Commercial Fishing Licences

Hot bunking of commercial fishing licences must be torpedoed!

By Tim Trollworthy

Welcome to April after a few weeks of cyclones; some of QLD copped a caning with associated drenchings, while other places close to the cyclone action remain as dry as a bone. It epitomises the amazing land of contrast that we live and fish in! I hope all readers in cyclone affected areas are doing OK and the sou’ easters now give us a break.   

I optimistically planned this month to be giving you an appraisal of the LNP initiated QLD Fisheries Review that Labor has promised to release.Unfortunately, at the time of writing, there haven’t even been murmurs of the review’s release in any fisheries or QLD Government circles. All eyes and efforts seem to be placed on working out the detail of how the Labor promised net-free areas are going to be delivered. The delay in the release of the fisheries review is just political egos at play. Both the LNP and Labor seem to forever have difficulties in progressing initiatives that have merit, if such initiatives come from the other side! “Whose idea is this?” … “It was theirs!” … “Oh well, it must be a load of crap then!” …

The glacial release of the QLD Fisheries Review, delivered to the LNP before Xmas 2014, even after Labor has promised its release, might be a good case in point!

Last month I commented on my concerns about short-term and over-night leasing and rotation of single commercial fishing licences amongst multiple commercial fishermen. I have received, through the editor, some feedback to explain this a bit more, so I will now try to do this.

As the various efforts over the years to buyback or remove QLD commercial fishing licences and various symbols take effect, there are less commercial fishing licences around (still too many in some fisheries, but we are heading in the right direction).However, there are still a reasonable number of commercial fishers who want to go commercial fishing. And these days there are less and less “so-called” latent and unutilised fishing licences sitting in drawers, which commercial fishermen can get access to. If you are an appropriately licenced master commercial fishermen you can legally access any commercial fishing licence and use it; as long as it has the correct fishery symbols on it to do the type of commercial fishing you want to do.

A few examples for those who are unsure of the way commercial fishing licences work.

  • Example A – if you want to commercially net fish for grey mackerel and shark you will need a commercial fishing licence with the N1 and S (for shark) symbols or endorsements on it;
  • Example B – to commercially net for barramundi, and in addition a range of other species, you need the N2 symbol (both the N1 and N2 symbols were targeted in the recent LNP netting buyback).
  • Example C – If you want to go commercial line fishing for red emperor/ nannygai you will need the appropriate commercial fishing licence with a line fishing (L) symbol/ endorsement on it, and a RQ (Reef Quota) symbol, and then because coral reef fish species have commercial catch quota on them, you will need the appropriate amount of OS (Other Fish) quota to be legally able to land your red emperor/ nannygai for commercial purposes.

There are a limited number of commercial fishing licences in existence and, as I said before, numbers have been going down steadily, particularly in the past 20 or so years. Now most commercial fishing licences have a number of different fishery symbols or endorsements on them which allows commercial fishers to diversify into different fisheries when markets, weather, fisheries closures and seasonal availability of different target fish species support such decisions. To make the whole situation even more complex, there is the ability for commercial fishers to transfer different fishery symbols or endorsements between fishing licences whenever they feel like it. This wasn’t always the case and only became possible after a policy decision some seven or eight years ago by the old DPI Fisheries.    

What is reportedly happening in southern QLD and is becoming a concern of responsible commercial fishers in the north is that, for example, net fisher 1 (Joe) goes and uses Example A net fishing licence, as described above, to target grey mackerel for a tidal cycle and then comes back to the boat ramp with his catch. Joe then hands the commercial fishing licence to net fisher 2 (Dave) who then heads out for the evening to target some shark. Where once Joe and Dave would each have had held or leased two commercial fishing licenceswith the appropriate netting symbols or endorsements between them – they now just share the one commercial fishing licence.Just like hot bunking by crews on old submarines, except instead of sharing the same bunk in shifts, this is all about commercial fishers sharing the same commercial fishing licence in shifts!Allowing such situations would appear to be completely at odds with the objectives of commercial fishing licence buyouts and requires immediate management action!

Whilst I do not support the total abolition of leasing of commercial licences, as it reasonably allows some responsible newcomers to the commercial fishing industry to get a foot in the door, the above examples, which usually relate to short-term leasing, must be immediately stopped. If it is not, the benefits of past commercial fishing buybacks that tax payers funded are being wasted, and future commercial netting buybacks, such as that being proposed to be associated with the introduction of the Anna–zuk promised net-free areas, will end up not delivering the broad range of benefits that are intended.

Though, as I stated last month, I am not a fan of net-free/recreational fishing only areas or for that matter any exclusive sector allocation of fisheries resources, I am also not a fan of Governments pissing our tax dollars up against the wall. This is exactly what is likely to happen when fishers bought out of the new net-free fishing areas, enter into some business arrangement with commercial fishers still netting outside of the net-free fishing areas, and potentially double or more the netting effort that used to occur in the areas, adjacent to the new net-free fishing areas! I am sure that this is the last thing that anyone wants, including most of the commercial fishers who had been maintaining a sustainable net fishery on their local patch which just happens to be outside of the net-free fishing area!

I can hear the fisheries managers saying that“leasing of commercial fishing licences is a legal business arrangement that is outside of the responsibility of our fisheries legislation”.This is a complete cop out, as there are a number of options that could be explored, which while not directly managing “leasing”, will significantly reduce the “short-term sharing” of licences which is in no-body’s best interests… except the few commercial fishers gaining at the expense of all other fishers, either recreational or commercial.

So what are the viable options to solve this problem? Some commercial fishers are advocating that, the same as our QLD driver’s licences, commercial fishing licences should be issued with the photo of the commercial fisher who is doing the fishing on the licence. The idea is if you are out there commercial fishing and you get pulled up by the fishing and boating patrol boys, they check the licence with head office, and if it is not your photo on the commercial fishing licence, it is a fisheries offence with a fine that is a decent deterrent. The owner of the fishing licence is the one who determines which fishermen fishes the licence (it might be an owner operator or it might be leased to another fisher) and for business flexibility reasons, I suggest letting them be able to change the commercial fisher’s photo on the licence no more than six times a year and charge them accordingly for the privilege. The sooner we stop hot bunking of commercial fishing licences, the better for all!

Had to share this one with you in closing! Recent news of the defection of representative ex-rugby league player and now Senator, Glenn Lazurus from Clive’s Hush Puppy party, to being an independent, came as little surprise to most people. However, did you hear about his comments in February when he was chairman of the controversial Senate inquiry into the ousted can-do Newman QLD Government? During the inquiry Senator Lazurus apparently expressed surprise on hearing that commercial fishing was conducted in the Great Barrier Reef. According to a story in the “The Australian” he said to an Inquiry witness, and I quote, “I find it absolutely astounding they would allow commercial fishing in the Great Barrier Reef.” I doubt that QLD commercial fishers and many seafood businesses etc., that have relied on a Great Barrier Reef for decades would find it too astounding! I recall that Senator Lazurus used to be called “the brick with eyes” once upon a time… not sure of the reason though!

Here’s trolling at ya till May! Tim