Queensland has bought in seasonal fishing closures for a number of species, in a move very similar to that made by the WA Fisheries Department a couple of years ago for similar species in SW WA. (courier mail) (dpi)
As in WA with the ‘vulnerable five’ demersal reef fish, it is rapidly increasing recreational fishing pressure that has done the recent damage in bringing stocks down to unsustainable levels despite heavy cuts to commercial fishing catches.
In WA, the two month seasonal ban on dhufish at the start of summer was highly unpopular, and has been implicated in financial stress and even the closure of some tackle shops, although there are no specific recorded examples.
It has left some fishos questioning whether it might not be better to have spacial closures than seasonal closures. Whether it might not be better to be able to go fishing for more of the year with a few less spots, than for less of the year with full access.
Spacial closures are of course the same thing as the marine sanctuaries that environmentalists are calling for as a conservation tool.
Most WA scientists outside of the WA Fisheries Department are calling for marine sanctuaries, or permanent spacial closures, to protect breeding fish and help cut the overall fishing catch. However, whilst unpopular fishing license fees and seasonal closures have been implemented, the recommendations for marine sanctuaries continue to be ignored – with a likely consequence of increasingly poor fishing and harsher fishing restrictions down the track.
It will be interesting to see what happens in Queensland as this progresses. As in WA, something clearly needs to be done to arrest the decline in fish stocks – for fishing and for the environment But are seasonal closures the right method to pick first? Or are they the last resort of fisheries scientists who remain ideologically opposed to marine sanctuaries, despite the recommendations of the majority of their marine science peers and an increasing body of evidence?
Marine sanctuaries are not the only fishing management we need, and we may still even need seasonal closures for some species if sanctuaries are put in place, but it seems crazy to resort to these harsh fishing management restrictions whilst still refusing to try area closures when they are clearly working in many other parts of the world.
The Queensland Fisheries Minister is quoted as saying “The aim is to achieve sustainability at minimum economic and social cost, while ensuring fair access to the stock across the fishing sectors.”
Interestingly, this is exactly the description that can be used for marine sanctuaries. Marine sanctuaries are the cheapest management to enforce because it is very clear that anyone fishing in the area is in breach of the rules, and also ensure equity because no one can fish the sanctuary, but everyone benefits from the increased breeding stocks within the sanctuary.
And in terms of costs, it can be argued from comparing the experience with seasonal closures in SW WA with the experience of new marine sanctuary networks at Ningaloo Reef or the Great Barrier Reef, that seasonal closures may well be more expensive to the recreational fishing industry than marine sanctuaries.
Experience from Ningaloo and the Great Barrier Reef which both have greater than 30% of the area in marine sanctuaries is that there has been very little, if any, impact on recreational fishing income.
It will be interesting to see where this heads next.