DPI in hot water over jewies

ANGLER outrage about commercial netters exploiting stocks of juvenile mulloway has forced the NSW Fisheries Department to back down on its plans for the fishery.

Leaked information received by Fishing World last week revealed that Fisheries was planning to allow commercial netters to continue to exploit juvenile mulloway while imposing draconian restrictions on recreational anglers.

A group comprising commercial and recreational interests, as well as environmentalists and other interested parties, had been working on plans for the mulloway fishery. Commercial fishermen wanted to be able to continue taking undersized mulloway, a move which was rejected by angler representatives.

Sources close to the process today told Fisho that a plan for the netters to take an as yet unverified number of mulloway from 45cm and up while restricting anglers to one fish of 75cm, was going to be presented to Fisheries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson. There were no plans by Fisheries to engage in any public consultation on this, the source said.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries, which incorporates the Fisheries Department, yesterday backed away from any suggestion that a mulloway netting plan was about to be presented for ministerial sign-off. It also announced that a public consultation process would now be instigated.

“As various options are still under consideration, there is no current proposal in relation to bag/size limits for mulloway,” a DPI spokesperson said.

“Given the importance of the species to all fishers, the Department will run a further and wider consultation process once the key options have been compiled. This will involve a website outlining the relevant facts and options, with the facility to lodge online comments.

“This will enable broader community views to be taken into account before a final decision is made on the best way to recover the mulloway resource. Fishing World will be notified once the webpage and options are available for comment.”

Anglers have welcomed the apparent back down by the Fisheries Department on the mulloway issue. This move follows strong criticism of the Department and the Minister over recent decisions involving increased netting for salmon and indigenous fishing rights which were made behind closed doors and allowed little or no angler input.

“This news shows that protests from anglers about the proposed plans to allow the pros to continue to net undersized jewies seems to have worked. We understand that they were going to put these plans to the Minister. Now they aren’t. Fisheries weren’t going to consult on this, now they are. That’s a good result. Now we need the Minister to step in and make decisions about this fishery which are based on science,” a prominent recreational fishing source told Fisho.

Various online polls reveal overwhelming support for an immediate ban on the commercial exploitation of juvenile mulloway. A survey posted on a social media forum last week revealed that 79.4 per cent of anglers want to see the mulloway size limit increased from 45cm to between 60-80cm in order to allow a fish to breed at least once before it is extracted, either by commercial netters or by anglers.
The survey also revealed that 65.4 per cent of anglers were happy to reduce bag limits down from the current limit of five mulloway per day. Further, 97 per cent of surveyed anglers said the NSW Government should ban commercial fishing for juvenile mulloway.
These numbers are reflected in an ongoing poll on the Fishing World website which reveals that 98 per cent of respondents do not agree with commercial netting of juvenile mulloway.

Jewie science

Scientific data reveals that jewfish only reach breeding size at about 70cm. Increasing the size limit to allow the fish to breed before they are extracted is considered by many anglers and scientists as being vital if stocks are to remain viable.

Commercial operators are using a “financial hardship” argument as part of their claim to continue netting juvenile fish.

Anglers have long pushed for better management of mulloway stocks – in 2005 an angler-led proposal to increase the size limit to 60cm was vetoed by commercial fishing efforts – and there have been serious concerns about the sustainability of mulloway stocks for at least 30 years.

“Recreational anglers are responsible custodians of the resource, and if we have good, current and solid science that says we need to make some changes in our practices at a recreational fishing level to rebuild the stocks then we will accept this,” Stan Konstantaras, from ANSA NSW, said yesterday.

“We also want to see meaningful reductions in the commercial harvest of mulloway and a no-take on undersized fish and some changes to the estuary prawn trawl practices that impact on juvenile mulloway. ANSA NSW would like an opportunity to provide our members’ input in a truly transparent process.”

Although it has caved in to pressure over consultation and has also apparently shelved plans to put forward a proposal allowing netters to target juvenile fish, NSW Fisheries has so far refused to detail the options it is exploring for mulloway stocks.

“The DPI is currently considering a range of options, noting each has different implications relating to the rate of recovery of the resource and impacts on harvest levels,” a spokesperson said.

