8 September 2023 taskforce meeting
The 7th meeting of the Future Fishing Taskforce was held in-person and via videoconference on 8 September 2023 in Brisbane, and was chaired by Mr John Tanzer.
The taskforce noted that a new licence arrangement would need to replace the existing N1 and N2 licences authorised to operate in the Great Barrier Reef for the transitional period from 1 January 2023 to 30 June 2027, when all gillnetting would be ultimately phased out. This type of authorisation is being referred to as the ‘NX’ symbol, and would have a legislated end date and automatically expire on 30 June 2027.
The taskforce noted that net fishing arrangements under the Fisheries Act 1994 are complex, covering 4 subordinate legislation titles – the Fisheries (Commercial Fisheries) Regulation 2019, the Fisheries Declaration 2019, Fisheries (General) Regulation) 2019 and Fisheries Quota Declaration 2019. Changes to all 4 pieces of legislation are necessary to implement the changes in net fishing access in Queensland, including creating the new NX symbol and the conditions under which it operates.
The taskforce reviewed the existing catch, effort and licence numbers and quota arrangements in place for management regions 1–4 (Great Barrier Reef). They noted the complexity of arrangements inside and outside Dugong Protection Areas A and B. They noted that around 83% of the total east coast inshore fishery harvest from the Great Barrier Reef region was caught by around 30 licences.
The taskforce considered that the transitional licence arrangements need to balance the provision of continued local seafood supply, with providing adequate protection from gillnetting impacts within the World Heritage Area. The NX symbol must be able to support licence holders and fishers as they consider transition to other fisheries or participate in alternative sustainable fishing method trials. This phased-out approach also supports upstream and downstream businesses that rely on regional net fishing businesses (such as ice manufacturers, seafood wholesalers/retailers) and gives them 3.5 years to adapt, pivot and pursue alternative income streams ahead of a total gillnet closure.
The taskforce considered that the proposed conditions that should apply to the NX licence could include (but not be limited to):
- combining many of the current N1 and N2 rules (but not N4)
- not requiring a fundamental change in nets used (e.g. no change to mesh size or ply)
- being non-transferable – operating more like a permit until it expires on 30 June 2027
- availability to those who have history in the N1 or N2 fishery (owner or a leaseholder)
- barramundi not being an exclusive commercial net species – it would be available to commercial line fishers
- tier 1 and tier 2 species continuing to be managed by total allowable catch in accordance with the harvest strategy, but possibly competitive quota rather than individual transferable quota
- holding Best Practice Certification (e.g. Oceanwatch program)
- some changes to attendance rules (net checks and attendance distance)
- hammerhead shark being no take
- a net-free north in management region 1 to Cape Bedford
- an independent onboard monitoring program (through onboard cameras or observer program).
The taskforce discussed at length whether the NX symbol should be able to access Dugong Protection Areas. They reflected on the advice and reports they had received from experts and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority about the impacts from gillnetting in these known high-value habitats, which support dugong, sawfish, dolphins and turtles. They noted that these areas were important fishing locations to a number of licence holders and had been subject to enhanced operating conditions for many years.
The taskforce was mindful that some commercial licence holders may choose not to continue under these conditions. However, they considered that they were necessary to strike a balance between continuity of seafood supply, supporting transitional jobs and permitting gillnet fishing until it was entirely phased out in June 2027.
The taskforce also noted that eligibility criteria and conditions would need to account for the other new net symbol type to replace N1 and N2 south of the Great Barrier Reef – N1(MR5). While this symbol would largely be ‘business as usual’ for netters in this region, it may only be available to those with history in the region and numbers will need to account for the net area closed in Great Sandy Marine Park due to rezoning. The N1(MR5) symbol will not permit hammerhead shark harvest, and the taskforce questioned whether reissuing an ‘in perpetuity’ gillnetting licence symbol is appropriate given the increasing focus on gillnetting impacts globally, concerns around sustainability and declining social licence.
The next taskforce meeting on 15 September 2023 will start to finalise their advice for ministers, and consider any remaining outstanding issues and submissions received from stakeholders during their deliberations.
- John Tanzer (independent chair)
- Senior representatives from the Queensland Government including:
- Fisheries Queensland
- Department of Environment and Science (Environment and Planning Policy/Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service)
- Department of the Premier and Cabinet
- Queensland Treasury
- Queensland Rural Industry Development Authority (QRIDA).