effective immediately.
Action must be taken to protect this species and others from indiscriminate or damaging fishing practices such as haul netting. The decimation of a species could happen in the shadow of the World Heritage listed Daintree region and it would be on your watch, Minister.
You can learn more about the issue at the Fishers For Conservation site: http://www.ffc.org.au/Grey_Mackerel.html. Thankyou for your attention and action regarding this important issue.
06/04/10 Full version of article to be published in International newsletter
Thurs 25 March 2010 Pls note the last two weeks’ coverage by the Gazette on our fishery issues.
Time running out to save grey mackerel stocks Fisheries fight goes on
Sadly it is now too late for our recently commenced co- (read compromise) management meetings, rhetoric aside, we do need net free areas to allow inshore fish stocks to begin their recovery. Please do read the articles above and do take appropriate action, e.g. just drop a quick email to Peter Garrett’s staffer, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org and Jason O’Brien at Cook@parliament.qld.gov.au. Also please do txt the editor of the Gazette to lend your support for closing the area to out of town netting, they are asking for a txt response on 0421 269 100.
It is indeed a matter for Peter Garrett as he is just paying lip service to implement the requirements of the EPBC Act 1999, no way is this fishery sustainable. We are suffering because of the inaction of the authorities whilst there is a real possibility permanent damage is being done to those other inshore species which, like the grey mackerel, aggregate in easily netted inshore waters that can be fished throughout their spawning season by numerous “offshore” netters.
Truly appalling and unforgiveable mismanagement of our inshore stocks.
And that is before we consider the unreported dugong and turtle by-catch.
Mon 15 March 2010
15/03/10 Download this informative presentation (pdf) from David Cook of the Network for Sustainable Fishing in Far North Queensland. A good overview of the campaign, read more below including David's empassioned call to arms "For both sustainability and local economic considerations I urge everyone to take this even further and to push for the Douglas Smooth and Partially Smooth waters to be a Net Free Area. This means doing MORE than YOU have done already...". High res version 4.4 meg with title
Please see the attached presentation made to last week’s meeting. A couple of slides (those with white background) have been added to cover some additional points made at the meeting. I attempted to convey a summary of community views, namely that we have noted a big decline in numbers of various inshore fish species since offshore fishing became regular in local inshore waters around 2003.
Most local inshore fishers I have spoken to and who have attended our meetings consider that offshore netting in inshore waters is largely responsible for this decline and that we now have a serious sustainability problem in inshore waters. We recognize that this is of course not the only reason for their decline. However, since there is no closed breeding season for inshore fish other than barramundi, and most inshore schooling species (as opposed to the reef species) are most vulnerable to netters immediately before they spawn, many people are convinced we have and are witnessing serious resource depletion. This is not just an “allocation problem” as suggested by some gov. reps.
As we have been saying for over three years now, we do require a halt to offshore netting in inshore waters. At the very least we require a two year moratorium on offshore netting in local inshore waters during the grey mackerel season, June to Mid September, if we are to engage in on-going co-management meetings.
This would probably have been the conclusion of the locals at the meeting as a whole but for some very skilful facilitation by the chair and government reps. which encouraged a number of participants to accept the view put forward by certain gov. reps that we had no chance of achieving the requested moratorium, e.g. direct quote: “You’ve achieved nothing so far after three years, so what do you think you will achieve if you continue doing the same things?”
I personally do not see the value of sitting on our hands whilst engaging in an on-going talk fest for the following three years and whilst risking the offshore netters mopping up the last of “our” schools of grey mackerel and continuing to deplete other inshore species including our few remaining dugong.
All fishing undertaken in QLD needs to be accredited under the EPBC Act, 1999. The attached presentation lists a number of reasons why offshore gillnetting, as it is now practised, will never be accredited by a truly independent expert. There is likely more to be gained from taking this fact to NGOs and the Federal Government than just “talking” through the co-management process.
For both sustainability and local economic considerations I urge everyone to take this even further and to push for the Douglas Sooth and Partially Smooth waters to be a Net Free Area. This means doing MORE than YOU have done already...
Over to you.
Regards, David Cook
Co-ordinator, Network for Sustainable Fishing in Far North Queensland
April 17, 2009
Labour MP for Cook, the Hon Jason O’Brien has always been receptive to the concerns of the Douglas community about the depletion of the inshore fish species of the Douglas area, initially the Grey mackerel and, as it now transpires, queenfish, fingermark, grunter and threadfin salmon.
Remember there is no closed season to allow these species to spawn without continual harassment of the large (inappropriately termed) offshore, Cairns-based gillnet boats that commenced fishing our inshore waters post-2003 and have been giving us a rare old hammering over the last few months. There is also a suspected link between the rise of offshore netting of our inshore waters and the decline of dugong and, to a lesser extent, turtle in the waters between Cape Tribulation, Low Isle and Port Douglas, see recent issues of the Port Douglas and Mossman Gazette and the recent dugong death attributed to an offshore netter by the local TO who examined the dugong the following day.
On a number of occasions Mr O’Brien has travelled to Mossman, Wonga and the Daintree to met with groups of concerned community members and has also accompanied a charter fisher on a day’s fishing trip to Snapper Island to see for himself and discuss the issues involved. It has been quite clear to me he has a gained a genuine conviction that we have a just cause that demands immediate response from DPI&F, and if they fail, from GBRMPA who are ultimately responsible for the living resources of our World Heritage Area that is the GBRMP. If all else fails, the next port of call is back to Peter Garrett and ultimately, the IUCN. I am aware Jason O’Brien has been raising the issue with Minister Mulherin for the last two and a half years to no avail. This time he has chosen to copy the NSF on his summary correspondence. Please see his letter to Mulherin, who, regrettably, is still, apparently ill advised by entrenched pro-netting deadwood. In view of the on-going deaths of dugong in our local waters and the obvious reduced numbers of our larger inshore fish species, many in the NSF are now convinced that our inshore stocks and dugong can no longer sustain any more offshore or itinerant netting in the inshore waters of the Douglas area.
We therefore are insisting on the immediate closure of our inshore waters to all offshore and itinerant netting and, by 2012, all local net licences to be bought back. It would be worth considering whether the proceeds from an annual recreational marine fishing licence could fund the buyback of local netting licences. This may well be the way to go. As evidence indicates the offshore and itinerant netting is unsustainable in our limited east coast catchment areas, where the Great Dividing Range watershed is within 8 km of the coast, the offshore and itinerant netters would not need to be bought back, just kept away by appropriate fishery management measures on grounds of sustainability. The principle of ‘moral hazard’ applies, i.e. the big netters have entered into a fishery that is clearly unsustainable, and as a result have to bear the consequences of this rash action. Mining companies do not get compensated when their mineral resources run out: current offshore netters are well aware they are mining our inshore fish stocks, leaving little or nothing for everyone else. Let’s all give Jason O’Brien the support he needs to see this through to its logical conclusion.
