Fisheries moves to curb jewie bycatch

NSW Fisheries is acting to further reduce mulloway bycatch from prawn trawling activities on the state’s north coast by mandating the use of bycatch reduction devices and closing the fishery following flood activity.

Details on the work being done by NSW Fisheries to protect mulloway stocks comes following recent reports of bycatch issues from trawlers working the Shark Bay area. See article HERE.

At the time, Fisheries released information saying there were “low to moderate” levels of bycatch.

Fisho requested further details, namely numbers of juvenile mulloway caught by the trawlers from late February to about March 10. Late last week Fisheries released the following statement:

“The ‘counts’of bycatch of juvenile mulloway recorded were as low as two per codend per 15 minute trawl shot and as high as 32 per codend per 15 minute trawl shot. The mulloway were estimated by officers to be around 12-15 cm in length. The last inspections done on 10 March 2015 also recorded low numbers (between 4-7 per codend per 15 minute shot). Most trawlers have since moved into offshore waters to target king prawns as the moon is waning.”

It appears the bycatch of mulloway depends on the amount of flood water generated. Minor floods during the past month resulted in minimal numbers of mulloway being washed out of estuary systems. This compares to more major floods which have resulted in significant numbers of juvenile mulloway being caught by the prawn trawlers.

According to NSW Fisheries, previous flooding events have resulted in “many thousands” of juvenile mulloway being caught as bycatch by trawlers.

Once it becomes apparent that large numbers of juvenile mullway are present on the trawl grounds, Fisheries moves to temporarily close the fishery until the fish move on. According to Fisheries, “closures implemented in 2010/2011, 2011/12 and 2012/13 had a significant impact on local school prawn production and the viability of some local fishers”.

The use of bycatch reduction devices, known as BRDs, can reduce bycatch of juvenile mulloway by as much as 70 per cent.

In addition to the above measures, Fisheries has advised Fisho that “there are several large industry-initiated trawl closures surrounding the major rivers off the north coast rivers to protect juvenile king prawns … These closures are very likely to be affording juvenile mulloway some protection from the impacts of trawling after major river discharge events … These permanent juvenile king prawn closures are in addition to precautionary closures applied to waters immediately adjacent to major rivers each time flooding exceeds moderate levels (as determined by the Bureau of Meteorology), and the temporary mulloway closures outlined above”.

It seems obvious that NSW Fisheries – and the local prawn trawl industry – are working colloaboratively to limit bycatch of juvenile mulloway. The efforts by the department and the trawlers in this regard should be welcomed and supported by NSW anglers. That said, it remains equally obvious that mulloway stocks in NSW remain in a parlous state. As such, it is vital that the departnment, together with fishermen – both recreational and commercial – commits far more resources to ensure stocks recover as fast as possible.

Fisho is thus calling for NSW Fisheries to assess the effectiveness of the current mulloway recovery plan, which mainly involves strict bag and size limits for anglers and a “bycatch limit” of 10 undersized fish for estuary netters.

If research indicates mulloway stocks are not recovering as a result of these measures, it seems logical that more stringent controls be adopted.

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