Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Comment: What is fish mutilation?

SUSTAINABILITY and effective fisheries management has never been more important. Most states have experienced declines in popular fish species and some states, such as Western Australia and Queensland, have implemented some tough, and unpopular measures over the past year or so.

One positive to come from this is a shift in attitude towards fish waste. In fact, Fishing World is soon to release a podcast that caters to this exact subject. More about that in coming weeks…

These days, so many more fishos are maximising their catches. No longer are they taking a fillet or two and throwing the rest away. We’ve all been guilty of this and we’re now realising some of the best cuts are being wasted. Another positive is the type of fish we’re taking home. There are alternatives to the popular food species and many of these are far more sustainable. 

We’re eating more seafood and taking home less fish. It’s a win-win.

But there is a catch (excuse the pun). A couple of recent social media posts from Fisheries departments in NSW and Victoria pointed out some confusing regulations when it comes to keeping fish for the table, or in this case, for bait…

NSW DPI Fisheries has fish “mutilate” regulations. We’ve all heard stories of fish being “blended” or processed on the rocks or in a boat; it’s a sneaky way of keeping undersize fish or exceeding bag limits. That’s why state regularity bodies have come up with these laws. Fisheries inspectors need a way of measuring fish intact to determine if it’s a legal size. It’s an important rule.

However, things get confusing when we talk about bait and berley that you’ve kept yourself. Part of this sustainable approach to keeping fish often means keeping parts of the fish for other purposes. I’ve kept fish for crab bait, frames for fish stock, and certain species for bait. But are you allowed to take these fish home, freeze them, and return to a fishing spot with a “mutilated” fish? 

Fishing World contacted NSW DPI Fisheries for clarification. A spokesperson for NSW DPI said:

“In NSW, the possession limit of any fish includes fish that may be stored in a residential premises or any other place, regardless of the intended use of that fish. The definition of fish as per the FMA1994 includes ‘any part of a fish’. 

Until those fish are consumed or disposed of, they are in the person’s possession.”

In a roundabout way, this response indicates NSW Fisheries doesn’t discriminate when it comes to to the purpose of a fish or how long it has been out of the water or whether it caught elsewhere. It’s all fish.

Coincidentally, the Victorian Fisheries Authority also posted a photo on social media showing King George whiting fillets and vacuum sealed heads kept for bait. Vic Fisheries has since realised it was an error and has taken the post down. 

A spokesperson for Victorian Fisheries offered this response to Fishing World

“King George whiting must be kept whole or in carcass form until you’re away from the water. King George whiting taken home should not be used at a later date as bait or berley.”

“These fish are one of several high value species like snapper, bream and southern bluefin tuna that must remain whole or in carcass form on or next to the water. This allows Fisheries Officers to make an accurate determination regarding size and bag limit compliance.

“Several species of fish can be returned to the water and are quite effective as bait or berley. These include flathead, other species of whiting and wrasse.”

The take home message from this is to be careful when “re-purposing” fish for bait or traps. These regulations have been developed for genuine and important reasons; to stop people doing the wrong thing. 

That said, let’s hope Fisheries inspectors use their power of discretion and are able to differentiate between wrong-doers and others who are leading the way and using leftover portions of fish in a sustainable way.

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