THE BIG JEWIE DEBATE
COMMERCIAL fishing interests have been attempting to put the blame for declining jewfish stocks on to anglers by claiming fish we release will likely die. This follows a series of reports by Fisho that NSW Fisheries was considering a proposal to allow pro netters to take juvenile jewies while imposing strict catch restrictions on anglers. See all reports in Related Content (right).
Commercial operators have been using the Fisho website to claim that anglers are the real culprits because most, if not all, of the fish we release die. However, scientific research indicates that jewie C&R is actually very effective. This revelation can be seen as further strengthening the case being put forward by anglers for the Government to declare this popular sportfish as "rec only" species.
In recent years Fishing World has published a series of articles detailing the current research into the effectiveness of C&R. Several of these articles deal specifically with jewies.
In simplistic terms, the above studies by NSW DPI researchers found that jewfish have very good rates of survival – up to 93 per cent – if correct C&R techniques are employed.
Anyway you look at it, a jewfish released by an angler has a much better chance at successfully growing and breeding than it does if chucked into a fish box by a pro netter!
While some sectors of the commercial fishing industry might be trying to cloud the issue and shift the perception of blame regarding the current parlous state of the fishery, the pertinent facts are that jewie stocks are in decline and urgent action needs to be taken to ensure the long-term sustainability of the fishery, both recreational and commercial.
Fisho is advocating for significant increases in size limits – anything from 75 to 90cm seems to be scientifically justified as allowing the best chances for successful breeding.
The science is clear on the need for a radical increase in the current 45cm size limit.
We are also calling for major reductions in bag limits for anglers. There's no doubt that jewfish are an incredibly popular sportfishing target and if we want that to continue we need to act to protect the fish stocks. Many anglers have expressed support for a zero bag limit on the rec and commercial take on jewfish for, say, five years to allow stocks to rejuvenate.
We are also urging the commercial sector to come on board and do their bit. The pros have to be fair dinkum if they are to be seen as having any credibility. There's a lot of noise from the pro sector about "sustainability" and "best practice management" but as soon as something needs to be done to fix fish stocks there's often cries of "economic hardship".
To our way of thinking, the commercials can't just expect to carry on netting the hell out of juvenile jewies while also extracting large numbers of breeding size fish. As well as pushing for limits and increased restrictions for anglers, Fisho is calling for meaningful changes to current commercial fishing practices including moratoriums on the deliberate targeting of breeding aggregations of beaches, changes in nets to stop bycatch of juvenile fish in estuary systems and so on.
Where appropriate, we would argue that rec-fishing trust funds should be used to buy out all commercial fishing operations in areas where jewfish are under significant pressure. The Shoalhaven River on the NSW South Coast is one location that has long been mooted as a waterway that has significant jewfish potential but which is under extremely heavy commercial pressure. If all the netting operators currently working that river were fairly bought out, it's likely that the Shoalhaven would become an incredible jewie fishery, bringing in huge socio-economic benefits for both local and visiting anglers and related businesses.
The Shoalhaven is just one of a number of rivers and estuary system which have not realised their true socio-economic potential due to excessive commercial exploitation. There are also obvious environmental implications associated with this sort of over-fishing, as we are currently seeing with serious declines in jewfish stocks.
We urge you to carefully read the scientific papers and reports relating to jewie C&R, familiarise yourself with the best possible techniques and do your bit to help stocks of these magnificent inshore sportfish return from the brink.
Meantime, have your say on this important issue. We know the commercial guys are watching the debate very closely, as is the Fisheries Minister's office and Fisheries bureaucrats. Let them know what you think!