Fisheries confirms jewie bycatch

PRAWN trawlers working the Shark Bay area of northern NSW over the past week have caught and discarded “low to moderate” numbers of juvenile mulloway, bringing into question moves to rebuild stocks of these iconic sportfish.

Mulloway are “overfished” in NSW with regulations brought into force last year designed to help rebuild stocks to a sustainable level.

Recent rains caused minor flooding in the Clarence River resulting in the local trawl fleet catching juvenile mulloway while targeting school prawns. Fisho is currently attempting to clarify exactly what “low to moderate” bycatch actually means.

Anecdotal evidence given to Fisho by locals seems to indicate that about 400 juvenile mulloway are caught in each “shot” made by a trawler, although these figures can not be confirmed.

Fisho understands between seven and 12 trawlers are or have been working the Shark Bay area, which is located north of Iluka.

A Fisheries spokesman told Fisho that compliance officers have been monitoring the bycatch levels and are conducting regular checks in the area.

“There is a large focus on modifying fishing methods to minimise unwanted catch and DPI scientists are constantly working with fishers to improve gear selectivity, technology and techniques to reduce bycatch and discard mortality,” the spokesman said.

Fisho understands bycatch of juvenile mulloway by prawn trawlers has been an issue for decades.

“Research is also ongoing to assess the rate of recovery of mulloway stocks following active management of trawl bycatch and measures recently introduced to other commercial fisheries and the recreational sector,” the NSW Fisheries spokesman said.

“Collaborative management between DPI and the local trawl industry since 2009/10 has delivered significant protection to juvenile mulloway, at times at the expense of school prawn production and the economic returns to local commercial fishers.”

The exact level of this “significant protection” will be made clear when – and if – NSW Fisheries clarifies how many juvenile mulloway have been killed as a result of the “low to medium” bycatch.

Meantime, recreational anglers in NSW are doing their bit to help restore mulloway stocks by adhering to daily bag limits of two fish with a minimum size of 70cm.

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