Alex's Column 27/11/20

The sad passing of former Deputy Chief Minister, Mike Reed, closed a truly-historic chapter in the development of recreational fishing in the Northern Territory.

As Fisheries Minister in the late 1980s, Mike recognised the huge social, economic and conservation value of recreational fishing in the NT.

Back then, there were still close to 100 commercial barramundi licences and it was open slather on all our major rivers except the Alligator rivers in Kakadu.

Thinking back, it’s hard to believe how bad the barra fishing was in places like the Daly and Mary Rivers.

In successive Barra Classics on the Daly in the mid-80s, the total number of barra caught was less than 50 both times.

At the Mary River, a Fisheries evaluation showed the barramundi population in that system was on the verge of collapse.

As the responsible minister, he was in the box seat to do something about the declining quality of fishing in both those systems.

He was passionate about it and he listened to and worked with AFANT which was 100% voluntary back then with no executive office.

With great support from then Chief Minister Marshall Peron, in 1988, he closed commercial fishing in both the Daly and the Mary.

It was a watershed moment in the history of recreational fishing development in the NT, and later he closed the Roper River, Shoal Bay and Darwin Harbour to netting.

At the same time, he oversaw a series of licence buyback schemes that significantly reduced the number of commercial barramundi licences then operating.

Basically, he got on with the job of reallocating much of the NT barramundi resource from the commercial to the recreational sector.

Not surprisingly, he came under enormous pressure from the commercial fishermen, but also from within his own department.

I remember him saying on more than one occasion: “They won’t do what I keep asking them to do; they keep fighting me.”

But the political decisions were made nonetheless, and it’s fair to say that the recreational fishing vote went pretty well one way back in those days.

There’s a lot of good stuff happening nowadays with artificial reefs, boat ramps and various infrastructure to benefit recreational fishing, but in the late ‘80s and through the ‘90s, what was happening was ground breaking.

Recreational fishing bodies in the states were touting the NT as a shining example of what can be done to develop recreational fishing.

I remember Reedy telling me once that interstate fisheries ministers at a joint meeting were asking him to slow down as they were being belted by their own recreational fishing lobby groups wanting the NT example followed and their waterways also closed to commercial fishing.

Nowadays, that’s happening interstate, and it all started in the Territory with Mike Reed.

One thing Reedy recognised was the main reason many Territorians chose to live up here was because of the great lifestyle we had, and still have, and that recreational fishing was a huge part of that.

In terms of reaping the economic rewards, just have a look at how big the fishing tour industry is nowadays; back then in the ‘80s, it hardly existed.

I can’t remember everything that Mike Reed did for recreational fishing back then because there was so much.

The stocking of Manton Dam was another initiative that started under his watch, as were the Fenton Patches artificial reef complex, the funding of AFANT from the mid-90s and the Recreational Fishing Access Project and map.

The bottom line is that, next time you catch a metrey, remember that, until Mike Reed, a true champion of the Territory, came along, those big barra were not out there to catch in anywhere near the numbers they are today.

This column sends its best wishes and sincere condolences to Ann and the Reed family for their sad loss.


Mike Reed changed the face of recreational fishing in the NT when he became Fisheries Minister in 1987.