Net-free fishing zones monitoring

Monitoring how recreational fishing changes

In November 2015, three net free zones (NFZs) were declared in the Cairns (Trinity Bay) Mackay (St Helens Beach to Cape Hillsborough), and Rockhampton (Capricorn Coast) regions. This management change prohibited commercial fishing boats using nets, which may affect recreational fishing effort, catch and satisfaction.

Since the declarations, Fisheries Queensland has conducted social and biological surveys collecting data from recreational fishers to better understand the impact of NFZs. Performance of Queensland’s net-free zones provides results of the surveys.

Data collection

Catch and effort

We interview recreational fishers at boat ramps when they return from their fishing trip. We then record the species of fish they target, plus, for some species, the number caught and released. We also measure the fish they keep. We ask fishers to provide the general fishing location and fishing time, method, number of fishers and their usual residential suburb.

Surveys are conducted at boat ramps that commonly access NFZs and also at some references sites outside of the NFZs for comparison. There are five surveys per month at each selected boat ramp.

Current ramps in NFZ and reference areas

Area Number of Ramps Type
Cairns 3 NFZ
Mackay 2 NFZ
Rockhampton 5 NFZ
Hinchinbrook Channel 2 Reference
Townsville 2 Reference
Hervey Bay 2 Reference

The surveys program was reviewed and expanded during 2016 to a statewide program that now surveys more than 45 boat ramps across Queensland.

Image 1: Locations of the net free zones and initial reference sites

Image 2: A recreational fisher provides information on their fishing to our monitoring staff

Social survey

Satisfaction and expectation surveys were conducted in 2015, 2016 and 2018 at tackle stores in the regions providing access to the NFZs. Approximately 100 – 150 fishers in each region were asked about their satisfaction with fishing in the previous 12 months and their fishing expectations for the coming 12 months.

Improving recreational fishing

The full benefits of NFZs on the number and size of fish caught by recreational fishers are likely to take time to emerge. However recreational fishers are now harvesting larger barred javelin in the Rockhampton NFZ compared to the reference areas, which have not changed. Barramundi kept by recreational fishers in the Rockhampton NFZ were also larger than the reference areas, but only in 2016 and 2017. The size or number of fish caught by recreational fishers has not increased in the Mackay or Cairns NFZs.

Image 3: The size of barramundi and barred javelin has generally increased in the Rockhampton NFZ compared to the reference areas.

More fishers are travelling further to fish the Rockhampton NFZ since 2015. However, the number of trailers counted at the boat ramps has remained steady at all NFZs and reference areas since their implementation.

Image 4: Fishers are generally travelling further to fish the Rockhampton NFZ, fishing effort has remained steady across all regions.

Recreational fishers’ satisfaction with fishing in the NFZs is generally positive and appears to be increasing. Overall, fishing satisfaction over the previous 12 months was greater in 2018 than in 2015 or 2016.

In 2018, recreational fishers in the NFZs were more satisfied with the following activities compared to 2015 and 2016:

  • more exciting fights with fish
  • number and size of fish caught
  • quality of fishing in the area.

Report summary

Generally the effects of NFZs have been positive for recreational fishing. The predicted flow-on benefits of NFZs (e.g. tourism) will require fishers to be satisfied with their fishing trips, which depends largely on fishers catching more targeted species.

As NFZs age we may see stronger effects on recreational fishing catches, but these effects will vary between regions due to the area covered by the NFZ, environmental factors such as floods and drought, and the reproductive and migratory capabilities of the targeted fish and their prey. Monitoring the performance of NFZs will continue as part of Fisheries Queensland’s Fisheries Monitoring program.

Read the report: Performance of Queensland’s net-free zones

Previous reports: Recreational fishers’ satisfaction and expectations of Queensland’s net-free zones.

Data usage

The boat ramp surveys are ongoing and data collected is being used to help Fisheries Queensland monitor the changes in recreational fishing through time which could be attributed to the net-free zones. In addition, the data collected is useful to regular fisheries management activities such as  species specific monitoring programs, stock status determinations and stock assessments.

Support and assistance

This monitoring is only possible due to the generous assistance of recreational fishers who volunteer to contribute during our interviews. We also greatly appreciate the warm welcome that has been extended by the tackle stores chosen as social survey locations.

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