Fishery stock assessments Qld

Tim tells us why there’s too few recreational species assessed and too little monitoring!

By Tim Trollworthy

Fantastic to see the great letter to the editor last month from Phill Kliese on recreational fishing licences. Though I don’t agree with Phill’s perspective on recreational fishing licences, the F&B Editor prompted me to start writing a column in F&B to bring readers a wider perspective of management and science matters that effect recreational fishing. I strongly encourage other letters and points of view. It is only in this way that we can be more informed and have an increased ability to influence change for the betterment of recreational fishing in Queensland. The topic of a Queensland recreational fishing licence is not likely to go away any time too soon! 

There’s not much to update you on the Queensland Recreational Fisheries Review. Submissions closed at the end of October and the MRAG consultants will be well and truly putting their report to Government together. I just hope we all get to see a copy! I hear that there was a bit of disquiet from several members of the Ministerial Advisory Group appointed to advise the Fisheries Minister on the review, with the next key meeting of the Group proposed for mid-November. Apparently Advisory Group members felt a bit ticked off that the MRAG review recommendations were likely to be close to set in concrete by this time, and they wanted a genuine opportunity to influence where the review might be heading. Responsibly, a telephone conference call of Advisory Group members was quickly arranged in mid-October as well!

Last month with respect to the NT/ QLD barra comparison, I raised the importance of barra being able to access various aquatic habitats at all stages of their life history. If anything practically demonstrates the importance of this concept, then I could not have hoped for better than having Bill Bowtell’s article on “Fitzroy Reflections” in the same October F&B Mag. Let’s hope that the local council and QLD Government decision makers hear what Bill and his Fitzroy mates are pleading for – ensuring the old waterways are maintained and enhanced to provide guided passage to barra around the barrage in moderate flood events. Now at the distant other end of the scale on the barra habitat front, Townsville contacts have sent me a copy of an article which appeared in the Townsville Bulletin in mid-October. The naivety of statements made in this article easily rival that of our esteemed PM who last month expressed a desire to “shirt-front” the Russian President.

In the Townsville newspaper article titled “Grow beef, Save the reef – dredge spoil could help create new grazing” a Townsville livestock agent who obviously knows SFA about healthy coastal waterways and catchments, let alone anything about f#%ing fish, expressed his strong support in using Abbot Point dredge spoil to “construct sea walls to create grazing marshes”. In the same article, the mad hatter advised that he “absolutely loved the idea” and that he “liked the idea of creating new grazing land on the NQ coast”.   F#%k me!! – what planet are these loons living on?

These constructions and revetment banks used in the grazing industry in Queensland coastal areas are referred to more widely as “ponded pastures”. These banks essentially stop natural regular tidal inundation and therefore access by fish, including barra, to the range of aquatic habitats required to optimise their recruitment, survival and growth. In turn, when wet season up-stream rains occur, they stop many fish from making their downstream movements to spawn etc., with trapped fish in many areas meeting a pitiful end in drying waters behind the banks!

Yeah, Mr Townsville Livestock Agent and Bob, this sounds like a really fabulous idea for all fishers alike! Yeah, only if such grazing hoofed beasts wacked my favourite slowly retrieved Flatz Rat, ripped the 30lb braid off my baitcaster and leapt through the air shaking their horned heads! I’m sure I would make the cover of next month’s F&B with my picture of my poor dopey-looking Droughtmaster before I released it to eat another bit of grass! You can tell how impressed I am with this brain-dead offering from people who should know better than to make public comments before doing any homework! Whilst I love a t-bone like most of us, please grazing industry leaders, can we start ensuring Aussie beef is not grown at the expense of our natural barra and other important environmental processes that occur in and around our fragile coast!

Sustainably fished in QLD?

