Salmon netting: Q&A with Minister Hodgkinson

EARLY this week Fisho passed on a series of questions to NSW Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson in relation to the controversial reallowance of salmon netting. The minister has responded to our questions and we reprint the questions and answers in full here.

FW: Re – We have a blog talking about an FRDC report which highlights a possible market for exporting Australian salmon to China and how this could lead to much greater commercial exploitation of the species. QUESTION: Did this possible Chinese “market opportunity” have any bearing on the Minister’s decision re the salmon netting? Is the Minister aware of this report? Has she held meetings or discussions with the department or commercial fishing representatives about a potential Chinese market for Australian salmon?

Minister: This report had no bearing on the recent decision and there have been no meetings with the Department and commercial fishing representatives where that report has been considered.
The driver behind the recent decision was to provide improved access to trap bait for north coast commercial fishers and remove some of the inequity associated with the past arrangements (eg. some ocean hauling fishers could catch up to two tonne of Australian salmon per day, but others couldn’t). Under the revised rules, commercial fishers are allowed to sell salmon and pursue market opportunities but the quantities they are allowed to catch are very limited and, at most, represent a marginal increase from the previous catch.

FW: Re – Problems with possible localised depletions of salmon stocks (particularly in the Pittwater area) due to targeted netting of aggregated fish and how this will possibly impact on sportfishing opportunities for local anglers. QUESTION: Did the Minister request any specific studies be done on potential localised depletion issues when she approved the increased take of salmon by commercial operators?

Minister: Australian salmon are a widely distributed (Tasmania to NSW and more recently southern Queensland), highly mobile species that undertake significant annual migrations, so localised depletion is not a key consideration.

FW: Re – Concerns expressed by anglers and environmentalists about possible issues relating to a lack of salmon as prey items for endangered great white sharks and critically endanagred grey nurse sharks due to commercial exploitation of salmon stocks by commercial netting operations. QUESTION: Did the Minister authorise any studies into possible risks to these species, as well as other species such as dolphins and seals, before the netting increase was approved?

Minister: The small increase in allowable catch is not expected to have any significant impact on the health of Australian salmon stock, and therefore is not expected to have any significant impacts on species that prey on Australian salmon.

FW: What is the Minister’s opinion of the use of alternative bait sources, such as European carp, in place of wild caught species like salmon? Has the Minister requested any studies on the potential of such alternative baits? Would the Minister support the use of a “pest” species such as carp instead of salmon if carp is found to be a suitable bait? Will the Minister put a moratorium on the increased netting of salmon until studies where done into the carp alternative? Has any work be done on assessing the effectiveness of waste fish and fish scraps as bait for the comemrcial sector? Would the minister agree that using such “waste” as bait would be preferable to the removal of hundreds of tonnes of wild biomass from the environment?

Minister: An inland NSW commercial fishery for carp is available to catch and supply carp. Carp are sometimes used as bait in the inland fishery. The use of this resource for bait on the coast will depend on transport costs and its effectiveness in comparison with other forms of bait.
Fish scraps or waste (e.g. heads, frames) are already used, and will no doubt continue to be used as one of a number of bait products in trap fisheries. Alternative uses for pest species such as carp are strongly supported.

FW: Will the Minister rule out any moves by commercial operators, now or in the future, to access recreational fishing havens?

Minister: My current position on proposals for new recreational fishing havens, or changes to existing havens, is that they will not be considered unless there is consensus on the proposal between local recreational and commercial fishing groups.

FW: Will the minister move to compensate NSW’s 1 million recreational anglers for the loss of access to salmon stocks by making popular surf beaches rec-only? IE, banning netting on beaches which are recognised as being popular and productive beach fishing areas?

Minister: The recent decision will have little impact on availability of salmon for recreational fishers and hence no compensation will be necessary. Recreational fishers will continue enjoy the opportunity to catch Australian salmon.

FW: Can the Minister rule out re-allowing floating fish traps for kingfish?

This decision has been made following a review of the management arrangements for Australian salmon, taking account of the circumstances relevant to the harvesting of this species only. Data shows that salmon stocks are healthy with large abundances of salmon in recent years.
I have not been advised of any proposal to re-allow floating fish traps.

FW: Also, when salmon were previously netted north of Barrenjoey, there were widely reported incidents of salmon being “dumped” – either on the fish markets or literally in a big hole on the beach. This was because there was no market for them. Can the Minister assure NSW anglers that this sort of waste will not be allowed when the new netting increases come into force? If so, what management structures will the Minister introduce to ensure no waste of this resource?

Minister: I have requested my Department to monitor Sydney Fish Market data throughout the year to detect any excessive ‘dumping’ of product on the market, as well as any reports of fish being buried. If any such ‘dumping’ is detected, this practice will be addressed initially by direct communication with fishers and then, if necessary, through the implementation of tougher mechanisms.

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