AFANT backs action to save dwindling reef fisheries

AS previously reported, the NT Government has proposed significant changes to fisheries management in a bid to address the decline in populations of highly targeted reef species such as golden snapper (fingermark) and black jewfish.

Read earlier report HERE.

As promised, Craig Ingram, Executive Officer for the Amateur Fishermen’s Association of the NT, has outlined for Fisho readers the proposed new regulations and why AFANT is advocating for regulatory changes to protect the future of these important and highly pressured reef fisheries.

Craig Ingram’s response to Fisho:  

The NT Government has recently released a further discussion paper on regulation change to address issues in the reef fish sustainability.

The NT has a history of proactive and positive fisheries management and some of the best recreational fishing in Australia. This is predominantly built around significant and positive gains in management of the barramundi and recognising the importance of this species to recreational anglers.

AFANT has been a key driver in protecting and enhancing the quality of the recreational fishing in the NT. The Northern Territory’s reputation as a great fishing destination has not happened by accident, AFANT has driven positive change in management of recreational fisheries by the creation of recreational only barramundi areas through the buyback of commercial barramundi fishing licences and the removal of netting from NT river systems. These changes came on the back of real concerns at the time with the sustainability and catch rates in the barramundi fishery.

The promotion of catch and release, the introduction of possession and size limits and removal of commercial fishing from high value areas all combined with a small population and spectacular natural fishing areas, put the NT on the list of must do recreational fishing destinations.

The NT is currently facing one of its biggest challenges in fisheries management with the real problems that have developed around the sustainability of coastal reef fish golden snapper and black jewfish stocks in areas of high population (mostly limited to areas around Darwin).

Golden snapper have a number of factors that make them vulnerable to over exploitation; they are a large, long lived and slow maturing fish and don’t reach sexual maturity till around 60cm. They aggregate in large numbers and are extremely aggressive feeders making them relatively easy to target and they are also a great eating fish.

The other factor that is working against golden snapper is that they, like a number of reef fish species, are susceptible to barotrauma with the majority of fish caught in depths of over 10 metres not likely to survive release.

Black jewfish, while faster growing and having a shorter life cycle than snapper, face similar pressure due to their nature, aggregating habits and barotrauma.

The sustainability pressure on these species has been caused by increased fishing pressure from a growing NT population and large recreational fishing tourism sector with more anglers and larger boats targeting a limited number of reefs in areas within 150km from Darwin and other NT fishing hot spots.

The reality is, this problem has been around for a while and has been made worse because the previous government failed to take any action on the issue. AFANT first started advocating for regulatory changes to protect the snapper and black jewfish stocks in 2007 based on research from fisheries and anecdotal evidence from recreational fishers on serious declines in the fishery.

The latest research shows that golden snapper catches across all sectors need to be reduced by 50% to bring the population back into a sustainable footing. Black jewfish need a reduction of 20% in effort.

The great work of the recreational sector and media in promoting catch and release has worked against golden snapper and black jewfish with anglers who are thinking they are doing the right thing by releasing fish, actually contributing further to the decline of the stocks through the high mortality rate of those released. This is causing a much higher level of impact on these stocks than the take home harvest.

What is clear is that real and significant action needs to be taken by all sectors; recreational, charter operators and commercial, to reduce the harvest and effort on the stocks as well as increasing the egg production to a level that will ensure future generations can enjoy these great fish within reach of population centres like Darwin.

To achieve this, NT Fisheries have proposed a range of measures including reducing possession limits of golden snapper from 5 to 3 as well as implementing vessel limits of 4 or 8 times the individual possession limits and putting a maximum all species possession limit of 15 fish. The full list of the proposed changes can be found at

According to fisheries scientists, possession limits alone will not bring back the population and egg production levels sufficiently to address the decline in stocks and have proposed targeted five year closures of reefs.

AFANT has real concerns with the state of the golden snapper and black jewfish stocks and we are firmly of the view that it is essential that sufficient action needs to be taken to ensure that the fishery is recovered to a level that we are not revisiting and facing harder sanctions in five to ten years time.

AFANT is developing a detailed submission to the discussion paper which will be released after consultation with our members on the closures and possession limits as well as the other proposals but what is clear is that all sectors need to reduce their effort and change practices to ensure the quality fishing experience of the NT is protected.

Craig Ingram,
Executive Officer
Amateur Fishermen’s Association of NT Inc.

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