Commercial fishing bans may not be enough to protect fish numbers

Proposed recreational fishing zones in Queensland may fail to meet their objectives in guaranteeing weekend anglers the chance of a better catch, a new Griffith University study has found.

In a paper published in Marine Policy Dr Chris Brown, of Griffith’s Australian Rivers Institute, examined the case for Queensland’s ‘net-free zones’ — areas that ban certain types of commercial fishing.

The net-free zones aim to benefit Queensland’s recreational anglers with more and bigger fish. Several net-free zones were put into place last year and the government is currently considering proposals for net-free zones in Moreton Bay.

“Simply banning commercial fishing may not be sufficient to protect many of our favourite sport species,” says Dr Brown.

The Queensland Government’s own stock assessments indicate significant fishing pressure from recreational fishing on many species, such as coral trout, tailor and red snapper. Other work has shown that red snapper catch rates are 10 per cent of what they were historically.

Over the past two decades commercial fishers have been subject to tighter management controls, including marine protected areas, license buy-backs and now net-free zones.

“These changes have helped bring commercial fishing pressure under control in Queensland and will help ensure we have sustainable fisheries for the future,” says Dr Brown.

Recreational fishing

“The same cannot be said for our recreational fisheries, where there have been few management changes over the years.

“Recreational fishing is largely managed through a system of bag limits, gear restrictions and size limits. However, unlike commercial fisheries there is no limit to the number of participants or the total amount of fish taken. This makes recreational catches effectively open-ended.

“Because most recreational fishers fish only occasionally, we tend not to appreciate the cumulative impact of their actions on fish stocks.”

Dr Brown says the Labor government’s plans for fisheries reform is an opportunity for government and communities to reconsider what is needed to keep our fisheries healthy.

He suggests that the ‘net-free zones’ could become focal points for the community to work together with government for the management of fisheries.

“For instance, other countries have very effectively used tagging schemes for high-value, recreational species. These help set a cap on the total number of fish taken and have helped support lucrative sport fishing industries, as customers know they have a good chance of catching a big fish.”

“A greater allocation of catch to recreational fishers also imparts a greater responsibility for the management of fisheries.”