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Alex's Column 16 February 2024

Am I missing something?

Last year, traditional owners closed the following areas to commercial barramundi gill-netting: Mini Mini, Murgenella, Cooper Creek (East Alligator), Buckingham Bay and Arnhem Bay.

Previously, the total barramundi catch from these areas is understood to be as high as 50% of the total catch for the NT.

Therefore, if the same commercial gill-netting effort continues this year in other areas where it is still allowed, won’t that place 50% more pressure on the stocks in those areas?

If so, doesn’t that need urgent fisheries management attention to make sure it doesn’t happen?

To me, it’s a no-brainer.

It’s what the Amateur Fishermen’s Association NT (AFANT) and the NT Guided Fishing Industry Association (NTGFIA) have been banging on about for the last couple of weeks.

They’re calling for conservative, catchment-based quotas to protect key areas for recreational, tourism and Traditional fishing from increased commercial fishing effort and harvest.

A catchment-based quota is the total allowable weight of commercially-caught barramundi in a given catchment.

In this case, the major concern is that the Daly River, Roper River and Moyle River catchments will be netted up to 50% more than in previous years.

The Daly and the Roper, in particular, are iconic recreational fishing areas, and the Moyle is vitally important to NT charter fishing operations.

I’ve wondered for a long time why there aren’t quotas on commercial barramundi catches.

It works fine for both the NT commercial Spanish mackerel fishery and the commercial jewfish fishery, so it’s not reinventing the wheel.

AFANT President, Warren de With, said: "We are calling on the government to urgently address the concerns of businesses and community members by implementing interim catchment-based commercial barramundi quotas for 2024.

“Conservatively limiting the weight of fish allowed to be netted in each catchment will help to ensure that the Territory’s most iconic recreational fishery is protected in the short term,” Warren explained.

AFANT CEO, David Ciaravolo, said: "We are seeking nothing more than the application of sensible policy – the Daly River and the Roper River barramundi fisheries are world class; abundant stocks must be actively protected, not left to chance.

"It’s through recreational fishing, fishing tourism and Traditional fishing that the publicly-owned barramundi fishery resource returns the vast majority of benefits and value to the Territory and, without conservative commercial catch quotas in place, those benefits and values remain under threat.”

Blane Simmons, Chair of the NTGFIA, said: "It is vitally important that Government acts now to safeguard and enhance our world-class barramundi fishery.

“Recreational barramundi fishing is an integral part of the Territory lifestyle and a major contributor to our economy with untapped potential.

“Government needs to recognise this and manage the resource in the best interests of all Territorians, not just the commercial sector, committing to immediate catch limits and a thorough and transparent policy and management review,” Blane urged.

At the end of the day, I find it ironic that the 11 active commercial netting licences, of which eight are owned by one company from WA, are allowed to continue to catch  60% of the total barramundi catch across all sectors when that catch is only worth about $10 million.

Compare that to the $270 million the recreational and tourism fisheries are worth, and noting that most of that immense value is attributable to the Territory’s cash crop: our iconic barramundi.

I mean, here we are sprouting about giving away $1 million by 31 March for one tagged barra, encouraging further fishing tourist visitation, and then souring this major national promotion by not making adequate adjustments to the total commercial catch now that it only has half the area to fish.

This does not send the correct message to interstate anglers thinking of visiting the Top End.

According to the AFANT CEO, an Interim Commercial Harvest Strategy was introduced last year; however, it was not designed to address the loss of access and displacement that commercial fishers experienced in 2023, nor does it directly limit the amount of fish that can be commercially harvested from any river system in a given year.

“Since October 2023, AFANT, along with the NT Guided Fishing Industry Association, have been engaged with the Department and the relevant Ministers to urge the introduction of interim measures to limit the commercial harvest of barramundi to recent historical averages while longer-term management arrangements can be developed,” David said.

Personally, in conjunction with realistic total-weight-based quotas, I’d like to see a long-overdue reintroduction of commercial barramundi licence buybacks.

That would really demonstrate that the Government is serious about recognising and further developing our major recreational barramundi fishery.

Australian Fishing Trade Association Chair, Bob Baldwin, managed to wet a line in between umpteen meetings with NT recreational fishing industry key players.


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