Opinion: Recs the losers in snapper management plan

THE management of South Australia’s snapper fishery has been a contentious issue in recent years, highlighted by the annual state-wide, month-long closure in November.

The month-long closed season – although a sound management approach in principal – has been flawed since its inception back in the year 2000. The closed season never actually aligns to protect spawning aggregations, as natural spawning in Gulf waters is typically late December and into January each year – but the Government flagged this period as too socially important and hence brought the closed period forward to a more socially acceptable time.

This month-long closure provided respite for schools which were generally aggregating at that time. However, when the ban lifts at midday on the 30th November each year, aggregations of spawning broodstock are holding position on many of the wrecks and reefs inside Gulf St Vincent and Spencer Gulf, and are easy pickings for the hordes of commercial and recreational fishers who take advantage of the situation.

The state government has recognised a snapper management plan was needed to further protect the resource, and in particular during that initial period of time once the season re-opens. The commercial catch of snapper is enormous during the opening week, and with no quota system in place it is open slather for the commercial sector. This sees market prices typically drop from around $9/kg down to around $2.50/kg for prime, breeding snapper … such a blatant squander of such a valuable resource.

PIRSA has just released its draft Snapper Management Arrangements Proposal, outlining proposed changes to the commercial and recreational regulations regarding snapper fishing in South Australian waters.
Firstly, a commercial trip limit quota has been proposed, being 325kg daily per trip for the bottom tier (no additional fee) and 650kg per day for the upper tier ($4000 annual fee). It was well overdue for a quota system to be introduced, so this is a good step forward.

The annual snapper closure (starting 1st November) would be extended for 10 days, and would re-open on the 10th December instead of the 30th November. This is a positive step to further protect aggregations as we near the spawning season.

A spatial spawning closure has also been proposed, with two key spawning regions (one for each Gulf) earmarked for extended closure, which would see these areas re-open on the 10th January. This is a great move, as the areas identified are consistent big-fish producers at this time of year.

The final proposed management strategy is the one which has left us scratching our heads and asking questions. There is a proposed Fishery Specific Access Arrangement, where the commercial and charter sectors have sole access to the fishery for the first 10 days the season re-opens after the closure. This 10 day period is unquestionably the best 10 days of snapper fishing for the calendar year, so how exactly is this move supposed to benefit mutual stakeholders of the resource?

PIRSA then offer a proposed 14 day period (from 28th Dec to 10th Jan) as recreational fishing only – but a lot of commercial fishos opt not to fish during this period anyway due to holiday boating traffic. It seems like a carrot is being dangled in front of the commercial sector in lieu of the other management strategies being proposed, and once again it comes at a cost to the recreational sector.

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