COMMENT: Time for action on mulloway

AS you will have read in the main news piece, there has been concern about the sustainability of NSW’s mulloway population for some time now. Something needs to be done and it needs to be done quickly if stocks of these iconic inshore sportfish are to remain viable, let alone grow.

Fisheries management is a complex business but it would seem obvious that putting control of mulloway in the hands of a steering committee dominated by commercial fishing interests is something like putting a fox in charge of the hen house.

If mulloway stocks are in such a dire state, then maybe we need to get really serious about protecting and enhancing the fishery. Instead of continuing to catch and net them, maybe we should take some serious and even controversial action.

My understanding of the mulloway stock situation is that it’s in a pretty bad way. If that’s the case, then it’s my opinion that we should stop fishing for them. Simple as that. If we are serious about saving these fish, then we should put a total ban on the catching of all mulloway for, say, five years. That’s no commercial catch of mulloway at all and the mandatory release of all mulloway caught by rec anglers. Pretty serious stuff. But, hey, there’s no use just pissing around. If something needs to be done, then let’s do it.
After the five years of no-take we could assess the situation and maybe re-allow carefully managed commercial and recreational fishing for mulloway if stocks have bounced back and are on the increase. On the other hand, we might need to continue the ban if stocks continue to remain unviable.

This would basically make mulloway a catch & release only species. Is that such a big problem? While I enjoy a feed of fresh mulloway as much as the next bloke, I would be happy to carefully release any and all of the jewies I catch if that means my kids will have the chance at enjoying these fantastic sportfish in the years to come. To keep catching them until they are completely wiped out or unviable just doesn’t make sense. If something needs to be done – and it obviously does in regards to mulloway – then let’s bloody well do it!

I’m not saying anything particularly new here. This sort of radical program was used in the US some decades back when the red drum, a close relative of our mulloway, was netted almost to the point of extinction due to the popularity of a Cajun recipe called “Blackened Redfish”. The US fisheries managers introduced tough restrictions on the red drum fishery – commercial and recreational – back in the late 1990s. Over the ensuing decade, red drum populations bounced back and the species has become hugely important as both a sportfish and a commercial target.

Personally speaking, I’d rather see tough decisions taken now if that means my kids and I can expect to see good numbers of thumping big mulloway swimming around a few years down the track. Continuing to exploit the fish – especially 45cm juveniles that have no hope of breeding – seems to be a crazy strategy. I can’t see how anyone could even contemplate condoning that sort of thinking …

It’s my opinion that we as anglers should take the moral high ground here. If the mulloway are in strife, then we should properly protect them. If the pros are fair dinkum about our fish stocks then surely they would have no problem adopting the same line of thinking …

In my view it’s bloody stupid to allow the exploitation of these fish to continue. And I mean commercial AND recreational exploitation. Hopefully Minister Hodgkinson will act accordingly … Stay tuned and we’ll let you know what eventuates.

Meantime, let us know your thoughts. What do you want Minister Hodgkinson to do about the jewie decision? Do you think it makes sense to allow the netters to continue taking juvenile fish, even if in relatively small numbers? Should we anglers push for more stringent action, like the total ban I’ve advocated above? Or should we be allowed to also take fish? If so, do you agree with the proposal for one fish over 75cm per day? Do you think that fish should be bigger or smaller? Should anglers be allowed more than one fish? If so, how many? And what about other management techniques such as spawning closures? Do you prefer that sort of measure over a total ban?

Have your say. All of us here at Fisho look forward to hearing your comments. And you can be sure that the Government will be taking note of your opinions and comments, as will the commercial sector. Let ’em all know what you think.

Jim Harnwell is the editor and publisher of Fishing World.

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