Net free zones-Myths busted

Letter from the Queensland Recreational Fishing Network (

 If Net Free Areas are established, the public won’t be able to buy local fresh fish!

The total annual reported harvest by commercial net fishers along the East Coast of Queensland year on year since the late 1990’s (official Fisheries Qld figures) has been between 5000 – 7000 tonnes/year. We have sourced the official commercial annual total catch figures for the three proposed Net Free Areas and averaged them over a reasonable timeframe.

No surprise to us to find that the combined average annual total commercial net catch across the three proposed NFAs is less than just 300 tonnes each year.

That means that currently the catch from these three areas combined is less than a meagre 5% of the total commercial net catch from the east coast.

How can removing less than 5% of the catch suddenly see local fish become not available as the campaign being waged by the commercial sector is claiming? What a load of rubbish!

Add onto that the fact that the majority of the commercial catch from these areas is generally immediately sold to wholesalers who then whisk it off interstate and overseas. The actual amount that finds its way into local outlets is tiny and caters to a very small market niche in truth. Being overly generous and allowing that 20% of the local commercial catch does reach local outlets (that is a greatly inflated estimate, we believe), that is still just a reduction of less than 60 tonnes/year across the state.

With the mobility of fishers these days and the ease of transporting catch around quickly, any real shortfall in local outlets that improbably might occur, will be overcome by fish caught from adjacent areas.

This great myth about the demise of the availability of local fish if net fishing is in anyway reformed has been peddled by vested interests for the past 30 years and has been roundly successful to date, only because the actual catch figures have not been available which clearly discredit this scaremongering. Now that we have these figures, we can clearly demonstrate what a farce this misleading campaign has been and that no one in the community should be in any way concerned that supplies of local fish will in any way be compromised by the establishment of three Net Free Areas in Queensland.

Please share this key data as widely as you like. It kills the commercial scaremongering campaign dead in water.


Loss of jobs in the seafood industry resulting from the introduction of NFAs

There is some truth in this claim, but should be viewed as a positive necessity rather than “the end of the world as we know it” as claimed by the commercial propaganda machine.

Everyone with any understanding of the structure of the east coast inshore commercial net fishery knows that there is a massive excess of effort in this fishery that is depleting fish stocks at an unsustainable rate. It is also making it hard for those commercial fishers with a genuine commitment to fishing as a fulltime living to maintain financial viability because of the uneconomic levels of competition for a very limited resource from within their own industry.

A simple comparison with the Northern Territory inshore commercial net fishery demonstrates the ludicrous status of the Queensland model.

The NT has progressively reduced their number of licensed netters down to just 14 at this point. Each of these operations is very financially viable and the market value of their licences has sky rocketed as a consequence. Interestingly too, the total NT commercial net harvest from these 14 operators is being maintained at historical levels and stock assessments of key species are showing that fish populations are very healthy and not under threat from over-fishing.

How does Qld stack up against this model?

Queensland currently has around 300 licences for the use of large mesh nets commercially just on the east coast, with a further 300+ small mesh licences (supposedly 400m long bait nets) on top of these that are now being widely mis-used to catch a wide range of species sold into the food market.

The value of a Qld netting licence is a mere shadow of those in the NT and even that is being artificially inflated just because most recognise that a significant buyback must happen sooner rather than later and investors are hoping for a windfall profit when this inevitably occurs, keeping current licences above what they should really be set at.

So it should not be a surprise that the east coast commercial net fishery is in dire need of a total overhaul and restructure. The current Net Free Area proposals are being used by the industry as a smokescreen to deflect attention away from clearly what needs to occur in this fishery, regardless of whether NFA’s are created or not.

There must be a significant reform of this fishery which will include the progressive removal of licences and return to viability for remaining licence holders. It is the responsibility of government to manage this, as they do any other industry reform. Where government decisions result in loss for individuals, as a result of compulsory acquisition, there is an established process for compensating them fairly and there is no doubt this will occur in connection with the establishment of any Net Free Area as well.

For the past 40 years, the commercial net fishery in Queensland has operated with no genuine total catch controls or restriction of their impact on fish stocks and no thought for helping the industry reform its 1960’s structure and mentality in order to survive in the 21st century.

It would serve the industry far better now to recognise that things need to change, and change dramatically, and start working with other stakeholders and government to achieve a fair, environmentally sustainable and responsible and financially viable industry model for the future instead of sticking their collective heads in the sand and fingers in their ears and wanting to believe the world will stay just like it was back in the 1960’s.

Who are the real consumers of locally caught fresh fish?

If you are a recreational fisher, you already know the answer – it is us, recreational fishers and their families. Official government statistics tell us that around 1,000,000 Queenslanders enjoy going recreational fishing or benefit from a family member who does.

If you do some simple maths, if each of us only caught and ate 1kg of fresh fish each year, that would be the equivalent of 1,000 tonnes. Of course where fish stocks are healthy, we anglers catch and eat far more than that small amount each year. Various economic studies over time have shown that rec fishers spend upwards of $1000/year on average on going fishing and fishing-related equipment. So that conservative 1,000 tonnes is worth a staggering $1b injected into this state’s economy.

You should be asking the question of government why it is that we recreational fishers haven’t been afforded fair allocation of the fish resources of this state for the past 40 years? As the largest segment of the community who want and do eat locally caught fresh fish, why aren’t our rights and expectations being prioritised above commercial fishing interests?

Tell them that you wholeheartedly support the establishment of a network of Net Free Aras across the state and will support a government committed to achieving this.

There won’t be another chance to see this happen in your lifetime if we allow this to wither on the vine now.