OPINION: Fishing rules review flawed

I NEED to start this piece by saying that none of us at Fisho have fundamental problems with reducing bag limits where they are overly generous, or bringing size limits into line with what we know about fish sizes and sexual maturity. But the current proposals, on which we’ve all until the end on July to comment on, are troubling.

Ensuring the sustainability of our fisheries resources is a noble objective and probably a good enough reason to undertake a review. But surely recommendations for change need to be linked to research and investigations and be evidence based. If it’s proposed to bring the yellowfin bream bag limit down from 20 to 10, what evidence of need is that based on? Recent analysis of recreational catch data? Trends in commercial catches over time? We’re not really told. Why not a bag limit of 15, or five, or two? Why not a closed breeding season, as we’ve got for Australian bass? Or a total commercial ban?

Why aren’t bag proposed limits directly related to individual species’ stock status, that is under fished, fully fished or overfished, from the status report referenced at the end? And is it really harder to count seven tuna than five, as seems to be suggested?

Because some measures just seem too hard to sell to some stakeholders, I suspect. And which is why, I guess, mulloway changes are conspicuously absent from the proposals, a bit amazing given the stoush over whether the size limits for reccies and pros should be different, that is upped to 70cm for the former, and held at 45cm for the latter, who have pulled out the “undue hardship” card.

The paper also makes much of concerns over illegal fishing and black marketing of fish, and specifically uses this as another justification for bag limit reductions covering a range of species. But surely if someone is flouting a 10 fish bag limit and selling their catch, they’ll still flout a five fish limit? That’s what rule breakers do. The fin clipping proposal makes more logical sense.

There are some apparent internal inconsistencies in justifications used. If “the latest scientific surveys” really do indicate that most anglers rarely get bag limit catches (less than 1 per cent of fishing trips), are those limits being a bit overly generous really a concern? Does it warrant all this effort if only a small number of specialists actually can catch their bag limits? And further, many specialists who regularly get to bag limit levels voluntarily choose to release lots of their catch.

Following on from that, how will limiting a small number of anglers who regularly catch their bag limits (but who already release lots of those fish) help “fairly share aquatic resources” with anglers who aren’t so skilled or committed?

The proposed limits on deep sea species probably means the end of that recreational fishery. Who’s going to travel way out wide to be able to catch two gemfish and two other “combined” species? Three hours travelling for about 10 minutes fishing?

Irrespective of the justifiable objective for the review (sustaining fish numbers), the paper really comes over as poorly argued, internally inconsistent and based on old research studies and assumptions about release rates. And to finish with a discussion about bow hunting for carp … well, really.

Get your comments in by July 31.

John Newbery is Fishing World’s Environment Editor.

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