Jan 11 2009 Article in Line Burner magazine Image - Text version
Exerpt: "Over the last two years this writer has steadfastly maintained, in the columns of this respected journal, that it is fundamentally wrong to allow unrestricted, large-scale, round-the-clock netting of pre-spawning schools of large predatory species in our inshore waters without any regard to their spawning period. The same goes for not just grey mackerel but also queenfish, fingermark, golden trevally, spotted, school and Spanish mackerel and possibly also threadfin salmon. This is happening now as you read this: we need to do something urgently. "
Dec 1 2008 Capricorn Sunfish have disbanded
“Branch members all agreed that there is little point in continuing while we have a state government with no vision for our fishery and a DPI&F that is hostile towards recreational fishing," - Kim Martin, outgoing president said. Full story here. They are infuriated over the way their submission to the ECIFFF representing 2,000 fishers was treated as if from one person.
Read four pages of extracts from this review. They substantiate most of what we have been saying over the last two years, but of course lack the detail of our localized knowledge. The authors are to be commended on their achievements in getting to grips with such a relatively complex fishery over such a short space of time, albeit without the opportunity for hands on experience. After two years of banging our heads against a brick wall it is a vast relief to discover that our concerns are finally being appreciated at the National level. The review has however either missed or not dealt adequately with a number of important points and these will be raised in a future mailing. This is only to be expected given the very limited time frame for study and the rather shark-focused terms of reference given to the Panel. It is clear an attempt must be made to transfer some level of the Panel’s expertise into senior management of DPI&F. The review is a good start but it’s a long road ahead.
25 Nov 2008 - Although you may not have heard much on the subject recently, we have not let up on the need to have our inshore waters closed to offshore and itinerant netters.
The Grey mackerel season this year did not happen for the first time ever. Two commercial line fishers each caught around 40 greys for the entire season – previously 40 was a good morning’s catch. We are left to conclude that the local stock has been virtually fished out by the offshore netters over the last few years prior to the release of sufficient spawn to allow the population to survive. The netters, apart from a brief stopover in June did not come back but have apparently moved north to continue the process of what seems to be serial overfishing of pre-spawning aggregations of not just grey mackerel but also queenfish, trevally and fingermark.
I have put together as much information as I can in the attached Case Study which commences with just one page of key dot points preceding a three page summary. Some of you may have already seen an earlier version which I personally handed to Premier Anna Bligh and MP Jason O’Brien on their visit to Mossman and also sent to the Peter Garrett review of the Qld East Coast Fin Fish Fishery which was completed recently. The current and final version includes the minutes of our February meeting with DPI&F.
If you would care to lend some support to our campaign it would be very well timed if you would please fwd the attached document, with an indication of your support for our campaign to: email@example.com , the person in Peter Garrett’s office who is responsible for reviewing the review of the ECIFFF. To Sunfish in Mackay & Rocky and indeed any other networks, please do feel free to circulate to your members. It is a political numbers process now, we need to make our voice heard once again and now is the time. It would also be worth copying your local state and Federal MPs.
15/01/08 - A review of ‘Fisheries biology and interaction in the northern Australian small mackerel fishery, (Cameron & Begg, 2002) in relation to sustainability concerns for the grey mackerel fishery in Far North Queensland
Clich above for the full review by FFC steering committee member David Cook, B.Sc. (Hons.) Dp. Fisheries Mgt., Dp. Conservation & Land Mgt. Conservation & Liaison Officer, Mossman Boat & Fishing Club, Secretary, Network for Sustainable Fishing in Douglas Shire (NSF), Member, Douglas Local Marine Advisory Committee.
NON TECHNICAL SUMMARY
The results of research undertaken in Queensland on grey, spotted and school mackerel between 1993-1996 are recorded in the government report ‘Fisheries biology and interaction in the northern Australian small mackerel fishery, (Cameron & Begg, 2002). The report contains the following findings and post-research observations relevant to grey mackerel fishery management in Far North Queensland, eastern waters:
- • 1,949 recreational boats targeted “small” mackerel (incl. grey, spotted and school or ‘doggies’) in FNQ, 2,068 caught “small” mackerel in 1993-94;
- • dramatic increases & decreases in commercial effort and harvest for “small” mackerel species probably stimulated by demand from overseas markets;
- • tagging of school mackerel support the concept of a number of (different) local stocks but findings are inconclusive;
- • tagging of spotted mackerel indicates there may be only one single stock undertaking seasonal migrations;
- • from tagging of 313 grey mackerel there was only one recapture and this was in the same local area as it was tagged, no evidence was detected to indicate grey mackerel travel long distances;
- • there has been no research conducted on grey mackerel published prior to the Cameron & Begg, 2002 and even this report presents relatively little information on the species;
- • female grey mackerel reach sexual maturity at 651-700 mm (fork length this translates to 75-80cm total length).
The key recommendation of the report is that: “Small mackerel species should be managed with utmost caution until detailed stock assessments are undertaken”.
Other relevant recommendations of the report include:
- · the need to develop “a reliable indicator of stock abundance for each ‘small’ mackerel species (i.e. a means of estimating independently of total annual landings, whether annual stock numbers are relatively steady, declining or increasing);
- · The respective stock structures (of the three mackerel species) … should be integral in considering management arrangements for each species (i.e. to manage stocks effectively we need to determine whether individuals of each species intermingle freely throughout their range or are there different centres of population with very little if any exchange of individuals between the different populations);
Douglas Shire commercial line fishers, charter fishers, recreational fishers, including annual visiting fishers, have up to 40 years fishing experience of the annual four month grey mackerel fishery in local waters. They have developed their own “reliable indicator of stock abundance”. The seasonal fishery in Douglas Shire lasts from late May/early June to mid September and is based on pre-spawning aggregations at well known localised fishing grounds. Catches reveal that roe are ripening throughout this period whilst the species feeds voraciously on bait fish.
Over the last few years Douglas Shire fishers have reported the numbers, size and frequency of grey mackerel schools to have dropped sharply. In addition stocks of other large inshore fish have also fallen markedly whilst stocks of baitfish have remained high. This has coincided with round-the-clock, offshore netting of grey mackerel at their pre-spawning and spawning aggregations in inshore waters. Allowing unrestricted offshore netting of inshore spawning grounds throughout the breeding season is hardly “managing with utmost caution”.
Whilst there will undoubtedly be other factors affecting mortality and recruitment in the grey mackerel fishery, the unrestricted netting of breeding schools in easily accessed areas, throughout the breeding season, is likely to be the major cause of the observed decline in grey mackerel in waters off the Douglas Shire.
Both local and visiting fishers are not prepared to condone continued offshore netting in local inshore waters as they consider it unsustainable. 2007, as predicted by some locals, was the worst year ever for local line catches of grey mackerel. We consider current offshore gillnet management measures are currently allowing the steady depletion of stocks of both grey mackerel and other inshore fish.
A compromise interim solution is proposed until local management committees are effectively managing local fishing effort as proposed under Stage 2 of the East Coast Fin Fish Fishery review. (For details of the offer please see end of full report)
Note that representatives of the NSF and Mossman Boat and Fishing Club are meeting with DPI&F in Cairns in early February to discuss the above. If you have any strong comments to make this is your last chance to notify us.
10/01/08 Grey Mackerel Campaign/ Ban Offshore Netting in Inshore Waters Update 10 Jan. 08
• QLD DPI&F released proposed new management changes to the Queensland East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery in December 2007 for public consultation. Douglas Shire fishers are outraged to find that these do nothing to restrict the commercial netting of grey mackerel on traditional inshore spawning grounds and have vowed to scale up the fight to have all offshore gill netting banned in the inshore waters of Douglas Shire.
