By Dr Bruce Pease, President EcoNetwork-Port Stephens
This submission is in response to recent requests by the NSW Department of Primary Industries for public submissions on the current amnesty on recreational fishing in NSW Marine Park sanctuary zones and proposed changes to size limits of catch species, bag limits and fishing methods used by the NSW recreational fishery.
Marine Park sanctuary zones are required to protect the biodiversity within a wide range of representative habitats in the NSW Marine Estate.Recreationally fished areas do not provide sanctuary for target species, therefore your amnesty is reducing the size of NSW Marine Park sanctuary zones and weakening the protection of native flora, fauna and their habitats in New South Wales. We call on you to take your new role as custodian of marine biodiversity in New South Wales seriously and remove the irresponsible political amnesty on recreational fishing in Marine Park sanctuary zones now.
The proposed changes to recreational crab fishing methods will not reduce their significant environmental impact. There is documented evidence that crab trapping methods have significant bycatch problems associated with entanglement and drowning of air breathing species such as turtles and ghost fishing of lost gear for a wide range of bycatch species, particularly in Port Stephens. All entangling devices for crab fishing, including witches hats, hoop nets and lift nets should be banned in NSW. We submit that these entangling devices must be banned in the Great Lakes/Port Stephens Marine Park, because of their excessive use, loss and documented bycatch mortality of a wide range of species, including endangered sea turtles. The number of crab traps per person should not be increased. The existing design specification of crab traps should be reviewed and currently available technology to minimise bycatch mortality should be adopted.
EcoNetwork Port Stephens Inc. is the sustainability and conservation based peak body for a regional network of environmentally concerned individuals and 17 affiliated community, environmental and eco-tourism groups and businesses. While our primary focus is on community and environmental issues in the Port Stephens region, we must also address more global issues that impact directly on our local Port Stephens environment.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries has recently called for the public to submit online submissions on: 1) how the amnesty on recreational fishing in marine park sanctuary zones affects them and 2) whether they agree with proposed changes to size limits of catch species, bag limits and fishing methods for the NSW recreational fishery. Many of our members have completed the online “submissions” but we feel that these are actually survey responses to specific proposed actions, not submissions of public opinion. As stakeholders in the NSW environment, we are responding to your request (“I encourage all stakeholders to have their say and articulate their views on line fishing from the beaches and headlands,”) in the 26 July edition of the Newcastle Herald to articulate our views on the amnesty allowing recreational fishing in Marine Park sanctuary zones as well as the proposed changes to regulation of the NSW recreational fishery.
We believe that your politically motivated amnesty on recreational fishing in some Marine Park sanctuary zones is undeniable proof of an intention to weaken the conservation status of our Marine Parks. We say “politically motivated amnesty” because the amnesty was announced in conjunction with the announcement of the Government’s support of the Audit Recommendations, but is not actually a recommendation in the Audit Report.
The justification given for allowing recreational fishers to kill large, trophically significant fish in certain Marine Park sanctuary zones was that ecological information from these areas is relatively scarce. This justification is obviously politically based because conservation scientists and managers would use this justification (known to them as “the Precautionary Principle”) to prevent the killing or removal of any flora or fauna from these Sanctuary Zones unless there was sufficient information to indicate that this threatening process would not have a negative impact on the ecological integrity of these areas.
In the absence of a scientifically based environmental impact statement for any recreational fishery in New South Wales, we must assume that recreationally fished areas no longer provide sanctuary for fish and cannot be classified as “sanctuary zones”. Therefore, the Government has significantly reduced the area of protected sanctuary zones in our Marine Parks, which is a key measure of marine biodiversity conservation and equates to weakening the protection of native flora, fauna and their natural habitats in the NSW Marine Estate. We believe that this amnesty is the first step in your plan to allow recreational fishing in all Marine Park sanctuary zones in New South Wales in exchange for political favours from the Hunters and Shooters Party.
We congratulate your Fisheries NSW staff for reviewing recreational fishery management regulations and proposing changes to bag limits, size limits and fishing methods that will reduce recreational catches and their potential impact on biodiversity in the NSW Marine Estate.However, even if all of the proposed changes are implemented, we believe that there is much scope for further reduction of bag limits, increases in size limits and beneficial modification of fishing methods. Bag limits should be designed to provide a fisher with only enough seafood to feed his immediate family for a limited period of time, not supply his neighbourhood with free seafood or support a “shamater” fishery income. Heavily fished iconic species that potentially reach a large maximum size, such as Dusky Flathead and Snapper should have a further limit on the number of fish over a large size for these species (as with Snapper in Queensland). Minimum size limits of serial spawning species should be based on the principle that retained catch animals are old enough to have spawned at least once and this is not currently the situation for some important species, such as Dusky Flathead and Snapper. Finally, fishing methods should have a minimal impact on undersized animals of the target species and unintended bycatch species. Line fishing methods should be required to use barbless hooks, particularly in sensitive areas such as Marine Parks and there is evidence that crab trapping methods have significant bycatch problems associated with entanglement and drowning of air breathing species such as turtles and ghost fishing of lost gear for a wide range of bycatch species.
Recreational and commercial crab trapping methods are causing serious environmental damage here in Port Stephens through ghost fishing of lost gear and entanglement of air breathing animals such as sea turtles in net material and excess rope. Some of this damage has recently been documented by staff at Port Stephens Council, which is mounting an education campaign about the environmental impacts of crab fishing gear. Despite extensive information in the DPI Discussion Paper (Review of NSW recreational saltwater and freshwater fishing rules) about the high risk of environmental impacts of recreational crab fishing gear, the Discussion Paper only proposes reducing the number of witches hats/hoop nets/lift nets per fisher from 5 to 4 and actually combines that with a proposal to increase the number of traps from 1 to 2. The use of witches hats has been banned in Queensland since 2008 and the Sea Life Conservation Fund is currently circulating an electronic petition in Change.org to phase out the use of witches hats in NSW (see:
We submit that all entangling devices, such as witches hats, hoop nets and lift nets should be banned in NSW and submit that these entangling devices must be banned in the Great Lakes/Port Stephens Marine Park, because of their excessive use, loss and documented bycatch mortality of a wide range of species, including endangered sea turtles.
Crab traps also have a documented history of ghost fishing and bycatch mortality of many species, including endangered sea turtles in Port Stephens.The number of crab traps per fisher should definitely not be increased. Fisheries NSW should be reviewing the potential requirement for mandatory use of “turtle smart” crab traps that have been developed by Ocean Watch for use by commercial crab trappers in Moreton Bay (see:
Turtle smart traps have modified entrance funnels that restrict entry by sea turtles, sinking rope to minimize entanglement and degradable components that cause the structure to collapse after prolonged continuous exposure to sea water. These design concepts to minimise bycatch mortality and ghost fishing of crab trapping gear have been developed and implemented in many overseas countries for a number of years. If these “turtle smart” concepts for trap design are not adopted for all estuarine waters of NSW, they should at very least be adopted for the Great Lakes/Port Stephens Marine Park where entanglement, ghost fishing and bycatch mortality is a serious documented problem.