OPINION: Mulloway plan a good first step

THE proposals put forward by NSW Fisheries to address the decline in mulloway are largely positive and should be welcomed by conservation-minded anglers.

Mulloway have been under pressure for many years – mainly because of unsustainable fishing practices and because the minimum size limit (45cm) was way too small to allow these iconic southern sportfish maintain viable population levels.

As you’ll see in the material supplied by Fisheries, there are three “preferred” management options being put forward.

After careful examination, Fisho is of the opinion that these proposals offer a good chance of restoring jewie stocks to more healthy numbers. But we are keen to see Fisheries modify two of the proposals, and include extra management techniques, in order to maximise the success of this move.

We welcome the bag limit of one fish over 70cm for recreational anglers. One decent sized jewie is more than enough fresh fish for most families to enjoy. This new limit will not prevent keen sportfishermen from practicing catch & release on smaller jewies or unwanted 70cm+ fish. Research done by NSW Fisheries indicates that mulloway, especially those caught in relatively shallow water on lures, are excellent candidates for C&R.This means that anglers can be at the forefront of the jewie recovery plan. This can only be applauded.

As far as the commercial sector goes, we have significant reservations about the plans being proposed by NSW Fisheries. We understand and accept that there is a by-catch of mulloway as a consequence of estuary haul and gill netting. Our preferred option here would be to see all netters bought out so NSW’s estuary systems can fully recover from two centuries of commercial exploitation. Current government policy means, however, that this is unlikely – at least in the short-term.

NSW Fisheries has proposed a daily limit of 10 undersized jewfish per day for commercial netters. We accept that proposal – under the proviso that these undersized fish attract no financial compensation for the commercial operator – ie, that he or she not be allowed to sell them but instead must deliver them properly iced and in good condition to the co-op or fish market. There the fish would be processed as usual and then provided free of charge to the needy. Residents of nursing homes would, for example, be grateful for a feed of fresh mulloway.

The fact that the pro netter would receive no compensation for the undersized jewfish caught in his/her nets would help minimise by-catch of these juvenile fish. If there’s no financial reward, you would think the netter would do his/her best to avoid catching and processing baby jewies. Also, the catching and taking of juvenile fish should be officially discouraged – after all, it’s in no one’s interest for this to continue. To allow netters to receive payment for undersize fish legitimises the by-catch of juvenile mulloway. That is not acceptable to recreational anglers.

The no payment option is used in international fisheries and has resulted in significant reductions of so-called by-catch. While there will no doubt be disquiet from the commercial sector for having to handle and process fish that bring in no money, this is a small price to pay if the by-catch of juvenile mulloway is reduced.

We are also concerned that there is the potential of the beach haul daily limit of 500kgs to be manipulated and thus place stress on breeding aggregations of large mulloway.

We understand beach haulers target these schools of big breeding fish only incidentally but as beach haulers often work in “crews”, there is the potential for a crew of, say, four haulers to each take 500kgs. Removing two tonnes of breeding size fish obviously has a significant impact on successful recruitment of juvenile mulloway and thus should not be encouraged.

We suggest a total limit of 500kgs whether it be for a single beach hauling operator or a crew. How this is enforced and managed would need to be assessed by fisheries management officers but we are firmly of the view that allowing breeding aggregations of fish to be targeted and exploited by beach haulers is not acceptable.

We also wish to see a total allowable catch (TAC) introduced for mulloway in order to more effectively manage the species and to prevent other commercial fishing operations (line fishing, for example) from exploiting stocks.

We would welcome the provision of research and/or data to indicate what this TAC should be and how it is assessed.

Fishing World’s opinion is that if NSW Fisheries instigates the above policies, and/or presents equally proactive management options, then we should see a steadyincrease in jewfish stocks. This will benefit both the rec and commercial sectors, and also the environment/fishery as a whole.

We encourage readers to have their say on the management proposals being put forward by NSW Fisheries in relation to mulloway and to incorporate the above ideas into your proposals.

If enough of us let NSW Fisheries know what we want, then we stand a far better chance of attaining what could be a fantastic sportfishery we’ll all benefit from.

The Fisho team.

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