• Mossman Boat & Fishing Club has undertaken a review of the government report ‘Fisheries biology and interaction in the northern Australian small mackerel fishery, (Cameron & Begg, 2002 ) in relation to sustainability concerns for the grey mackerel fishery in Far North Queensland. The review points out that QDPI&F appear to have ignored the main recommendations made by the authors following their research, namely that: “Small mackerel species should be managed with utmost caution until detailed stock assessments are undertaken” and that there is need for the “development of a reliable indicator of stock abundance for each small mackerel species”. • Mossman Boat & Fishing Club has written to Deputy Director General, Fisheries, Grant Hall, QDPI&F, Brisbane, to point out that they have long since developed their own reliable indicator of stock abundance for Grey mackerel. This simply involves commercial line fishers and recreational fishers visiting the recognized aggregation sites for the species and carrying out visual, echo-sounder and fishing surveys. These have revealed that the number, sizes and frequencies of schools of Grey mackerel have dropped off markedly over the past few years.
• The Club are arranging a deputation from Douglas Shire, comprising representatives of the local commercial line and inshore net fishery, charter fishery and Club officials, to meet with Cairns-based fisheries scientists in early February. The task for the deputation will be to endeavour to determine why QDPI&F continue to deny Grey mackerel stocks are under threat from overfishing. The Club maintains that relatively constant commercial net landings of Grey mackerel are actually a result of hyperstability in the fishery masking the fact that stock abundance is dropping rapidly.
• The Club is adamant that offshore netting in inshore waters along the Douglas Shire coast must be banned by 1 June 2008 and locals are discussing possibilities of affirmative action should QDPI&F fail to take adequate action.
Prepared by David Cook, FFC member and Conservation & Liaison Officer Mossman Boat & Fishing Club, 10 January, 2008.
18/12/07 - Now that the proposed regulations in relation to the east coast fin fish fishery consultation exercise are available for comment, Please read our reply to a letter received from Grant Hall, deputy director general, DPI&F, Brisbane page 1- page 2
02/10/07 - Last week a full page featureon Grey mackerel in the Gazette and this week Win News gave extensive coverage to the Grey mackerel story (yesterday 1 October) on their 6pm news over several minutes. Footage was shown of one of the offshore Drum gill netters hauling in many spawning condition Grey mackerel on their inshore spawning grounds. There was also a 2.5m hammerhead shark landed, all in inshore World Heritage Waters, with the shores of Snapper Island National Park in the background. Community concerns were outlined. (Please do make your views known to firstname.lastname@example.org & ThePremier@premiers.qld.gov.au and please do request a reply.) Part of an on-board interview with a commercial line fisher was shown where he described just how bad this year has been for both him and the recreational fishers in comparison with previous years, noting that this is part of a trend of steadily dropping catches since gill netters began targeting the Snapper Island spawning grounds. He predicts that if netting continues he will be forced to leave his home grounds and search further afield for new fishing grounds. Mark Lightowler gave a telephone interview on behalf of DPI&F saying, as I recall, that DPI&F considered they had no evidence to indicate the grey mackerel fishery is unsustainable. He (again) failed to address community observations that Grey mackerel school sizes and frequency have dropped drastically. Any targeted fishing of spawning schools found only in predictable, easily located, easily fishable, limited inshore areas by a highly efficient method such as gillnetting, without observation of spawning season closures for that method, is a recipe for stock depletion. At least line fishing catches are heavily limited by weather and the fish’s own “choice” to take the lure -which they are known to ignore immediately prior to and during spawning. Netters just sit on the spawning schools and wipe them out and can operate round the clock and in much rougher weather - too easy once the spawning grounds are known. DPI&F need to explain (a) why there is no closed breeding season for netting of Greys and (b) how they can justify continuing to deny the signs of stock reduction we are reporting when they have made no effort to monitor stock size. No competent fishery manager would use steady catches by net fishers on spawning aggregations as evidence of a stable situation because they are aware of hyperstability. DPI&F made the mistake last year of initially denying we had a cause for concern and seem to feel obliged to remain in denial. Is this because of a need to save face and hope we shall just give up and forget about the issue? Tempers are running so high in Douglas Shire over this issue there is no chance of the majority of line fishers, tackle shop owners and caravan park managers ever giving up. As predicted last year, this season has been the worst ever. Next year will be even worse and active confrontation with the netters is predicted by many. History will record how badly DPI&F has managed this issue. The poor publicity generated for DPI&F will continue until offshore netting is finally banned from our inshore waters and will become a real consideration for the Department and the State Labour Government including incumbent member, Jason O’Brien, who has been remarkably silent since his initial interest last year and appears to have given up on the issue. Effective and early action is a must. Please do make your views known to email@example.com & ThePremier@premiers.qld.gov.au and please do request a reply.
28/9/07 Read a summay of the issues in an article by Line Burner magazine Page 1, page 2, page 3 , Page 4
Congratulations to the Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette's Bruce Cutler who has a full page feature in this week's paper reporting community accounts of what we are observing in the grey mackerel fishery (available in the downloads section). Bruce has done the miles; he interviewed two commercial line fishers, two charter fishers, a caravan park manager and two of her tenants: all based within a few miles of the grey mackerel breeding grounds. He also reports a statement by a DPI&F spokesperson. Bruce had done a good article and a must read for those interested in sustainable fishing in Douglas Shire. . I am not aware of Bruce's source of the estimate of six tonnes in a few days and personally suspect this to be a significant over-estimate. The main drum net boat was back near Snapper Island and close inshore late yesterday afternoon with his net right on one of the main grounds for spawning Spanish (yes, Spanish) mackerel. He was gone by morning - although I heard by mobile phone, a school of dolphins were at the very same site this morning. I suspect the charter fishers will have a few words to say about the net boat dropping his nets right on one of their "secret" fishing grounds known to hold ripe Spanish mackerel at this time of year. Remember it is illegal to net Spanish mackerel.
- local fishers are absolutely livid that there are now two large net boats working the small breeding ground for grey mackerel at Snapper Island at the same time, and are expressing their total frustration both with DPI&F and also local member Jason O'Brien for allowing this slaughter of their breeding stock to continue;
- we have written recently to the Premier to request an independent assessment of their situation as DPI&F are refusing to take into consideration 35 years of community experience with the Grey mackerel fishery;
- many individuals will confirm that the school sizes and frequency have dropped away rapidly over the last few year. As deputy head master of Mossman State High School, Jeff Umback, states "Up to a few years ago, when you went out during the right season the schools of grey mackerel used to cover acres, now you hardly ever find them and if you do, the schools are really small, something is affecting their abundance and the netting is bound to be having a serious impact"
- I consider DPI&F only have "no evidence to show that netting of Grey mackerel is unsustainable" only because they have not bothered to look for such evidence in the right place and in the right manner. I consider that their statement that the fishery is healthy because net catches are remaining fairly stable indicate they are not aware of the phenomenon of hyperstability, a fisheries management term to explain why stocks of a schooling species such as mackerel can suddenly crash whilst annual catches up to that point have remained fairly stable; it is because the method being used is too effective and the fish too easy to locate with current technology.
