Anglers win fight for netting restrictions to stay

New rules for Scalefish came into place in Tasmania on 1 November 2004. Part of the rules was Rule 73, which removed night netting for recreational fishers.
Despite the fact that is was well accepted and it reduced long soak times, a practice that is seen as unsustainable, Legislative Councillor, Paul Harriss moved a motion to disallow that rule.
Tasmanian Fishing and Boating News lobbied hard for the rule to stay, as did many others.
On June 21 2005 TARFISH Chairman, Beres Taylor briefed the Legislative Council. Below is a shortened version. It is still long, but worth reading. It has taken many years to reach this position which will improve the fishery for the long term. 

Presentation to members of the Legislative Council by Beres Taylor, Chairman of Tasmanian Association for Recreational Fishing (TARFISH).

Our Association is a voice for the 124,000 Tasmanians who go fishing in some form at least once a year. TARFish, as we are known, was formed following discussions between the various organisations and associations to which recreational fishers and others associated with the sector belong. Four regional committees operate around the state so that fishers in each have a mechanism to discuss and resolve local issues and have a process to make representations to government and other sectors. Tarfish was extensively involved in the public consultation phase of development of the current Scalefish Management Plan and made several submissions to the Minister on behalf of groups in different parts of the state.
At our annual general meeting at Ross last September, knowing the likely direction of the management plan in regard to netting regulations, a motion to oppose the implementation of the management plan was put to the meeting. This motion was lost.
At our last meeting on May 24th a motion not to support the disallowance of Rule 73 was convincingly carried, such is the growing support among members as they experience the new regulations in practise.

So what is the fuss about?
Rule 73 reads as follows:-
Setting of commercial and recreational gillnets during night.
 73.   (1)A person must not set or leave a recreational gillnet or commercial graball net in State waters between-
(a) one hour after sunset; and
(b) one hour before sunrise.
(2)   Subrule (1) does not apply to -
(a) the setting or recreational or commercial gillnets in  the waters of Macquarie Harbour; and
(b) the holder of a fishing licence (personal) that is endorsed to permit the setting of unattended graball nets or small-mesh gillnets in the waters of the north coast of Tasmania bounded-
(i)  in the west by a line of latitude through Cape Grim; and
(ii) in the east by a line of latitude through Cape    Naturaliste.

So why the confusion?
Rule 73 does apply reasonable and fair constraints on the use of graball nets in Tasmanian waters. It is not a grey rule but clear and easily understood. The rule in fact clarifies previous rules and simplifies them. The rule is well received in all fishing sectors. It would appear that all of the good in this rule is being clouded by the want of a few to have more unrestrained access.

Why would a disallowance be so destructive?
One of the many problems with a disallowance of this rule is that it destroys, in a single stroke all the work that has been done by successive ministers from both sides of politics, numerous committees for recreational fishing and many clubs and associations but more importantly it is not the right thing to do. If Rule 73 is disallowed, all of these groups and individuals will rightly doubt the effectiveness of consultation.
It will also return us to unfettered netting with its obvious consequences.
We have been warned at many times in the past but now we have all started to listen.
Until the mid 90s, gill netting was completely unregulated within the recreational fishery. This situation has existed from the time of European settlement in Tasmania and if you refer to documents previously presented in the Legislative Council we read that many of the submissions had concerns about the impact of nets. Some refer to a need to close areas to netting whilst others gave evidence of shrinking catch rates and wastage. In 1882 a report entitled "Fisheries of Tasmania - Report and Royal Commission 1882" was tabled in this place. On Page 85 of that report, Mr W Young of Ralph's Bay is quoted as saying "The professionals are not nearly so wasteful as the amateurs, for they (the professionals) do sometimes make a show of putting the small fry back into the water, whereas I have known the amateurs to leave hundreds of large fish as well as small on the beach just taking a few," This gentleman goes on and requests that Ralph's Bay be closed to netting. As I said, this report was titled Fisheries of Tasmania - Report and Royal Commission 1882.
As for back as the 1800s we were being warned about the unrestricted practice of netting and its consequences. Now is our chance to do something.

TARFISH consultation
Over the past decade or so, MRFAC, the independent Ministerial Recreational Fishery Advisory Committee, has overseen the development and implementation of a succession of Scalefish Management Plans. Over that time, the Committee, assisted by the department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment has improved its ability to consult with the various sectors of the recreational fishery. The latest management plan and rules, tabled in both houses of Parliament in November last year were the end result of an extensive and exhausting consultation process which formally took the best part of 12 months and informally several years to complete and involved public meetings and discussions around the state considering at least 2 drafts of proposals and many pages of submissions by interested individuals and groups.
TARFISH held many consultation meetings across the State at about the same time as the Departmental consultation and made several submissions to the Minister on behalf of special interest groups around the State. It was in recognition of our submission and the circumstances faced by the fishers of the West Coast region that Macquarie Harbour was exempted from the provisions outlined in Rule 73, although in light of recent reports regarding fish catches in the hundreds and subsequent environmental damage this may have been an exemption that was not warranted.
Many other groups also held their own meetings and canvassed reaction to the proposed plans and agree that the plan was a step in the right direction that all could be proud of.
Many people have stated that they would prefer that all netting be banned in Tasmanian waters but it was felt better to reach a compromise that all could work with. This was done in the spirit of community and a fair, long-term approach to improving our fishery.