Righto – that’s your entertainment for the month! Jumping into some serious fish stuff now. Fishery stock assessments provide information on the status of fished resources (i.e. fish, sharks, crabs, prawns). They provide scientific advice to decision-makers on the current health and future trends of a fish stock and its fishery. Usually fishery stock assessments are undertaken on a single species, though it is very important that there is knowledge of where different stocks of a single species exist. (For example, Spanish mackerel in QLD are caught in fisheries in both the Gulf of Carpentaria and on the east coast of QLD. Best available science indicates these respective stocks of Spanish mackerel do not mix or reproduce with each other, and so any stock assessments must be undertaken separately for both the Gulf of Carpentaria and East coast stocks.) Increasingly, stock assessments in countries, including Australia, are responsibly making efforts to not just to consider the health of the targeted fish stock, but also their impact on by-catch species which may be kept or thrown away, and any wider environmental impacts of the fishery, such as damage of the fishing to important fishery habitats.      

There are significant challenges in undertaking fishery stock assessments, as you can’t just go out and drain the rivers and ocean and count the fish. Fisheries scientists responsibly require a range of information from a fishery over an extended period of time and also knowledge about the biology of a species before even attempting to undertake a half-reasonable fishery stock assessment. Such information includes catch and effort data (i.e. how many fish are caught per hour or day over several years?); total catch and discard information; length and age information (i.e. are you catching bigger and older fish or smaller and younger fish over time?) and changes in fishing gear and technology. Additional biological information required includes the following. When does the species migrate or reproduce? How quick does it grow? How big is it when sexually mature? Ideally there should also be information from sources other than direct fisheries info (e.g. underwater surveys). The level of confidence in fishery stock assessments generally increase with availability of quality fishery information.

So, how does QLD stack up with respect to the numbers and quality of fishery stock assessments that they undertake on species of recreational importance? As I have said previously, there are some very talented and dedicated fisheries scientists in QLD. The stock assessments that they undertake, when they are undertaken, are generally of a very high quality when compared to similar work internationally. Unfortunately, the number of species important to recreational fishers on which robust stock assessments are undertaken, and the frequency (every five years if we’re lucky)of the stock assessments on those species, where such work has occurred or does occur, is absolutely dismal! With the miniscule budget that the QLD Government provides for fisheries science and management, there are simply far too few scientists and near non-existent biological monitoring of most recreational fish species to enable a responsible number of quality fishery stock assessments to be undertaken.

Just concentrating on fish with scales, those recreational species in north QLD on which robust stock assessments are undertaken, or have been undertaken in the last decade, are barramundi, grey mackerel, spotted mackerel, Spanish mackerel, red-throat emperor and southern snapper. A stock assessment of coral trout has been prepared and is soon to be published. Yes, that’s all folks! If you, as recreational fishers, thought that the QLD Government had any idea of how healthy stocks of fish such as our school mackerel, tropical red snappers (i.e. nannygai and red emperor), fingermark, threadfin salmon, queenfish, cobia etc., were – then think again! No one knows how healthy or unhealthy these critical recreational species are! Worse still, there are no resources or biological monitoring planned for any of these species. The grey mackerel and Spanish mackerel stock assessments are quite recent in the last couple of years, but the spotted mackerel stock assessment was done in 2005 and the red-throat stock assessment was published in 2006. Make sure you look up the fisheries website on to check I’m not pulling your leg! I wish I was.  

Over the last half dozen years the Queensland government has published stock status reports for different fisheries, or general stock status reports on an expanded number of exploited species. Aside from those species mentioned above for which robust stock assessments have been undertaken, the stock status of other scale fish species has usually been determined by simple appraisals of fishery trends like stable commercial catches and catch rate data. Basically using grade 2 maths, when grade 12 maths just cuts the mustard. These general stock status reports should not be considered robust stock assessments, but again I encourage you to visit the fisheries website to check these out too.  

So what to do?

First of all, start educating your mates that we know jack squat about the health of many of our important recreational fish stocks! Then tell anyone who’ll listen that we can do a lot to improve the situation and it will cost dollars, but it just has to be done. The recommendations of the US Marine Fisheries Stock Assessment Improvement Plan published way back in 2001 are light years ahead of any of the thinking that is presently occurring in QLD with respect to monitoring and assessing our fish stocks. (see

I hope the MRAG fisheries consultants, QLD Fisheries Minister and QLD Fisheries managers take the opportunity to read a few pages of it too. Lots of good ideas to point QLD fisheries monitoring and stock assessments in the right direction. See, you did learn something of value!? I hope you did too Bob!  

All the best until Santa month.