- photo of the two boats taken together at Snapper Thursday 23 Aug, both had set nets, in this shot the red and white boat had just hauled its nets and had gone to talk with the skipper of the black barge that had nets set at the time;
- that night although there were only two commercial boats present, professional line fisher, Col Patterson and assistant saw net marker buoys indicating one of the boats had set two nets, thereby contravening their licence;
- Commercial net delegate for Queensland Seafood Industry Association, Mark Harris, tried his best to alert DPI&F Fisheries that evening but Stephen Pollard had left his mobile at home when he had gone out and so could not be contacted; Mark Harris says: "This is how we loose faith in the Fisheries: when we try to contact them at night when netters are breaking the law, all we get is an answering machine, that really is not good enough - it's at night when they will break the law and use two nets, they'd be stupid to do that during the day. We are asking DPI&F to step up their night patrols when the netters are in the area because we have seen them breaking the law"
- I (David) called Marine Parks officer in P Douglas, Sebastian Selwood to advise him of this contravention of the fisheries law at 9 p.m. that night but no action was taken by the authorities.
- Commercial mackerel line fisherman, Col Patterson says it is the worst season for Grey mackerel he has ever experienced and this year for the first time ever, his catches of grey mackerel have not even been enough to pay for the fuel he has used looking for them. He says he uses a high powered fish finder to help track the fish and this year his fishfinder is showing that the schools have been much smaller and far fewer than ever.
- Col says he is convinced that the net boats fishing the schools with nets are preventing the dispersed fish or 'stragglers' as he calls them for meeting up to for big schools and come into breeding condition
- shot of the roe of a female Grey mackerel I (D Cook) caught on 23 August shows that they are coming into breeding condition, and in my opinion as a qualified fisheries manager, they should be spared the constant harassment of nets during this season. "We have got to let what little stock we have left breed otherwise we shall have no recruits in future years"
- Allowing the netting of grey mackerel to continue unrestricted throughout their breeding season is a recipe for stock collapse; I am more convinced than ever that government should close the offshore netting of grey mackerel down permanently in the inshore waters along the Douglas Shire coast;
- Two adult Humpback whales and a small calf have been present in the area around Snapper Island, and in the same area as the nets are set for the last few weeks, the photograph of the three whales is taken from my video footage shot on 24 August on the Snapper Island grey mackerel grounds; it is only a matter of time before whales are caught in the nets if netting is allowed to continue;
- Daintree charter fisher David Patterson reports he saw a dugong 400m off Cape Kimberly on 24 August, that's about 800m from where the black barge had its nets the previous day. David says "it is extremely rare to see a dugong in these waters nowadays and with nets around their days are definitely numbered"
- It is now a year since we presented our petition with 658 signatures on it requesting the banning of netting of Grey mackerel in local waters. The State Labour party have failed to respond to community concerns over the depletion of local stocks of Grey mackerel and many people say this will certainly influence the way they vote at the next state election.
P O Box 597 Mossman Q 4873 12 June 2007
Around 60 members of the Douglas Shire community, including recreational, charter and professional fishers, met last Thursday evening with senior Brisbane-based staff of Queensland Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries at Daintree Palms Hotel, Wonga Beach.
Jim Gillespie, General Manager, Fisheries Management, QDPI&F and his Fisheries Manager, Mark Lightowler travelled from Brisbane especially for the meeting in response to our local “Save the Grey Mackerel Campaign”.
Numerous letters from local campaign supporters have flooded Qld. Primary Industry Minister, Tim Mulherin’s office in recent weeks and the Minister has had no option but to respond. The letters all demanded the closure of offshore netting in local inshore waters prior to the start of the Grey mackerel spawning season in order to save the heavily depleted local stocks from local extinction.
The Mossman Boat and Fishing Club is working closely with the informal community Network for Sustainable Fishing in Douglas Shire (NSF) to reduce the amount of overfishing by offshore netting in local inshore waters. NSF is affiliated to the Douglas Shire Sustainability Group (DSSG) see: www.dssg.org.au.
A full account of the campaign is given in this month’s edition of the local fishing magazine, Line Burner and on www.ffc.org.au/Grey_Mackerel.html. The campaign has also gone international with an article appearing in the latest newsletter of the Society for the Protection of Reef Fish Aggregations, available online on www.SCRFA.org.
The Gazette reported as lead, front page story on 31 August, 2006, the presentation of a petition bearing 658 signatures of those with interests in fishing in Douglas Shire to Jason O’Brien, MP,. The petition requested the immediate banning of netting of Grey mackerel in local waters.
The petition was presented towards the end of last year’s season, the worst ever for local Grey mackerel line fishers in the history of the Shire. A week later, local commercial, charter and recreational line fishers watched in fury as large Cairns-based gill net boats (around 50 ft in length) equipped with big hydraulic net haulers took what appeared to be the last of the Grey mackerel, heavy with roe from right under the noses of local fishers.
Unlike small line fishing boats which are restricted to catching fairly small amounts of fish in relatively calm weather, the big netters can remain fishing in much rougher weather conditions. The 600 metre long nets take up to 3 tonnes in one three day trip.
Local fishers consider this level of fishing is more like mining the resource than harvesting it and, especially as it is carried out during the spawning season is certainly unsustainable. Using nets of this size throughout the breeding season obviously disrupts the activity of the schools and may even catch the majority of fish prior to spawning leaving with few remaining stragglers without the critical mass necessary to achieve a successful spawning season.
During the first half of the meeting, those attending became noticeably impatient with the lengthy explanations by DPI&F’s Jim Gillespie of how the entire inshore fishery along the East Coast of Queensland is managed.
On two occasions the President of the Mossman Boat and Fishing Club, Brian Roberts, requested Mr Gillespie to get to the point and to use more straightforward language. Mr. Roberts said valuable time was being wasted as Mr Gillespie glossed over important concerns without addressing the real issue of saving local Grey mackerel stocks from being wiped out.
Mark Lightowler then gave a summary of the current state of knowledge of the Grey mackerel fishery and admitted some concerns about sustainability were valid but that the local net fishery for Grey made up only about 2% of the national catch of the species.
Mr Lightowler said many fisheries were based on spawning fish but when repeatedly challenged from the floor as to what those fisheries were, could only come up with mullet and shark. It was pointed out from the floor that shark were now depleted in many areas and many fisheries managers now appreciate it is fundamentally poor management to base any fishery on spawning aggregations.
Mr. Lightowler said DPI&F were planning on brining in a voluntary agreement with net fishers to raise the minimum net mesh size to 6.5 inches from the current 4 inches. He said that the minimum size at first breeding is 64 cm and this would ensure that fish under 60 cm would not be caught.
David Cook, Conservation, Liaison and Publicity Officer of the Mossman Boat and Fishing Club and Secretary of NSF, said that as far as he could determine the boat he photographed fishing local stocks of Grey mackerel was already using a 6.5 inch mesh and the fish being caught were close to spawning (see attached photo). He asked what farmer kills all his pregnant cows before they give birth?
