ENVIRONMENT: Tailor mysteries

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Fisho's Chris Yu with a big NSW North Coast tailor.

READING Scott Thomas' recent editorial in the October edition of Fishing World magazine on the decline of Australian salmon in NSW following a decision to reduce their level of protection sparked a whole set of questions, particularly as I’d just got back from a North Coast fishing trip where there was lots of discussion on the change in the size and numbers of tailor.

There was general happiness in the rec sector 15 or so years back when it was announced that tailor and salmon were to be virtually rec-only species. I say “virtually”, as there were, as there always are, a few caveats. The actual fishing closure notifications basically started by saying that endorsement holders in the Ocean Hauling and Estuary General fisheries could only use “set lines, hand held lines and drift lines”, but that there would by-catch “allowances” so as to not put commercial operators in regulatory trouble should they “accidentally” land some tailor or salmon in hauling nets or “any other” nets. Additionally, the salmon protection would only apply from Barrenjoey Headland north.

Salmon numbers went up quickly in northern NSW and even into southern Queensland. But then, as Scott noted, a coalition of commercial and rec fishermen who were convinced the salmon were eating too many whiting, pushed for salmon to lose their protection and numbers immediately began to decline. They are still sort of “protected” but in the most recent 2016 notification Ocean Hauling operators were given a by-catch allowance of 3,000kg each per trip when using hauling nets! That’s protection? Really?

But back to the tailor. They also got notified again in 2016. Unlike the salmon, they are covered state-wide but Ocean Hauling and Estuary General endorsement holders can take 100kg each per trip using hauling nets or 50kg using “any other net” as by-catch.

So, what’s been the result? Well, around Sydney, there just aren’t the big runs of winter tailor that we used to get stuck into using garfish, pilchards or lures. Those fish were generally in the 1-2kg range off the rocks, with schools of smaller fish right through Sydney Harbour and other estuaries. A big tailor was 3kg.

Now there appear to be good numbers of really big tailor – 4kg-plus – landed regularly off some North Coast beaches and in recreational fishing havens. But the numbers of smaller fish are way down in lots of locations where they were once prevalent. And some reports, for example from Port Stephens, suggest that spots where traditionally there were big tailor now only hold small fish.

What gives? Has NSW DPI Fisheries done any monitoring of the effects of the closures on numbers? Does the generous by-catch allowance negate the value of “protection” under the Fisheries Management Act? Are the big tailor the ones lucky enough to have grown up in rec fishing havens or areas where commercial operators have been structured out? Any theories or, even better, study results? DPI?

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