AFTA Trade Show

The AFTA (Australian Fishing Trade Association) Trade Show is on at the Gold Coast this weekend.  This is where the Aussie tackle industry reveals all the new and exciting products set to hit our tackle stores’ shelves in the months to come.  The who’s who of the tackle trade are there.  The old salts catch up with old friends and remark about how far things have come and the young, or first timers, simply walk around catching flies as they are bombarded with shiny new kit.

While on the surface it might just look like hundreds, maybe thousands, of grown men and women drooling over tackle with child-like wonder; there is actually millions of dollars of deals being made.  Tackle stores all around Australia are allocating their budgets and filling their shelves.  The gears of the fishing economy are in overdrive for three glorious days.  Now, having attended this event for the last five years, I have a real appreciation of just how important recreational fishing is to the Australian economy.  And that is just the tackle side of things.

So, with that in mind, I read with interest the report on page 5 regarding the heavy netting of threadfin salmon in the Brisbane River.  Catch rates per trip are dropping, yet this year there has already been a record 22 tonnes of salmon harvested from the river.  Fisheries monitors are fearful of a complete collapse.  Likewise, local tackle stores are fearful that if the threadies go, so too will the revenue that comes from the anglers that chase them.  Now, consider the data presented by Tim Trollworthy on page 27, where he points out that about half of Queensland’s estimated resident 700,000 recreational fishers live in the SE corner.  If just a small percent of those anglers chase Brisbane River threadfin, that’s some pretty impressive people power.

  Now I don’t like to bag the professional fishermen involved, but Blind Freddie could see that the current rate of commercial effort is unsustainable,  especially when research has found that threadfin exist as discrete local populations usually confined to areas smaller than 100km. They don’t migrate up and down the coast.  Once gone, they’re gone for good.  Ol’ Freddie could also see that levels of harvest such as this raise some serious red flags and outrage from those 700,000 rec’ fishers.  Suddenly, you have 700,000 rec’ fishers who will not be calling for smaller quotas; they’ll be calling for a net free zone around the Brisbane River.  It’s this refusal by the commercial industry to regulate effort in areas to sustainable levels that brings about net free zones.

It all seems very familiar, but unlike up here in the north where smaller groups have had to apply pressure for many years to get the net free areas they’ve desired, things could happen a lot quicker in the south east.  What politician is going to say no if 700,000 disgruntled SEQ rec anglers suddenly decide that they don’t want to lose their threadfin fishery?  And the ball is already rolling.  The three northern zones are a done deal after the government surveys came back revealing that 90% of the 6300 people who took the time to do the survey supported them and the zone’s proposed boundaries.  The Fisheries Minister has said that zones will be implemented by November 1.  And, word has it that Moreton Bay is already on the drawing board.  What kind of numbers would come back if the same survey went out to SEQ anglers about a proposed Brisbane River zone?  Let’s just say I’d be very worried right now if I was a commercial fisher working that patch.  In fact, if I was them, I’d be getting some press releases sent out about what measures were being taken by the industry to preserve the fishery.  I’d be showing some husbandry of the resource and cultivating as much favourable public relations as possible, rather than just pretending there is no problem and playing the blame game.  Or worse, as I’ve seen by some pros of social media: “If recreational anglers are going to keep posting Facebook photos showing us where the threadies are, we are going to keep netting them.”  That’s the kind of attitude that creates net free zones guys.  Work with recreational anglers or work against them?  The choice seems pretty simple.

Oh, and just for the record, I think, as with any of these issues, it’s not a one-sided affair.  Recreational anglers (and fisheries management) need to take some of the responsibility for stock reductions. After all, threadfin have similar breeding patterns to barra (they change sex and don’t become females until they get quite large – usually around 100cm on the east coast), yet we can keep and kill them all year round (though many are released).  Where is their closed season for spawning?  Where is their maximum size limit to protect the big female breeders?  In fact, GRUMPA itself reports that “The minimum legal size for king threadfin is smaller than reported sizes at first maturity, exposing this species to fishing pressure before it can breed”.

Unfortunately, until some changes are made, the fate of Brisbane’s threadies will remain uncertain, just like their Queensland Government sustainability classification – “uncertain”.

Until next month, fish hard and stay safe, Lee Brake (the Ed’)