Minister’s admission a shocker!

Download printable article here

Article as it appeared in print

The Fisheries Minister’s reply, received after my last month’s article went to press, contains a shocking admission.

His reply waCook 6 Fresh Grey3.5kg showing bars.jpgs to my letter challenging his July press release that grey mackerel are “sustainably fished”. I had written on 22 July providing him details of the findings of various studies indicating grey mackerel can in no way be considered as “being managed in an ecologically sustainable way” as is required by law.
Admission: regional stocks at risk
It disappoints me to report back that the Minister’s advisers failed to address any of the crucial reasons given for the need to ban the gillnetting of grey mackerel spawning aggregations.
However, the sobering news is that finally we have a shocking and perplexing admission in black and white. Minister McVeigh admits in his letter: “Stock status is determined for the whole state, not by region, although there may be some regional impacts on certain stocks”.

This admission is one that no Queenslander should allow to be swept under the carpet.
The words “regional impacts” are the key. In last month’s column, I summarised Ralph De Lacey’s account of the impacts of three years gillnetting out of Bowen, 1969 – 1971 when the fishery collapsed and “the greys never returned”, at least not for about 30 years.

Similar regional depletions or “impacts” are recounted by others along the coast for mackerel species as far south as the once huge, but now missing schools of spotties from Moreton Bay prior to 1984, from Shoalwater Bay in the late 1970’s, and grey mackerel from both Llewellyn Bay and Douglas Region, 2006-7, to name a few.

By any reasonable definition, any fishery which allows this to occur cannot be legally classified as being ‘managed in an ecologically sustainable way’.
Surely Fisheries Queensland (FQ) have woken up the need to manage fisheries based on the breakdown of their regional fish stocks rather than on a state wide, single stock mentality?
By international standards, the present management of the grey mackerel fishery, and indeed the entire east coast gillnet fishery belongs back in the 1970’s.

Process challenged

Cook 6 Oct NQF&B Grey mack 111 cm 8.jpg
The Minister also kindly sent me FQ’s ‘Framework for Defining Stock Status’, a document describing the process used to determine the status of different fish stocks in Queensland. I find this to be too simplistic for the job at hand.

If reviewed by appropriate fisheries specialists, e.g. from CSIRO, interstate and overseas fisheries agencies, or the Marine Stewardship Council, I consider most would also find the Framework to be fundamentally flawed and inadequate for any fisheries as complex as ours.

The Framework fails take into account vital management considerations previously discussed in these columns. These include philopatry, where Queensland “stocks” of a number of important inshore species are actually composed of separate, non-mixing populations.

Full local extinction of such local stocks may follow when what remains of spawning runs after large scale netting of aggregations are targeted by part-time netters who subsidise their fishing by paid employment. These are the “regional impacts” now officially recognized by the Minister.

Further fundamental flaws in the Framework are that it fails to insist that the implications of other important and identified biological and data-related considerations are taken into consideration.

DAFF scientists challenged

The Minister states that 21 Fisheries scientists and two specialist fish stock assessment scientists participated in a workshop earlier this year concluding 31 species, including the greys, were sustainably fished in Queensland.

We therefore are obliged to publically question the standard of fisheries scientists in FQ. Are these people formally trained in Fisheries Science or, as is often the case, do they just have general biological science degrees and work in fisheries administration?

Presumably FQ has moved on from the days recounted by well-known contributor to this magazine Dave Donald? Dave informs me he once had a senior fisheries manager in FQ tell him in front of other fisheries management advisory committee members that his understanding of sustainability was ‘as long as one commercial fisher is making a living from a fishery, it is still sustainable!’

Dave recalls a few MAC members “were absolutely gobsmacked by such a statement from someone who was actively running many of the states fisheries!”

Box ticking exercise

Sadly all the evidence points to Minister McVeigh’s declaration that grey mackerel are sustainably fished being the result of an unacceptable and unfounded, box-ticking exercise by FQ. The trouble is there are not nearly enough boxes in this assessment. FQ would appear have pulled the wool over the Minister’s eyes.

The Solution

The inshore fisheries of the “Smart State” are probably the worst managed fisheries in the entire country. The result is we have depleted inshore resources with both the inshore commercial and recreational fisheries performing at a fraction of their potential.

Fisheries Network members up and down the country tell me that FQ is allowing “regional impacts” to continue not only because of outdated management, but because of the inherited departmental culture.
To turn this around and achieve real economic benefits and greater sustainable catches in both sectors, we need radical management change. Once stocks have been allowed to rebuild, this would be of significant economic benefit to each fishing sector as well as to tourism and related local industries.
We need regional management with full stakeholder involvement at an appropriately fine scale. We need a ban on netting of spawning aggregations and at bottlenecks on breeding migration runs. We also need more net free restrictions (NFAs or ROFAs), including restrictions on bait netting by both sectors in areas of special recreational and fisheries conservation importance.

Request to Minister

On behalf of network members, and in the interests of the transparency mentioned in the FQ Framework, I replied to the Minister on 3 September, requesting he instructs his fisheries scientists to make public the full details of the review of the grey mackerel fishery and inform us where we can access the information, including the following:

  • their risk assessment;
  • the triggers used for management decisions and the basis for these;
  • why the single total allowable catch (TAC) of 250 tonnes was chosen, how it is enforced and why there is just one TAC when the presence of more than one stock has been proven;
  • details of any Sustainability Assessment for Fishing Effects (SAFE) carried out;
  • their estimates for bycatch numbers of dugong, inshore dolphin, turtle, protected sharks; manta rays, etc and significance given to these;
  • the number of regional populations suspected for grey mackerel and other species so far, and how the sustainability of each population is ensured;
  • the level of confidence given to the commercial logbook data and what steps are taken to validate this data.

Where to now?

The honeymoon period following the State election is well and truly over. Regional networks need to start building up the pressure leading into the next election.
One approach would be to follow the lead taken in the USA in the 1990’s and later by NSW when recreational fishing sectors networking with environmental groups won class actions against their governments in the courts.

The charges were along the lines of failing to adequately protect the nation/state’s fishery resources. The governments lost their respective cases and were forced to take remedial action.

For example, all commercial fisheries in the USA are now required to show they are managed in a sustainable manner. Apparently the benefits to the sector as well as to the environment have been significant.
NSW now has much better recreational fishing as a result of their challenge and numbers of fishing havens have been designated where gillnetting is banned.

Are there any volunteers to start the ball rolling for a class action against the “Smart State” or indeed help fund such an action?
David Cook:
Plate 1: Grey or Broad-barred king mackerel show distinct broad bars and some spots which fade when landed. This one is in the recent average Douglas Region weight range of 3 - 4 kg, down from an anecdotal historical average of 7 kg.
Cook 6 Fresh Grey3.5kg showing bars.jpg


Plate 2: This was one of the largest greys landed by Douglas Region commercial line fishers this season, a monster at 111 cm length and 8.9 kg, showing well-formed roe by 28 August.
Cook 6 Oct NQF&B Grey mack 111 cm 8.jpg