The NSW government has backed off a controversial plan to remove commercial catch limits for many fish species in NSW, including flathead, following a backlash by a national fishing operators’ lobby and north coast environmentalists.
Primary industries minister Katrina Hodgkinson issued a brief press release yesterday saying he NSW government had ‘listened to stakeholder concerns’ and original restrictions would remain, including trip limits on NSW vessels.
Echonetdaily on Wednesday exclusively reported the plan allowing unrestricted commercial flathead fishing in NSW, which was slammed by both the Byron Environmental and Conservation Organisation (BEACON) and the South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association (SETFIA).
Mrs Hodgkinson said that ‘in the interests of working collaboratively with all our stakeholders and ensuring the risks and impacts of changes to fishing limits have been fully identified and assessed, I have asked the department to reinstate the pre-existing limits and to now work closely with the Commonwealth and stakeholders to develop effective, efficient cross-jurisdictional management arrangements’.
BEACON spokesman Dailan Pugh welcomed the backdown, saying the government should never have removed catch limits on a variety of commercially exploited species, saying the unregulated ‘open-slather approach’ to fisheries management had been a disaster in the past.
Mr Pugh said the decision’s reversal would ensure that fisheries for flathead remained sustainable.
The commercial flathead fishery includes the north coast.
SETFIA , which represents Commonwealth-licensed trawl fishermen working in southeastern Australian waters said the minister had earlier this month signed a notice removing commercial catch limits for many fish species in NSW, including flathead. SETFIA chief executive Simon Boag said at the time that it meant state-licensed vessels could take unlimited amounts of flathead, while the same fish were regulated and catch limits imposed on recreational anglers along the coastline of NSW.
Mr Boag said this was despite limits remaining on Commonwealth commercial fishers in waters outside three miles off the NSW coastline.
Mr Boag feared ‘unscrupulous operators’ could seek to maximise the loophole created by the changes.
He also said this organisation was disappointed that NSW did not talk about this with the Commonwealth fisheries management authority.
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, relying instead on the Commonwealth assessment.