Brian Roberts commented that it is very important is to protect the fish from netting in the period leading up to spawning. He said “At the very least there should be a closed season for netting the Grey mackerel to allow them to spawn, just like there is for other species”.
Neil Green, president of the Qld Seafood Industry Association, who also travelled up from Brisbane for the meeting, said he was prepared to make a case for the area being declared a local management area for netting. This would mean that decisions would be made locally as to what level of netting would be carried out in the Shire.
This proposal was presented late on in the meeting when many members were already visibly upset by the long drawn out report given by Mr. Gillespie and Mr Lighthowler’s total reliance on shaky data whilst failing to take into account the experiences of two generations of local fishers in the Shire.
Certainly the formation of a local management area where locals contribute to management decision making relating to maintaining a sustainable fishery is an important step in the right direction
A local commercial fisher who has asked not to be named stated afterwards that the DPI&F went about the meeting the wrong way. His opinion, that DPI&F should have immediately acknowledged there was a serious problem with Grey mackerel stocks and then started to discuss means of solving this seems to reflect the mood of participants at the end of the meeting.
Instead a large amount of time was wasted with relatively pointless detail relating to how the DPI&F run their projects. The result was that this angered many and did not allow the necessary time to discuss the most important issues in full.
After the meeting David Cook said: “I am really disappointed with the apparent lack of understanding of biology of the Grey mackerel. It is quite obvious to anyone trained in fisheries management that QDPI&F have not done the science to adequately manage the fishery. They have no idea of the size of the stock, whether the stock is composed of local populations, nor of their movements. As a qualified fisheries marine fisheries specialist, I have no hesitation in stating that DPI&F are, under the circumstances, obliged to take a precautionary approach and introduce, at the very least, an immediate ban on offshore netting during the spawning season for Grey mackerel”
Mr Cook added: “To make matters worse DPI&F are confused as to when the species spawn. They claim the main spawning season is October to January but when challenged were unable to give any published references for this. We know this in not the case in local waters, we have caught fish in spawning condition between June and September”
When Mr Cook pointed out that he had heard from fisheries staff in the Torres Straits that Grey mackerel make up an insignificant proportion of the catch in the area, Mr. Gillespie said he was aware that the QFMA manager up there had worked with Mr. Cook in PNG and said to Mr. Cook “Don’t worry I won’t tell the meeting what happened in PNG”.
Mr. Cook immediately challenged Mr. Gillespie on this and asked him to explain exactly what was meant by this. Mr. Gillespie replied he was only joking and enquired whether Mr. Cook had a sense of humour or not.
Mr Cook pointed out that the way it was said in no way indicated it was a joke. Mr Cook has advised that he will be laying a formal complaint with the Director General of DPI&F and will be requesting a full explanation and a written apology from Mr Gillespie.
Ms. Toni MacNamara of the DSSG, said at the meeting in relation to these points: “Given the lack of DPI&F’s knowledge of the local fishery, and the obviously legitimate concerns of the local fishers, the only sensible option is to take a precautionary approach. DPI&F should heed the warnings of locals who know the fishery and at least introduce a temporary ban on the offshore netting of Grey mackerel to give inshore stocks a period to recover. That way nothing will be lost”
Ex-commercial fisherman, Evan Kingston, said as he left the meeting in obvious frustration when DPI&F showed no sign of bringing an early halt to netting of the mackerel “I’ve been fishing the Grey mackerel just about every year since the early 70’s and they have just fallen off to almost nothing over the last few years, I have never seen them so bad, you guys have to do something about that and do it fast”.
Mr. Cook said to the Gazette after the meeting: “Sadly, it seems either DPI&F is in denial or they are just trying to fob us off because they either do not have the skills and manpower to deal with the problem. They probably fear this will create a precedent and all other areas will be following the lead of Douglas Shire in demanding a closure of offshore netting in inshore waters.”
He continued “During the meeting DPI&F freely admitted the catch figures for the fishery they used to justify not bringing in the ban were, at best ‘a bit dodgy’. How can they hope to get away with fobbing us off with some totally inadequate management measures they hope to introduce some time in 2008? By then it will be too little too late, it is quite likely we will have lost our stocks while DPI&F refuse to admit there is a problem - one that is only too obvious to those of us in Douglas Shire.”
Mossman Boat and Fishing Clubs, Brian Roberts said later “The campaign is only just beginning; we are not going to rest until the inshore waters are no longer being hammered by offshore netters. You have not heard the last of this, we are not going to stop until we do get offshore netting banned in local waters. We shall make sure it is sooner rather than later.
We hold regular meetings at our Newell Beach Clubhouse; the next meeting is this coming Sunday at 4.30 p.m. We intend to discuss how we should scale up our campaign, we need to take action now, everyone is welcome, Club members and non-members.”
Conservation, Liaison & Publicity Officer
(also Secretary, Network for Sustainable Fishing in Douglas Shire)
Approved by: Brian Roberts, President, Mossman Boat & Fishing Club
Tel: 0407 154 240
Grey mackerel fishery in Far North Queensland
Thursday 7 June 2007
Daintree Palms Function Room – Lot 17 Oasis Drive
7p.m. – 9p.m.
PUBLIC MEETING NOTICE (download as text file)
Members of the Far North Queensland community have expressed concerns about the sustainability of grey mackerel in the area.
DPI&F is holding a stakeholder meeting at 7p.m. on 7 June 2007 to provide information to the public about the current status of grey mackerel stocks and future management.
Members of the community are invited to attend the meeting.
"This is the most important meeting. Personally I am not prepared to spend any more time on meetings. If DPI&F are trying to stall us and play for time we shall launch the biggest campaign to save our local stocks ever been seen in Australia." David Cook - Network For Sustainable Fishing
Send a letter to the Minister - click here now!
Points to raise at the meeting or in letters:
- catches have crashed in local waters since offshore netting started here in 2003,
- crashes as a result of netting have already been recorded for 2 other areas on QLD East Coast,
- species only occurs in the inshore waters of N. Australia and S. New Guinea - nowhere else in the world!
- stocks in Gulf of Carpentaria DO NOT mix with East Coast Stock(s) the netters will tell you that the fish we see schooling during the breeding season come from the Gulf - DPI&F researchers David Welch and team have proven this wrong,
- are managed as one stock but NO PROOF, rather they may consist of a number of local stocks along the East Coast and so must be managed as such,
- stock sizes are unknown so DPI&F cannot manage the fishery with confidence,
- steady catches overall for the State-wide fishery is no evidence of a stable fishery – see HYPERSTABILITY (see attached file), it is possible that local stocks may be being wiped out
- have no closed season,
- are available to netters mostly only when schooling prior to spawning, mostly June – September,
- are netted on traditional spawning grounds,
- spawning schools may be legally wiped out by large mechanised gill netters,
- netting also catches Spanish & Spotted mackerel tho’ it’s illegal to net these, (Spanish mackerel in Douglas Shire inshore waters breed in the same areas as Greys and in same months)
- fillets difficult to tell apart from other frozen mackerel fillets
- netting must be banned for same reasons netting for Spanish and Spotted mackerel was banned,
- local stocks may be made extinct by offshore gill netting while DPI&F quibble and say they have no proof - the only reason they have no proof is because they have failed to do the research!
