The removal by the NSW government of commercial catch limits for many fish species, including flathead, in NSW has been slammed by north coast environmentalists as an open-slather approach to fisheries management.
The move allowing unrestricted commercial flathead fishing in NSW including the north coast has also been criticised by a national fishing operators’ lobby as ‘bewildering’ and ‘shocking’.
Byron Environmental and Conservation Organisation (BEACON) spokesman Dailan Pugh told Echonetdaily it was ‘astounding that after allowing fishing in marine sanctuary zones, the NSW government has removed catch limits on a variety of commercially exploited species’.
‘An unregulated open-slather approach to fisheries management has proven to be a disaster in the past, and will prove to be so again,’ Mr Pugh said.
‘The commercial flathead fishery extends up here; this is a shocking development.
Yesterday, the South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association (SETFIA) said that state primary industries minister Katrina Hodgkinson earlier this month signed a notice removing commercial catch limits for many fish species in NSW, including flathead. SETFIA represents Commonwealth-licensed trawl fishermen working in southeast Australian waters, including those off NSW.
‘This means that state-licensed vessels can now take unlimited amounts of flathead, while the same fish are regulated and catch limits imposed on NSW recreational anglers along the coastline of NSW, and that limits remain on Commonwealth commercial fishers in waters outside three miles off the NSW coastline,’ SETFIA chief executive Simon Boag said.
‘It also means that NSW commercial fishing licences that are currently not used may now become active, as unscrupulous operators seek to maximise the loophole created by these legislative changes,’ Mr Boag said.
‘It amazes us that NSW would allow their commercial fishers to take unlimited catches of many species including flathead. To this point Australian fisheries have been the best managed in the world but doing this jeopardises their sustainability in NSW particularly.’
Mr Boag added that ‘we’re disappointed that NSW did not talk about this with the Commonwealth fisheries management authority and, worse, we understand that NSW officials may have misled Commonwealth officials and told them that the NSW government would not introduce unrestricted catches. No agencies from NSW spoke with Commonwealth fishers or SETFIA.’
Mr Boag said Commonwealth quotas ‘are an asset that sits in the balance sheet of many companies, and are a strong and valuable property right in well-managed fisheries.
‘Strong property rights promote environmental stewardship. In this case, Commonwealth quota owners are motivated to look after flathead because they rely on it for a living, and want to ensure the value of their quota remains strong, by having a lasting, sustainable, healthy fishery.
‘By allowing uncontrolled catches of flathead by state vessels, NSW has significantly reduced the value of this quota, and put at risk the sustainability of the fishery at the same time.
‘This action is bewildering to us, given NSW has suggested that the bag limit on flathead for NSW recreational fishermen should be halved, in the very same waters that they are now allowing uncontrolled commercial fishing access.
‘SETFIA calls on Minister Hodgkinson to restore the trip limits on NSW vessels, and ensure that fisheries for flathead remain sustainable.
‘It also calls on the federal minister for fisheries, Senator Joe Ludwig, to protect the Commonwealth industry’s property rights and sustainability of the fish stocks, by mediating a resource-sharing arrangement between NSW and the Commonwealth.’
Fisheries in Australia are managed either by a state or by the Commonwealth. Mr Boag said Commonwealth fisheries are supported by fish stock assessments that set sustainable catches, which are then controlled by quotas allocated to individual fishermen.
The catch from NSW state fisheries is controlled by limiting the number of fishing vessels, their size, their fishing gear and, until recently, the amount of fish they can take per trip.
‘NSW does not undertake a flathead stock assessment and instead rely on the Commonwealth assessment,’ he said.