Call to ban commercial fishing in Gulf of Carpentaria sparks reaction from local fishermen
A Gulf of Queensland leader is calling for a ban on commercial fishing, which he says is wiping out fish stocks and protected species around Mornington Island.
- Gulf of Carpentaria mayor says commercial fishing practices are to blame for depleted fish around Mornington Island
- He proposes that a green zone be set up around the island
- Local fishermen say ban would have far-reaching consequences
The concerns of Mornington Island Mayor Kyle Yanner have been echoed in several government reports that reveal a history of overfishing and risks to vulnerable species in the Gulf.
But the idea of cutting commercial operations has sparked backlash from fishermen who say the industry is already observing sustainable practices.
Cr Yanner said he has noticed a depletion of fish around the island over the past eight years, a problem he attributes to overfishing and poor enforcement.
“The fishermen are only bringing up all the seagrass beds. They are disturbing all the natural ecosystems,” he said.
“The federal government has made all of these rules, but a lot is missing to enforce them.”
Of its 1,200 inhabitants, nearly 90% of the population of Mornington Island identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
“We are so dependent on being able to catch our own food, and now we have to consider buying fancy boats to take us further because there are no more fish on our shores,” said Cr Yanner.
Mornington Green Zone
Cr Yanner wants a green zone to be established around Mornington Island to prevent any fishing or collecting activity.
He said the goal would be for First Nations people to still be able to fish.
The idea sparked a reaction from professional trawlers like Karumba man David Wren, who has been operating in Gulf waters for 38 years.
The seasoned fisherman, who supplies gray mackerel across the country, said cutting commercial fishing would dissipate communities and deprive Australians of quality fish.
“Without commercial fishing, what do ordinary people eat? They rely on us to bring quality food to Australian tables,” said Mr Wren.
“Not to mention the hundreds of jobs involved in the production chain,” he said, adding that he felt the industry had already implemented sustainable methods.
“The paperwork involved and the rules and regulations are very strict and very expensive, and it’s about making it a sustainable fishery for the generation to come.”
Carpentaria Mayor Jack Bowden said a green zone would have dire consequences for the industry and the region.
“I don’t see any reason why a green zone should happen,” he said.
“It’s not just the guys on the water that would impact – it’s the trucking industry, the freight services, the tourism industry in Karumba.
Overfishing and ecological impact
The Gulf of Carpentaria Finfish Development Trawl fishery (GOCDFFTF) is the area in which commercial trawlers operate.
Several government assessments of the GOCDFFTF have raised concerns about overfishing, poor data collection and the risks to vulnerable species.
According to the 2019 report from the Australian Department of Environment and Energy, barramundi, king threadfin and black jewfish have been overexploited, along with ‘by-product’ species such as mangrove jack.
Meanwhile, an assessment carried out in 2021 by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Environment found that increased efforts were needed to protect species of conservation interest (SOCI), such as turtles and batoids (stingrays, stingrays), which were found to be “intermediate risk”.
Currently, fishermen use bycatch reduction devices (BRDs) and turtle exclusion devices (TEDs) to minimize bycatch, but greater recording of data on interaction with protected species was needed, according to the report.
Cr Bowden said that although there was a history of overfishing in the area, the new policies and procedures meant that most professional fishers were doing the right thing.
“Of course you’re going to have the intruder flaunting the rules,” he said.
“But most of the guys on the water are doing the right thing.”
A spokesperson for the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) said it was implementing strategies to tackle illegal fishing.
“In order to effectively deter illegal fishing in Commonwealth and ZAF fisheries, AFMA offers a risk-based, intelligence-driven compliance and enforcement program.
“The approach includes communication and education, targeted strategies and ongoing monitoring and maintenance programs,” AFMA said.