MIXED BAG: Three illegally taken undersize mulloway along with two fish of legal size.
MIXED BAG: Three illegally taken undersize mulloway along with two fish of legal size.

Outrage, scepticism over changes to fishing rules

THE recreational bag limit for mulloway will drop to one fish per person from September 1.

Mulloway in New South Wales were classified as overfished in 2004 and the DPI alternately wringed its hands and blocked its ears for almost a decade as stocks dropped even further.

A Mulloway Recovery Plan was finally implemented back in 2013, limiting rec fishers to two fish over 70cm, yet still permitting a commercial "by-catch allowance" (possession limit) of 10 fish of 45-70cm.

That created a de-facto legitimate market for undersize fish, which weren't just by-catch any more, resulting in a further 55 tonnes of undersized mulloway being killed each year.

It's worth noting at this point that mulloway don't attain sexual maturity until they are around a metre long, so the legal length of 70cm is not based on a biological premise for stock renewal, but on a commercial imperative. These fish are worth money.

Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair said this week: "Despite efforts by fishers, a recent scientific review showed mulloway are still overfished.

"In order for stocks to recover, the review recommended that more action needed to be taken.

"Given the seriousness of the issue, I asked both the commercial and recreational advisory councils to come up with actions for their sectors, with each council establishing expert working groups to investigate the best options."

The upshot was a 70cm minimum size to apply to rec and commercial fishers and a halving of the recreational bag limit to one.

"The reduction in the recreational bag limit from two to one still provides opportunities for fishers to catch these magnificent fish and if they wish, keep a fish for the table," Minister Blair said.

"Both councils will continue to look at other measures, including investigating options where commercially-caught mulloway can be differentiated to reduce black market opportunities, further monitoring to ensure the effectiveness of these actions, as well as more research on fishing gear technologies to reduce by-catch of mulloway."

The announcement on the DPI Facebook page produced more than 1200 comments in the first three days.

A brief scan indicates that outrage and scepticism easily eclipse accolades and optimism. Even for Facebook, there's little positivity.

Why?

Many suggest the controversial "by-catch" mulloway are now likely to be just discarded dead during meshing operations, negating any increase in stocks.

Others are just bitter that they're never likely to catch one legal mulloway these days anyway.

There's a lot of antagonism from parts of the million rec fishers towards parts of the 1000-strong commercial sector, which is viewed as killing far more mulloway fingerlings, subjuveniles and juveniles than the rec fishers through by-catch in prawning, meshing and trawling operations.

Figures of fish "landings" (legal rec caught and killed mulloway versus commercial mulloway brought to market) don't tell the full story of who kills the most individual fish throughout the mulloway life cycle. Ask anyone who's been around the cod end of a school prawn net, for a start.

Habitat grants

APPLICATIONS for the 2018 Habitat Action Grants program are now open, with DPI grants of up to $40,000 per project to improve local waterways.

Last year $644,000 was awarded for 29 habitat rehabilitation projects, including several locally.

Applications will close on September 21.

The free two-day Fishers For Fish Habitat Forum in Ballina on August 24-25 is a good opportunity to mix with intending and successful habitat campaigners.

Go to the Fisheries website ASAP and register to ensure you have a seat and catering, or call 6626 1396.

Helping FishBase

INTERNATIONAL web database fishbase.org needs money to survive.

FishBase catalogues 34,000 species, 323,200 common names, 58,900 pictures, 55300 references from 2310 collaborators and hosts 700,000 site visits a month.

A major payment to support the FishBase encoders in 2018 will not be made, leaving a funding gap of $US200,000. Expert staff will go on unpaid leave until the organisation receives additional funding.

At the moment it is operating on a limited number of servers across the globe.

Donate if you can.