Outline THE NETWORK FOR SUSTAINABLE FISHING in DOUGLAS SHIRE (NSF) - FIRST DRAFT
Please see attached summary of last night's meeting. Also attached is a note on the relevant section of the Act we wish to see put into action by our Minister for DPI&F. To remind us about what this is all about I also attach a photo proving ripening spawners are being targeted by the Grey mackerel gill-netters. This fish was line caught alongside the netter in the attached photo, netting a traditional inshore aggregating site (also frequented by spawning Spanish) just 800m from a Douglas Shire National Park high tide line in a World Heritage Area. Takes some beating that one! Since there is no closed season for the Greys, it is actually a "no-brainer", you don't need the photographs - so why no positive action from our Minister to save the last remnants of our local stock of Grey mackerel? The whole community is not prepared to hold its breath: the Network for Sustainable Fishing in Douglas Shire (NSF) has finally been launched. A promise of very simple action by the Minister before 1 June, 2007 could save a huge expenditure of time, effort, e-mails, postal mail and phone calls by NSF members including schools, friends and family. Best wishes, David Cook Secretary for the Network for Sustainable Fishing Wonga Beach
Photo: David Cook displays Grey Mackerel in spawning condition
Anyone interested in fishing FNQ will be fascinated by this book, recently published - "The North Qld FISHING ELDORADO" by Ralph de Lacey. His chapter on the demise of the Bowen Grey Mackerel fishery (copy of last page and summary of the demise of the Bowen Grey Mackerel fishery) during a period of unrestricted netting by the locals documents our worst fears in Douglas Shire. Read more
At last week's meeting we presented a brief, off-the-cuff explanation of hyperstability but did not have the references with us. For those of you interested in the theoretical side of what we appear to be witnessing. I dug out my old copy of: Hilborn, Ray and Carl J. Walters. 1992. Quantitative Fisheries Stock Assessment, choice, dynamics and uncertainty. Chapman and Hall. London & New York. 570pp. Read the relevant section here
Download background information/ media articles regarding the Daintree Grey Mackerel issue
Port Douglas and Mossman gazzette article "Drama on the high sea" 27/09/07 Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 (jpegs)
Line Burner magazine "save the gray mackerel" Summary of the campaign so far (must read) June 07 Page 1, page 2, page 3 , Page 4 (jpegs)
Carns post article "Mackerel decline hurting tourism" 06/07/07 (jpeg format)
Port Douglas and Mossman gazzette article "fishermen lose fight " 14/06/07 (Jpeg format). No way!
Cairns Post "Plan to manage mackerel" 14/06/07 (jpeg format)
Port Douglas and Mossman gazzette article "Mackerel fear" continued 31/08/06 (Jpeg format).
Press release regarding the Grey Mackerel and overfishing (a general overview of the issue and the arguments for stopping the commercial gill netting) 6/09/06 (Word format).
Port Douglas and Mossman gazzette letters to the editor "Mackerel investegation needed " 07/09/06 (Jpeg format).
Cairns post Article "Breeding site being bled dry" 10/09/06 (Jpeg format).
Re: Cairns post article 9-10 September “Breeding site being bled dry” 12/09/06 (Word format).
Port Douglas and Mossman gazette article "Fish stocks impact tourism" 14/09/06 (Jpeg format).
Briefing prepared for visit by Jason O’Brien, M.P. to the Mossman - Daintree area. 22/09/06 (Word format)
Cairns Post article "Call to ban gill netting" featuring comments from Traditional owners 25/09/06 (Jpeg format).
Cairns post article "mackerel battle" 26/09/06 (Jpeg format).
JASON O’BRIEN, MP, PROMISES ACTION 25/09/06 (Word format)
Comments on the content of the latest Cairns post article 26/09/06 (Word format).
CONCERNS OVER INSHORE & ESTUARY FISH STOCKS IN WORLD HERITAGE WATERS ALONG THE DOUGLAS SHIRE COASTLINE -Brief to Douglas LMAC 10/10/06 - (Word format Text reproduced in full below)
Report by the Douglas Shire Network for Sustainable fishing on the consultation meetings held in Port Douglas on 23 October, 2006 (word format)
Cairns Weekend Post article "Increased protection needed" - call for dugong protected area 28/10/06 (Jpeg format)
Photo: Potentially unsustainable Commercial gill net legally set in shallow inshore waters.
BRIEF TO DOUGLAS LMAC, 10 October, 2006
CONCERNS OVER INSHORE & ESTUARY FISH STOCKS IN WORLD HERITAGE WATERS ALONG THE DOUGLAS SHIRE COASTLINE - A call to ban all off-shore gill netting and inshore gill netting by non-residents and those with no long term history of inshore netting in the shire
A summary of some of the main points
Based on their local knowledge and experience, both recreational and commercial fishers who have fished the inshore waters along the Douglas Shire coastline for many years are aware there are fewer species of large fish being commonly caught nowadays in local, inshore waters than even 10 years ago; those species which are still being caught are now far less abundant and the average sizes of most species caught are noticeably smaller than they used to be.
Very large schools of Grey mackerel used to be common at specific sites in inshore waters off the Douglas Shire from around June to September but the size of the schools and the frequency they have been encountered during this period has dropped very significantly in recent years .
The Grey mackerel (Scomberomorus semifasciatus) is endemic to only a small area including the inshore waters of N. Australia, some of the Arafura Sea and the Gulf of Papua (probably also only the inshore areas), mostly in relatively discolored and nutrient rich waters influenced by estuaries; i.e. it is found nowhere else in the world (www.Fishbase.org ).
Local opinion is that the cause of the apparent decline in Grey mackerel numbers and the shortening of the “season” has been the repeated netting by large, off-shore boats (around 50 ft in Loa) over the last few years of all the known inshore grounds where pre-spawning and spawning Grey mackerel aggregate. The net boats use large hydraulic drum winches to haul 600 m of monofilament 6 inch mesh nets and can legally operate in our inshore waters down to a depth of 2 metres at low tide.
DPI has banned the use of nets to capture both Spanish and Spotted Mackerel. Large Spanish mackerel in breeding condition (with large roe) and Spotted mackerel are caught by hand line fishing (trolling and bait) on the same grounds as where the Grey mackerel reach breeding condition along the Douglas Shire coast i.e. where they are currently being netted. It is therefore inevitable these two species are also caught in significant quantities by the Grey mackerel gill netters.
The temptation to keep the large Spanish and Spotted mackerel inevitably caught as by-catch from netting Greys, (as by that time they are already dead) and simply either declaring them as Grey mackerel (or else as having been caught whilst trolling between the grounds and port) must be considerable. After these species die, the skin colour and markings fade and by the time they have been filleted and frozen, they are hard or virtually impossible to differentiate. I am unaware of what the chances are of anyone being caught for this offence. The question needs to be asked whether DPI can guarantee that misreported by-catch of Spanish and Spotted mackerels is not artificially boosting the level of catches recorded for Grey mackerel.
CRC Reef Research Centre, using DPI data, reports the ‘commercial gross value of production’ of the Grey mackerel fishery in 2003 to be $1,323,000 for the 220.5 tonnes landed. This gives an average return of $6/kg. About 4% of the total annual catch of Grey mackerel is by recreational fishers (1997 & 99 survey, RFISH).
