COMMENT: Big opportunity for change

THE NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, has commissioned an independent review of the State’s current commercial fishing arrangements. It’s being undertaken by three very experienced independent fisheries experts – Richard Stephens, Peter Neville and Ian Cartwright – who have until February 2012 to complete the project.

Fisho applauds this move and considers that it presents an opportunity for a fundamental rethink of how the commercial fisheries sector operates in NSW and is managed by lawmakers and fisheries administrators. The reviewers are to examine both current and alternative management models and recommend strategies which will enhance the long-term viability and sustainability of the industry. The NSW seafood industry is claimed to generate about half a billion dollars of economic activity each year and to employ over 4,000 people.

So we’ll get in early with our wish list of issues we’d like to see considered:

  • The continuity sustainability and viability of estuary trawling and estuary netting generally – for both fin fish and prawns – with their impacts on juvenile fish and by-catch issues, particularly given the now demonstrated “bounce back” effect on fish numbers through the creation of Recreational Fishing Havens and closure of Sydney Harbour for environmental reasons.
  • The same for ocean trawling, particularly over sensitive seabeds susceptible to gear damage.
  • The same for set line shark fishing.
  • The same for beach hauling, particularly for spawning runs of fish such as mullet, yellowfin bream and luderick, and within marine parks.

We’d also hope that methods such as high value line fishing, as practised by a number of operators along the coast, would be encouraged as one result of the review. Surely taking 50 well-handled, line caught fish that bring $20 a kilo makes more sustainable “sense” for operators than netting 500 fish, throwing them in the back of a ute, and getting $2. If not, then some operators probably should be “structurally adjusted” out of the business.

It must also be time to look internationally at better ways of managing the industry in a holistic sense, rather than segmenting it into “Trap and Line”, “Estuary General”, “Ocean Trawl”, “Estuary Prawn” etc, each with its own management advisory committee meeting with fisheries managers to set input measures – mesh sizes, numbers of hooks, by-catch excluders etc. And to pressure for resources to be allocated for research and follow up on the comprehensive fisheries management strategies and environmental impact statements (EISs) produced a few years back under the guidance of an expert advisory council. And while they’re at it, maybe the reviewers could consider interface issues between Commonwealth and State controlled fisheries, such as the application of consistent cross-jurisdictional rules for catch and size limits and fish landings.

That’s just some initial thoughts. Once again, well done Minister Hodgkinson, and best of luck to your review team.

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