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Recreational Fishing Impacting on Commercial Fishing Industry

29 August 2012

AUSTRALIA - A lack of science and knowledge about Australia’s recreational fishing catch is “killing us internationally”, a House of Representatives committee inquiry has heard.

The impact of recreational fishing on commercial fishing and aquaculture has been raised by several witnesses to an Inquiry into the science of fisheries and aquaculture being carried out by the House of Representatives Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Committee. Their combined opinions conclude there is no real science available on the recreational fishing catch from Australia’s states.

A lack of knowledge in this area can affect the ability to carry out proper stock assessments and correctly advise on how to manage fish stocks.

“It’s a significant gap in our understanding of what gets taken out of the water by recreational fishers,” said Professor Steve Kennelley, Director of Fisheries Research for the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

New South Wales has the largest recreational fishing sector in Australia with more than one million anglers. In Queensland there are a quarter of a million recreational fishing boats registered, and in Western Australia 85,000 recreational fishing boats are registered but no current data are being recorded on what they catch. The last national recreational and indigenous catch survey was completed in 2003.

Boat-based surveys and boat ramp surveys - where a catch is examined alongside a fishing boat or as if comes into shore - can be a good source of data but are expensive to carry out.

Prof. Kennelly told the inquiry that phone-based surveys – where licensed fishers are randomly called about their catch — were much cheaper and very useful. “This system is used overseas and when recreational fishers are properly licensed it can be a very powerful tool,” he said, “but more funding is needed for this and follow-up surveys to give a more complete picture.”

Giving evidence to the inquiry, Director of the Commonwealth Fisheries Association, Brian Jeffriess explained how a recent Victorian government survey examined the recreational catch of the Southern Bluefin Tuna off Portland on the south west Victorian coast. It amounted to over 300 tonnes. This represents a larger catch than the total official quota allowed for commercial fishing of the Southern Bluefin Tuna by the European Union, or by South Africa or by the Philippines.

“This is not a domestic state issue or a domestic national issue, this is an international issue where other countries are saying to Australia; ‘another part of your industry is taking an unmanaged quota out of the sea and it’s not acceptable and unfair’," said Mr Jeffriess.

”There is a serious financial implication here for the commercial fisher and this issue is killing us internationally,” he said.

His proposed solution would be for a state authority to apply for and buy a quota from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) which would cover the recreational catch.

“It’s the only solution,” said Mr Jeffriess. “To buy 300 tonnes of a Bluefin Tuna quota would cost $30 million and that’s a permanent right. It wouldn’t worry us if they then sold the fish because having bought the quota, that’s their legitimate commercial right.”

Mr Jeffreiss cited the case of lobster in South Australia where a system of government purchasing commercial rights to provide opportunities for the recreational sector is already in place and working well. He explained that recreational fishers have been granted 5% of the state’s lobster quota, based on a historical catch. “If the quota goes up to say 2,000 tonnes then they still get their 5 percent. If it goes down to 1,000 tonnes, then they have to be restricted,” he said.

While reaction from recreational fishers is yet to be gauged, Mr Jeffriess said most recreational fishers are very responsible, want to do the right thing and have been drawn into the process of collecting scientific information.

Backing up this sentiment, Dr Jeff Leis, principal research scientist with the Australian Museum told the inquiry that very often divers send in photographs of species they’ve seen and recreational fishers send in unusual specimen they’ve caught for the museum to identify. “Often it’s the first inkling we get to know of a new species,” he said.

Other issues the Inquiry has heard about include the problems of duplication with several jurisdictions over fishing and the decline in jobs and staff for marine research.

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