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Fix our Fisheries!

The science and fishery management considerations underpinning the need in North Queensland to control fishing effort by region and to introduce net free zones (NFZs)


This report presents a series of articles by the author which were published in the popular fishing press between 2012 and 2014. It is intended as an easy-read, simple summary, in layman’s terms, of the science behind the need for better management of gill netting in North Queensland.

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1Minor editorial changes have been made to the articles to bring them up to date.
A bibliography has been appended, listing 18 of the most relevant scientific and other published specialist reports. These clearly indicate significant management change to the ECIFFF is biologically, legally, economically, socially and morally long overdue.
The bibliography provides brief summaries of some of the most relevant scientific findings and conclusions presented in each publication which point to the need for urgent action by Fisheries Queensland which of course must be supported by strong political leadership.
The report is prepared pro bono as an independent background document for the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, the Hon. Bill Byrne. It is also intended for free circulation on social media to improve awareness of the need to “FIX OUR FISHERIES” as soon as possible.


By
David C. Cook BSc (Hons1), Post Grad Dp Tropical and Temperate Fisheries Management (ODA, UK)
Retired Coastal Fisheries Specialist (Indo-pacific)
Contact: davecook@bigpond.com

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Foreword


Until recently we thought the battle was won, that we, as the “Smart State” had progressed to the third stage of events as described by 19th. Century Philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer:
"All truth passes through three stages: first it is ridiculed, second it is violently opposed, third it is accepted as being self-evident."


Just before the State elections in 2012, it appeared all fisheries sectors had accepted as self-evident the fact that gill netting of our coastal fisheries was unsustainable at current levels, that inshore fish stocks were depleted, gillnetting was becoming increasingly unprofitable and gillnetting effort required to be reduced by around 50%.


Now the urgent need for net free zones (NFZs) in small, limited key areas is again strongly opposed by the propagation of misleading misinformation and exaggerated claims. There have been calls from the commercial sector “Where is the Science?” The reply is:”What you don’t look for you don’t find.” Here finally is the science, in easy-read format, presented under one cover with key references.
Worse still, erroneous claims from some in the commercial sector are supported by the political opposition, apparently for misguided political expediency. After all, they had full access to the findings of a 2014 review of fisheries management in Queensland before losing the election (Articles 11 & 12).


A commercial fisher has been quoted by the press as describing me as a “radical ratbag who only wants to keep the Douglas Shire grey mackerel for him and his mates”. I was described as something similar in an article in the QSIA magazine and I have even attacked by an ex-QF fisheries manager as having produced a fake photograph for a poster promoting one aspect of sustainable fishing.
Perhaps, since I have been attacked by both sides in what now risks degenerating into a conflict between recreational and commercial fishers, I am actually taking a carefully considered middle course to promote what we have to promote: sustainable fishing for all sectors, recreational, charter and commercial, providing lasting benefits to local communities.


In 1980, Former Fisheries Advisers to the Overseas Development Administration of the British Government, Dr Dennis Hall and Dr John Stoneman, selected me out of a “short list of six very strong candidates” for a national scholarship on full government salary to undertake two years of post-graduate study of tropical fisheries management for developing Commonwealth Countries.
Thirty five years on, I find myself responding to the mismanagement of a gillnet fishery run only to third world standards within the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. In this respect Queensland retains a fisheries management regime more akin to a developing third world country rather than the self-proclaimed “Smart State”.


As I demonstrated in my written defence of the erroneous claim that I had faked a photograph about bycatch, the level of technical knowledge of fisheries in Far North Queensland held by certain fisheries administrators in the South-east is apparently low. In Article 9, I detail how their ‘Framework for determining stock status’ is fundamentally flawed and grossly inadequate.
It almost seems that we may require a generational change before the ingrained but misguided beliefs held by those in the commercial and administrative sectors who still cannot accept the science and the logic, finally leave the sector. But we cannot afford to wait that long; by then it will be too late.


Because of the lack of checks and balances in the management of coastal fisheries in Queensland, we are at risk of losing discrete local populations of certain species of our inshore fish. When this happens an intergenerational crime will have been allowed, if not committed, by our fisheries administrators. A class action may need to be taken out against the state (as in USA, see Article 5).


Why are more fisheries professionals not speaking out? The answer may be lack of awareness, apathy or simply that they have mortgages to pay. Jobs in fisheries are few and far between. Having been in the system for around 30 years, I am aware of the pressures on people to tow the line if they are to progress in their chosen field, whether with government or as private consultants.


My wife and I wish our grandchildren and community as a whole, to have a good chance of “catching a feed” of decent sized fish from our inshore waters in days to come. My mortgage is paid off, I’ve retired from paid fisheries work and so do not have to kowtow to anyone.
I have a conscience and what is right under my nose here in Far North Queensland, is “self-evident”.

