A Queensland government decision to put in place Great Barrier Reef spawning closures for Spanish mackerel fishing for just six weeks of the season is not science-based and will be disastrous for the depleted stock, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) says.
Under the new arrangements, fishers will still be able to hammer the critical spawning aggregations for at least half of the spawning season.
Fisheries Queensland publicly consulted on two options to deal with the overfished stock and have now made a decision on the future arrangements. A recent stock assessment found the east coast population is at an historic low of 17% of unfished levels. Under the department’s own rules, fisheries with stock levels below 20% should be closed to fishing completely to allow them to recover.
AMCS Queensland fisheries expert Simon Miller said the measures the Government have settled on are half baked and may not recover the stock.
“We’re dismayed by this decision. The Queensland government has thrown their own policies in the bin and gone with what the commercial and recreational fishing sectors have pushed for. We’re still going to see more than 300 tonnes of this iconic species pulled out of Queensland east coast waters each year, including during the critical spawning season,” he said
“For Spanish mackerel to recover to resilient and healthy levels, the Queensland government must close the fishery for two years and then completely protect the spawning aggregations by banning fishing altogether. But they’ve chosen not to take this option. If this is how the Government thinks they will get a sustainable fishery, they are in dreamland. We have serious concerns for the future of Spanish mackerel under this ill-conceived approach.”
Under the plan, a new stock assessment will not be completed until 2026/27, by which time it could be depleted even further. Mr Miller said that according to the Queensland government’s Sustainable Fisheries Strategy, key stocks like Spanish mackerel should be assessed annually or at least every two years.
“This decision shows the government has already abandoned its Sustainable Fisheries Strategy, which is supposed to guide important decisions like these. There is no chance of meeting the 2027 targets of the Strategy with this decision. Sadly it seems they’ve bottled it,” added Mr Miller.
“Spanish Mackerel is an iconic species in a World Heritage Area. We need to be doing more to improve the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef by protecting these key predators. If the Queensland Government wants to leave a legacy of sustainable fishing and healthy fish stocks for future generations, they must do better. Fishing on our Reef should be at a gold standard. Allowing heavy fishing for a stock which is at 17% of unfished levels is clearly not good enough.”