“All harvest sectors have a significant role to play in the recovery program for mulloway. NSW DPI will deliver an overall solution that rebuilds the mulloway resource while minimising impacts on all types of harvest activities.”

Fisho yesterday sent a series of questions to Fisheries relating to the mulloway issue. Late yesterday afternoon we received a statement. Below are the questions with the responses received in bold.

Q: Can you confirm the details of the options currently being considered re mulloway. IE, is NSW DPI looking at an option that would restrict anglers to one fish per day while continuing to allow commercial operators to exploit juvenile fish?

No response.

Q: Is NSW DPI considering any sort of moratorium on the capture of mulloway for both the commercial and recreational sectors?

No response.

Q: When do you expect a proposal concerning mulloway management will be presented to the Minister?

No response.

Q: Can you provide full details of all the options NSW DPI is considering in relation to mulloway?

NSW DPI is currently pulling together several key options (covering all harvest sectors) based on the available scientific knowledge of the status, biology and life history of the stock as well as views provided by various groups to date. It is not appropriate to release the options at this time because they are yet to be fully compiled and developed. Given the importance of the species to all fishers, the Department will run a further and wider consultation process once the key options have been compiled. This will involve a website outlining the relevant facts and options, with the facility to lodge online comments. This will enable broader community views to be taken into account before a final decision is made on the best way to recover the mulloway resource. Fishing World will be notified once the webpage and options are available for comment.

Q: Has DPI done any socio-economic studies on the relative worth of mulloway as a rec-only species as opposed to the fishery being open to commercial exploitation?

A: No response.

Q: There is concern in rec fishing circles that there is not enough transparency regarding these sort of fisheries management decisions. Is the NSW DPI satisfied that it is doing enough to let stakeholders know about its plans concerning mulloway? I ask this question in light of other recent decisions/proposals being put forward by NSW DPI – ie, the salmon netting decision, the indigenous fishing strategy etc. Many in rec fishing circles are concerned that these decisions etc were “sprung” on us as opposed to allowing full community discussion. Has DPI got any comments in relations to these concerns? Does DPI think it can do a better job in relation to communicating better with the rec fishing community?

A: No response.

Q: Can you confirm that commercial fishing interests on the Mulloway Resource Planning Group have vetoed rec reps’ amendments and/or opposition to proposals concerning future management of mulloway stocks?

A: The RPG is not a voting committee.

Q: Can you provide details on the Mulloway Resource Planning Group – ie, list the members of the group, their positions and which stakeholder groups they represent?

A: According to the DPI statement, the department is talking with various groups, including the expertise-based Mulloway Resource Planning Group, the Advisory Council on Recreational Fishing, the (former) Ocean Trap and Line Management Advisory Committee, the Professional Fishermen’s Association and EcoFishers. Editor’s note: The DPI failed to answer the question relating to who actually makes up the Mulloway Resource Planning Group.

Q: Can you provide details on how the RPG was formulated and how long it has been considering the mulloway issue?

A: No response.

Q: Can you provide details on any other RPGs that are currently in operation?

A: No other RPGs are currently in operation at this time (mulloway was given priority).

Q: Can you advise on what level of input ACORF has had in relation to the mulloway issue? Can you provide details on what information ACORF has had on the mulloway planning process and detail when this info was presented to the ACORF members. Further, have there been any private briefings or info sessions given to ACORF members, either singly or as part of a group?

A: No response.

Q: Can you advise if any other groups (rec, commercial, environment groups etc) have been given any briefings or updates on plans regarding the mulloway fishery? If so, please provide details.

A: No response.

Q: Can DPI provide any data on estuary prawn trawling activities in the Hawkesbury and Clarence rivers in relation to juvenile mulloway bycatch? Does DPI see any threats to mulloway populations as a result of trawler bycatch? If so, what management options are being considered?

A: No response.

Q: Does DPI have any evidence to suggest that there is any black market activity in relation to mulloway? Is DPI concerned that reported numbers of mulloway caught by commercial operators do not reflect the actual catch?

A: No response.

Stay tuned for more on the mulloway issue as soon as it comes to hand. Chek out the initial news story HERE and a comment piece by Fisho editor Jim Harnwell HERE.

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