The Amateur Fishermen’s Association of the NT (AFANT), the peak body representing the Territory’s 61,000 recreational fishers, and the NT Guided Fishing Industry Association (NTGFIA) the peak body representing the guided fishing industry in the Territory, respect and support the commercial Barramundi gillnet closures recently announced by the Traditional Owners of Buckingham Bay, and we acknowledge the important cultural responsibility of Aboriginal people to manage their waters and lands.
The latest closures underscore long-standing concerns shared by many Australians regarding the environmentally destructive impacts of commercial gill netting, and the increasing incompatibility of this form of fishing with community values about what is sustainable. Such values, no doubt underpin the $160M Commonwealth Government commitment to fund the phasing out of gillnet fishing in Queensland that was announced in June.
Earlier this year, when Mini Mini and Murganella Traditional Owners implemented barramundi netting closures, AFANT and NTGFIA’s called for an immediate government buyback of the affected commercial licenses, to prevent commercial netting from shifting to other waters. This call was unheeded. Now, with Buckingham Bay also closed to netting, the waters where approximately 50% of the total commercial Barramundi fishing harvest comes from have now been closed by Traditional Owners, and in just a six-month period. Unfortunately, the current Barramundi fishery management rules are simply not fit to respond to these rapid and significant developments.
Current NT commercial barramundi regulations do not set regional or total catch limits, and this has meant the fishery management regime is increasingly incompatible with the need to maintain an equilibrium among recreational, tourism, traditional, and commercial fishing sectors. As such, last week AFANT and the NTGFIA each wrote the NT Minister for Fisheries Paul Kirby to highlight our concerns and to call for the NT Government to:
- Implement Formal Commercial Catch Quotas: Introduce catch quotas at the catchment/ discrete stock level, reflecting recent historical catch; to prevent unsustainable resource competition and localised depletion until comprehensive fishery reforms and resource sharing arrangements can be finalised.
- Buy Out Commercial Barramundi Licences: Balance fishing effort with fishing waters by buying out licenses as needed to maintain equilibrium between the number of licences/net and the remaining available gillnet fishing areas.
While ultimately, we are calling for a wholesale review and restructure of the Barramundi fishery, AFANT and NTGFIA believe the NT should be able to support a small-scale, high-value environmentally friendly commercial Barramundi and King Threadfin fishery to offer locals and tourists fresh local seafood. However, this should not be done in a way that undermines the sustainability of threatened and protected species, food security for remote communities, or the $270M GDP contribution and 2,500 jobs that recreational fishing and fishing tourism brings to the NT each year.
“The current management settings for commercial Barramundi are long outdated and not able to respond to the reality that Traditional Owners have the right to decide whether gillnetting takes place in their waters or not.
“We have asked the Minister to task the department with establishing catchment-based commercial catch quotas and to design an effort reduction and restructure of the fishery that responds to the shrinking areas that netting can occur in.
“The focus on bending over backwards to support a relatively low-value, but high impact commercial net fishery, instead of working to optimise outcomes for recreational, tourism and Traditional barramundi fishing must end, and affected commercial operators should be supported by Government’s through the required transition, as is being planned in Queensland. ”
“When our calls for reform earlier in the year were met with inaction, it led to a surge in commercial netting in significant regions including Arnhem and Buckingham Bays, Anson Bay, and the Roper River. This increase has subsequently led to a decline in the quality of fishing tourism experiences and lower catch rates in these regions.
“With Queensland moving to ban gill net fishing due to its environmental impacts and the increasing concentration of gillnetting in important Top End waters, the valuable Barramundi tourism sector now faces stiff competition.
“It’s vital for the government to ensure our iconic fishery isn’t further compromised by outdated management and the time to act is well before the season reopens in 2024.”