Winds over about 15 knots are regular in inshore waters along the Douglas Shire coastline during the ‘Grey mackerel season’ and these greatly limit the amount of fishing done by recreational fishers while the netters can fish in considerably rougher weather and throughout the night over many more days of the season.
A DPI spokesperson has said there is no evidence that current fishing of Grey mackerel is unsustainable. This raises three questions: (i) how much have they looked for any evidence, (ii) what evidence do they have that current levels are in fact sustainable, and (iii) would they like to call an open meeting in Mossman to make this point known to the hundreds of residents who would be interested to make their own viewpoints on this subject firmly known to DPI.
There is a fundamental flaw in using total catches and catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) figures as indicators of the health of fish stocks of inshore species (like the Grey mackerel) where all known breeding sites are netted. Namely total catches and CPUE for some species can remain quite high until the stocks suddenly crash. Once this happens it has been found that populations of some species are likely to remain low for many years afterwards (e.g. North Sea Herring, Atlantic mackerel and others).
Many fish stocks have been fished-out the world over by under-regulated fisheries where authorities have waited too long before introducing appropriate measures to restrict fishing effort. Damage has been long lasting with thousands of boats having to be decommissioned and hundreds of thousands of jobs lost. Very often evidence put forward by fisheries managers and their requests for more appropriate controls have been ignored by politicians encouraged by wealthy fishing fleet owners. Such fishing has proved to be more similar to mining of resources rather than the responsible harvesting of a resource. We need to learn from such past mistakes and act now to reduce and reverse what we consider to be similar overfishing of the fish stocks found along the Douglas Shire coastline.
While mackerel net fishermen are claiming they “follow” the same schools up and down the coast I am not aware of any tangible evidence for this. I am also unaware of any evidence that they are not simply fishing down known local populations aggregating at known sites. Mackerel may simply be gathering at the same sites at the same time of year to feed on locally abundant bait fish schools occurring in these locations during these months. When the gill-netters have fished down one pre-spawning aggregation, the larger boats can simply move on to the next known site along the coastline. There is currently a research project operating out of JCU investigating this possibility.
There is a significant fishery for Spanish mackerel in the Torres Straits and along the Eastern northern end of Cape York based on a troll fishery. This should also presumably land significant quantities of Grey mackerel if they were present, however the catch of Greys from this fishery is insignificant. This would indicate the species is either uncommon in the area or for some reason not taking lures. In relation to this point, DPI is asked to provide an overall summary of total annual landings of Grey mackerel by boats operating on the East Coast north of Douglas Shire as the figures given on the internet indicate these are either negligible or for less than five boats (no values given) whereas figures for Spanish mackerel are significant.
If the Grey mackerel stocks on the East of Queensland are indeed subdivided into local and relatively discrete populations with little exchange of individuals, then the opportunities for serial overfishing of what amount to pre-spawning and spawning aggregations is alarming. This is because, at least in waters off Douglas Shire, the schools remain for long periods mostly in one or two small localities rather than constantly roaming freely over the whole area. The current practice of relatively unrestricted large scale gill netting using hydraulic drum net-haulers is considered by many Douglas Shire residents to be contributing to a massive decline in local stocks.
Regardless of whether there is only a single stock i.e. a freely intermingling single population moving up and down the entire Qld coast as claimed by the netters, or a number of discrete populations, because of the serious decline observed in Grey mackerel catches in local waters in recent years, we are required to exercise the ‘precautionary principle’ as indicated in the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing (see below) and further restrict catches of Grey mackerel.
It may prove to be irresponsible to wait for the finalisation of the long awaited DPI Inshore Finfish management plan before taking appropriate management measures. There is currently ample justification based on good fisheries management principles to demand an immediate moratorium on netting of grey mackerel in the waters off the Douglas Shire. As far as I am aware, the Fisheries Legislation currently allows the Minister for Primary Industry to introduce a special regulation to this effect.
In Douglas Shire, local commercial line fishers, charter fishers, recreational fishers and those with commercial interests in fishing, including tackle shop owners and outboard motor service agents, caravan park owners and all seven Shire Councilors have signed a petition calling for the banning of netting of Grey Mackerel in the waters off Douglas Shire. Almost 700 signatures have been collected. Copies of the petition were sent to the National and Labour Candidates before the State Election, and to the local commercial fishers’ representative for a meeting in Brisbane commencing this week.
Douglas Shire Council passed a motion in September by 7 votes to nil to write to the Minister for DPI, QLD to request a banning of offshore gill netting and commercial gill netting by non-residents in the shire (still to confirm full details).
Returned Labour MP, Jason O’Brien, spent the morning of 22 September 2006 at meetings held at Mossman Bait and Tackle, Wonga Esplanade Caravan Park, Pinnacle Caravan Park and at the Daintree River boat ramp (near the ferry crossing) discussing the issue with many concerned locals. Mr. O’Brien was clearly impressed with the depth and breadth of concerns throughout the local community for our failing inshore and estuarine fish stocks. Mr. O’Brien is attempting to hold a meeting with the DPI minister, Tom Mulherin, this week to discuss the issue and request it be given urgent attention.
Recent Press Articles or letters and television coverage include:
PD & Mossman Gazette, Aug. 31, 2006, Front page headlines “Mackerel Fear” and colour photos, article continued p.10
PD & Mossman Gazette, Sep. 7, 2006. Letters to the Editor. “Mackerel investigation needed” and “Netting drowns dugong”
PD & Mossman Gazette, Sep. 14, 2006. Article “Fish stocks impact tourism”
Cairns Weekend Post, Sep. 9, 2006. “Breeding Site being bled dry” including large photo of off-shore gill-netter pulling in mackerel in inshore waters 800 m from the high tide line off a national park island, just 1 nm off the Douglas Shire coastline, with inset showing Grey mackerel caught in same place on same day, carrying large, ripening roe.
Cairns Post, Sep. 25, 2006. “Call to ban gill netting”. Picture of traditional elders/owners on the Daintree estuary with an article about the visit to the Shire on 22 Sep. by Jason O’Brien, MP, to listen to residents complaints about fish stocks and calls for a ban on all off-shore gill netting in the inshore waters and estuaries of the Shire.
Cairns Post, Sep. 26, 2006. “Mackerel Battle”. Lists concerns by the of-shore netters and also rumours about threats of violence if the netting of Grey mackerel in the Shire is allowed to continue. One of the local campaign co-ordinators is quoted as saying ”it would be irresponsible of DPI not to address the issue immediately.”
Win News, 6pm. 27 Sep. 2006. 2 minutes taken up including interviews with the Mayor, Mike Berwick and David Cook.
SCRFA (see below) Newsletter, No. 9. Breaking News, informs members of the international world concerned about conservation of reef fish spawning aggregations about the reports of overfishing of Grey mackerel stocks.
The (international) Society for the Conservation of Reef Fish Aggregations (SCRFA) has flagged the issue in their latest international newsletter and a Douglas Shire spawning aggregation site has been entered into their data base. They are willing to lend their support for the conservation of spawning aggregations of Grey mackerel at such sites.
