Net free for better or worse?

Well, the election is done and dusted and, like Tropical Cyclone Marcia, Labor’s rise to power took many of us by surprise.  It’s hard to say how many votes it influenced, but the decision to create three net free areas near Rockhampton, Cairns and Mackay was definitely an example of how the squeaky wheel gets the oil.  I suppose Townsville has the net free Hinchinbrook channel within driving distance, but you have to wonder if Townsville had a campaigner of the ilk of Kim Martin (CQ), Lance Murray (Mackay) or Paul Aubin (Cairns) whether they too would have received a nearby net fee area?

I actually feel for Scott Mitchell and the Fraser Coast Fishing Alliance who missed out.  They have campaigned hard to end netting in the Great Sandy Straits which, as they say, is “the only Marine Park in the country (possibly the world!) that allows unrestricted numbers of commercial netters to fish Yellow Conservation Zones!”  The cynic in me wonders if the per capita of rec fishing votes in the promised net free areas was the driving force.  After all, if science was the reasoning, they’d have rolled out the zones with the findings of the recent Queensland Fisheries Review…

That being said, as an angler who regularly fishes the promised Net Free Area that is St Helens Beach to Cape Hillsborough, I can honestly say that, on a personal level, I’m elated by the news.  The fishing in this area will undoubtedly improve because of this decision.  I also don’t agree that closing these areas will “deprive” locals of freshly caught seafood.  Yes, prices might rise slightly, but there are always other suppliers Queensland, as per the latest reports, still has 280 gill net licenses.  Also, seeing as how the LNP used $9 million to purchase 117 licenses (to be fair, not a bad result), we can assume that almost all of those 280 licenses are in use, otherwise there would be no legitimate reason for their owners to hold on to them.

Now, here’s where it gets a bit grey and the metaphorical waters get a bit murky.  Where will the professionals who usually fish these newly net free areas go?  Will they just move to the next open system along the coast and increase the commercial effort there?

Well, Labor has stated that it has put aside 10 million to fund the necessary buyout of commercial fishing activity in these areas.  They use the word “buyout” which is interesting, because if they indeed buy the licenses off those local netters who actually fish those areas on a permanent basis for their day to day living, then commercial effort as a whole will be reduced and the transfer of effort to other areas should be minimized. 

However, if they just use those funds to “compensate” netters who fish these areas, including those who only visit at certain times of the year (i.e. when key species school up etc), then there will be the same amount of effort concentrated in different, smaller areas, and some cashed up professionals looking for new hunting grounds.  Now, that’s not good; not for rec’s, not for the fisheries as a whole,  and especially not for netters in open areas who didn’t just get a compensation payout and now have to compete with those displaced netters who did!    

It will be interesting to see which of these scenarios comes to pass, especially as how, up until this point (under the LNP buyout scheme) all license buyouts have been voluntary.  If Labor goes for the hard line approach and enforces buyouts in the net free areas, then I sympathize with any of the commercial fishers who will have their way of life effectively bought from them.  As one commercial fisher who I speak with often tells me, “I don’t want to be bought out.  I love what I do.” 

Many rec anglers might scoff, but put yourself in a genuine local professional’s shoes who is forcibly bought out and is now unemployed.  Sure, they might be able to use the money to buy another license… maybe… but then they’ll likely have to uproot their family and move. 

I’m not saying I don’t think buying out the licenses in the net free areas is the best option for the fishery as a whole, but it’s a tough decision and there’s two sides to the story. 

That’s it from me this month.  I hope you stayed safe and dry through TC Marcia (it’s hitting Yeppoon as I type this) and, as always, we’d love to hear from you.  Send us in your cyclone pictures and videos and feel free to send in your feedback on the mag’.  Want to see more of something?  Tell us about it.  We don’t know if you don’t tell us.

Also, don’t forget Fish & Boat Tube.  At the moment there is an 85lt fibreglass icebox from Evakool up for grabs for the most popular video each month.  Uploading is a simple process that takes just a few minutes.  Head over to and check it out!

Fish hard and stay safe.

Lee Brake (the ed’)