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Contents & Summaries of Articles (Download full report to read articles (pdf 3.5 meg))

Foreword
STOP PRESS: Statement from Fisheries Minister Hon. Bill Byrne on NFZs ......................... 5
Article 1.          Barramundi size limits & big old fecund females (BOFFS)
Explains the features of the biology of barramundi that render the species particularly susceptible to overfishing under the present fishery management regime. It shows how heavy human fishing pressures, concentrating on the larger individuals, inevitably lead to declining maximum sizes reached by individual fish. The prospect is raised of FQ overseeing an intergenerational crime if they allow the present management regime to continue. 
Article 2.          Threadfin at risk of localised extinction?
Threadfin share similar features of their biology with barramundi but worse still, they die quickly in gillnets; most undersize and BOFFs cannot be released alive when caught in nets. Also they are not protected by a closed season over their entire breeding period, spawning runs and aggregations are targeted by netters. Like barramundi and possibly other species, they have discrete populations limited to given estuary systems and adjacent turbid waters near the coast. With uncontrolled fishing effort, local stocks may be lost forever.
Article 3.          Is the inshore fishery of NQ sustainable?
A once-rich fishery with similar species to NQ was wiped out in Hong Kong but the area still has a “sustainable” fishery of very small fast maturing species. Concerns are raised that current levels of gillnetting in NQ risk eliminating some of the same species that were lost to overfishing in Hong Kong. It also warns that the 2014 Queensland gillnet buyback program alone is insufficient to solve our problem of overfished, depleted inshore fish stocks.
Article 4.          A closer look at our inshore fishery
The implications of “sustainable” are discussed. In QLD the administration is unable to control who fishes where and by how much. They fail to provide any incentive for fishers to husband a given area. Allowing part-time commercial netters risks subsidising heightened levels of overfishing when full-time fishers would have pulled out because of poor returns. Proof is given that 4 vulnerable species are targeted during their spawning period by netters.
Article 5.          Misinformed, misguided and downright unsustainable.
Gillnet management is discussed and technical terms are explained in readily understandable language, including effort creep, CPUE, hyperstability, serial stock depletion and the use of previously discarded species. A question is posed: “when is unsustainable assessed as ‘sustainable’ by the authorities?” Think "garbage in, garbage out".
Article 6.          Gillnetting in the GBRMP: urgent change recommended
Three basic concepts are presented: (i) inshore stocks in NQ are limited to relatively small sizes because coastal catchments are relatively small in comparison to Asia's; (ii) gillnetting is operating at unsustainable levels relative to stock size: bigger boats and more nets per operator will make matters much worse; (iii) focus must change from right-of-access by netters to recovery of fish stocks. Recommendations include regional management of fishing effort, no part-timers, some net free zones and introduction of recreational fishing licences.
Article 7.          Regular claims by the commercial sector: comebacks & concepts
Underlying truths demolish the often heard claim that our inshore fishery is working at below its potential in relation to fish stocks and markets because of unnecessary restrictions. Far more benefits will be gained by communities if local stocks are allowed to recover and managed for the benefit of those communities. Result: more fish caught with higher returns to communities and more fresh seafood becoming available. Continuing as we are will mean continuing loss of jobs and more seriously depleted inshore fish stocks, risking irreplaceable loss of local populations, thereby repeating mistakes of collapsed fisheries the world over.
Article 8.          Grey mackerel sustainably fished?
Covers the collapse of the Bowen grey mackerel fishery following heavy netting of Raywards Reef as documented by De Lacey. Other areas are listed where stocks of grey mackerel, apparently local to the area appear to have been decimated by netting. The GBRMPA vulnerability study on grey mackerel and the Poseidon study on grey mackerel are summarised. A summary of a letter to the then fisheries minister is given.
Article 9.          Minister McVeigh’s admission a shocker!
A letter in reply (see above) from the LNP fishery minister admits, quote: “stock status is determined for the whole state, not by region, although there may be some regional impacts on some stocks”. The shocking and unacceptable implications are discussed. Fundamental flaws in FQ’s “Framework for defining Stock Status” are identified. Potential solutions are outlined and a further request is made to the minister.
Article 10.        Concerns over Minister Mcveigh’s 2nd reply on grey mackerel
An explanation is given of how grey mackerel are being placed at risk of the same level of serial depletion of stocks as was suffered by the North Atlantic cod fishery towards the end of the last century. The competencies of FQ staff who decided that grey mackerel are fished according to the principles of ecologically sustainable development are challenged. The problem is discussed at greater detail than in previous articles.
Article 11.        At long last, a review of fisheries management in Queensland
The announcement of a review of QLD inshore fisheries is greeted with enthusiasm and relief. It is noted that adequate time must be allowed for the review and there will be insufficient time to complete it to the required standard before the election due in early 2015.
Article 12.        The proposed Fisheries Review: congratulations cancelled?
The unexpected short period of 14 days for advertising the Review consultancy and for prospective consultants to lodge their tenders is strongly criticised and certain rumours are aired. The minister’s reply is summarised and his concerns addressed. He states that he will “complete a framework for fisheries management prior to the next election.  Queenslanders will then have the opportunity to decide if they wish to support the proposed framework or not”.  Almost 3 months after the 2015 State election there are still no indications of the results. What is holding up the release of the Review as promised by the previous minister?
Article 13.        Is GBRMPA failing our fish? Draft Strategic Assessment rejected
The draft Strategic Assessment by GBRMPA, available for comment over the Christmas break until 31 January 2014 fell short of required standard. It demonstrated clearly that the information relayed to them from various LMACs and their own vulnerability assessments on e.g. grey mackerel and threadfin, is ignored. The article gives only an outline of GBRMPA’s omissions; a full response to the Draft is available at: www.FFC.org.au, and http://bit.ly/1iEYegt.  This led to my resignation in despair from the Douglas LMAC after 7 years of dutiful, regular attendance including a period as secretary.
14.                  BIBLIOGRAPHY: 18 scientific papers, fisheries status reports and independent studies with summaries of their key relevant findings and conclusions66
Acknowledgements