A representative of the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre (CAFNEC) has expressed support and suggested hosting or helping with a forum on the whole issue of commercial netting of inshore and estuary waters in FNQ. Douglas Shire Sustainability Group, (DSSG) with 150 members has offered the support of their members. Fishers for Conservation Inc., (FFC) a national body based in S. Australia has taken the netting of spawning aggregations of grey Mackerel on-board (see their web page). Under discussion is the possibility of forming a local FFC branch to support our Grey mackerel campaign and encouraging local relevant scientific research to complement and strengthen our current efforts. FFC consider that funding for the research projects could be secured under the Recreational Fishing Community Grants Programme, Round 4 if a local branch were formed, and the National FFC office would assist in the development of the project proposal and funding application. The Cairns representative of SunFish has also expressed his interest in our campaign.
As recreational fishers nowadays can never even catch anything approaching their bag for Greys in local waters when the weather does calm down, it would be logical, as an additional precautionary measure, to consider dropping the recreational bag limit from 10 fish to an appropriate number, bearing in mind the weather greatly limits the amount of fishing the recreational fishers can undertake.
The stocks of other species in local estuaries have fallen so low that there should be an immediate ban on all (other) commercial netting by persons who do not live in the shire and/or do not have an established history of netting in the shire. Other management measures such as the buying out of local netting licenses may also be necessary to give stocks the opportunity to rebuild.
A local netter has pointed out that there are good reasons why he should be allowed to continue to ring net mullet and garfish in shallow water by day as this is an active, well controlled operation that targets small moving schools of mullet not caught by any other method.
DPI has said they have no evidence that local stocks are being overfished. But then neither does the ostrich that keeps its head stuck in the sand. Any monitoring programme that ignores the hard earned experience and wisdom of community elders each having fished local waters for over 20 years …. to use the modern parlance … “so” lacks credibility.
As the GBRMP is a World Heritage Area we have an international obligation to responsibly manage the fisheries of the area. The 1995 FAO Code of Conduct on Responsible Fishing (to which Australia is a signatory) www.fao.org /fi/agreem/codecond/codecon.asp applies. This code lays out a number of principles in relation to fisheries management including the following:
“In preparing fisheries policies, countries should use the best scientific information available while taking into account traditional fishing practices and knowledge ….
In the absence of adequate scientific information, countries (not fail to act, but …) should act more cautiously in setting fishing limits.
All people and organizations concerned with fishing should be encouraged to share their views and opinions on fishing issues.
Particular attention should be given to the needs of local people who depend upon fisheries for their livelihoods.”
Where to from here? (Draft note form only)
We clearly need a more thorough study on past and present inshore fishing activities, catches and personal experiences in fishing along the Douglas Shire. This could/should be organised locally, say based on a questionnaire.
An effective vessel monitoring system (VMS) on all off-shore gill netters is a MUST because of huge area covered by off-shore gill netters.
Fishers need to be given good solid material to think about (before they vote) - that justify management decisions. Much more good extension material is required, preferably in a format that is convincing and can be quickly assimilated without laborious and lengthy reading (see for example the brilliant posters by Russel Kelley (http://homepage.mac.com/russellkelley/ FileSharing94.html). More of this type is required to convince the doubters about the value of sound fisheries management (incl. fecundity levels of full sized fish in relation to smaller ones, spill-over effect, harvesting the annual production from fish stocks rather than mining and eventually virtually wiping out stocks, history of fish stock crashes overseas, etc., etc.). Put the right points across in the right way and the majority of fishers, whose interests are best served after all by having plenty of good sized fish around to catch - forever - will come round.
locals need to be kept up to date with fisheries management issues, as indeed DPI Fisheries needs to keep up to date with local events and changing fish stocks. We have seen little to indicate DPI Fisheries Management decision-makers are aware of Douglas Shire issues - rather recent comments given in the press indicate the reverse. Locals do need a share in management of local fish stocks. There is a need for a number of regional fisheries management committees - possibly based on an LMAC type system.
Coastal fisheries are possibly best managed on a regional system with licence preferences going to locals operating at a scale the local resources can sustain. That way there will be greater incentive and local participation to ensure stocks are maintained in a healthy condition. This will help stop the current process of serial overfishing being perpetuated by e.g. the off-shore and out-of-town gill netters in Douglas Shire.
Before we make a decision on forming a local branch of: Fishers for Conservation (FFC) or just maintaining or developing the present e-mailing system into a larger and informal Network for Sustainable Fishing (NSF) the Douglas Shire is to be the first in a state-wide DPI Fisheries Consultation process. This is to be held at the Port Douglas Community Hall, Mowbray Street on 23 October; 1-3pm for commercial fishers and 5-7pm for recreational fishers. Every one interested - be sure to be there! For further details see: www.dpi.qld.gov.au/fishweb/16050 .
David Cook, 10.10.2006
A number of records of statements have been collected from local residents, this needs to be up-graded to a fully funded survey
Jumping Cod (Tripletail) used to be extremely common in and near the Daintree estuary; these are now very rare, Maori seaperch used to be commonly caught and are now rarely seen.
Even previously common species such as Queenfish and Golden trevally
See statements from fishers referred to in footnote 1, above
Evidence in one commercial line fisher’s DPI Fisheries log book where effort has been relatively consistent, and the attached observations and statements by long-time local recreational fishers.
DPI Queensland apparently use the term “off-shore” to describe waters over 2 metres at low tide, internationally it is usually taken as at least 3 nautical miles from the shoreline.
Note: The Grey mackerel are caught by what DPI term “off-shore” netting, where DPI apparently define “off-shore” as “in waters over 2 metres depth”; internationally “off-shore” is usually considered to be beyond a given number of nautical miles or kilometres from the shore.
"QLD DPI&F confirmed at their recent east coast finfish fishery consultation meeting held in Port Douglas on 23 Oct that anyone of the 400+ licensed gill-netters on the East Coast can legally fish any area on the East Coast not closed to fishing or requiring special permits (very few areas). This is a recipe for serial overfishing of inshore areas such as around estuaries and known grey mackerel aggregating sites. There is anecdotal evidence serial overfishing is already happening but it appears DPI&F data analysis is not sufficiently fine tuned to pick this up. As DPI&F apparently cannot prove fish stocks of various species on the East Coast are composed of single intermingling populations, they should take a precautionary approach and limit given operators to reasonable quotas for certain local areas and ensure adequate precautions are taken to prevent any possibility of serial overfishing of local stocks being their only way of supporting catch rates and CPUE at current levels. DPI&F need to be convinced of the value of including the voluntary advice of a variety of local stakeholders via Local Fisheries Management Advisory Committees when deciding quotas and licences for given areas. These need to be established with a view to managing and allowing the re-building of deplenished local fish stocks. The emphasis needs to be shifted back, with regards to inshore fishing, to small local, labour-intensive fishing methods landing top quality product rather than larger more expensive boats with highly efficient gear capable of fishing-out local areas in a short period of time and often landing poorer grade product. In QLD at least, it appears DPI&F need to pay far more attention to local anecdotal evidence of overfishing of local stocks and take effective measures to objectively record any changes. Studies need to be undertaken based on the recollections of older fishers as to stock levels 20 to 30 yrs ago in order to record estimates of baseline stock levels for future comparative purposes." - David Cook