Other compromises
Rule 73 attempts to take into account claims that fish tend to move more at dawn and dusk and so are more likely to get caught in a net at that time. From a safety point of view it was said to be more sensible to only allow nets in the water during daylight hours, and research indicates that this would be just as effective in catching fish. However some net fishers are convinced that there is more movement of fish at dusk and dawn and want to have their nets in the water at those times so a compromise was reached. Those still wishing to net still have considerably more time than they may have had were it not for these compromises.

Research by Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute scientists show that there is no benefit to long sets of nets. In his Sept 2000 report to the Ministerial Recreational Fishery Council, Dr Jeremy Lyle stated that, "the frequency with which gillnets were checked and cleared during the day had a minimal impact on catch rates. Day and overnight set comparisons indicated that, with the exception of mullet, there was little if any advantage based on catch rates (overall number of fish per set and number per net hour) of setting nets overnight.'
Dr Lyle also noted that catch condition generally declines with increased soak time.
This means that a fisher is able to do as well during the daylight hours as at night and that regular checking of the net has no impact on the number of fish caught.
Daylight regular checking does however allow for the release of recently caught undersized or protected fish with a reasonable chance of survival. This is not the case for fish that have been in a net all night and in many cases for considerably longer.
Rule 73 aims to achieve the regular checking of nets, preventing them being in the water for extended periods of time with the inevitable wasting of fish. It is to the net fishers advantage to abide by the rules-they get a better quality of catch, they can release excess or illegal catch alive and they can remove their net thereby not risking large catches in their absence. A net doesn't know when it has caught the bag limit for that particular day or fishing trip.

Night netting has the potential to develop into an illegal activity especially in areas that are closed to netting. Rule 73 gives a clear tool for policing of netting regulations-there should be no nets in the water between 1 hour after sunset and 1 hour before sunrise-if it's there its illegal.
The advice I have from Marine Police officer Craig Jackman is this.
"Rule 73 has had some 6 months of exposure to fishers and to date we have had no problem with encountering any resistance to the rule.
It would appear to us fishers anticipated the rule change. All but a few exceptions agree whole-heartedly with the new rule and already can see the benefits of the change. This recreational season we have seized fewer nets than previous years and not many of those due to night netting. Seizure is usually due to incorrectly marked buoys or lack of a licence number..........'

What is the effect of a disallowance of Rule 73?
There is some confusion about what could happen if there was a disallowance. Disallowing Rule 73 does not reinstate the previous rules. Under Rule 102, those rules were wiped off the statute books with the adoption of the Scalefish Management Plan 2004. If Rule 73 is disallowed, we will return to open slather netting with no controls on where or when netting occurs or how long a net remains in the water, killing fish and other wildlife. Remember that a net could be set and left untouched for days, weeks or worse, left and not collect at all.
At best we can expect more confusion during an extended period whilst a new rule can be developed, consulted throughout the fishing community and brought through the legislative process to where we are today. In that time we can expect to loose all the gains in fish stocks that have been painstakingly achieved over the past 15 years and, because of pressure from the vocal few, we can expect to all be back in this room, hearing similar arguments when that legislation comes before you again. The net fishers will likely still be arguing over their right to net long after the last fish has been caught and the recreational fishery destroyed.

What about other options?
The options were all covered at length and these included ideas from having only certain areas available to netters to having attended netting. These were all discarded after much discussion and investigation.
For instance
- Small areas open for unrestricted netting. This would put even more pressure on these areas and would soon see the depletion of fish stocks in these areas.
- Attended netting. This favoured the large boat owners over the small and also increased the numbers of boats forced to stay out for extended periods.
- More nets for those netting a shorter time. This would see more nets placed in a smaller area and thus again,more pressure on that area.
- Remove all netting. This was seen as a major change that was perhaps avoidable with some smaller changes.
- Moving area seasons. Again this would see increased pressure on those areas during their particular season and people having to travel increased distances to net if they live in a different area.
You can see that these and many more options were distilled into what was in the end a fair compromise.
Many other issues that were considered in reaching the wording of the final rule and some that I would like to cover are:-

What about the risk of bad weather?
Bad weather is a safety defence if a net must be left in the water overnight. Netters only need to call the fishwatch number 0427 655 557 or the bushwatch number 1800 005 555 and report it.

Why should netters be disadvantaged?
- 94% of Tasmanian fishers don't net and they should be considered. This includes many that want no netting at all.
- If any animals such as penguins become trapped in a net, and this would normally happen at dawn or dusk, there is a better chance for them to be found and released alive if nets aren't set overnight.
- There is very little recreational netting anywhere in the world, and in Australia only WA still has limited netting.
- There is no attempt to stop netting but rather to minimise the harm it does.  
- Compromise has seen more time allowed for netting than is prohibited. Under the present rule, a net can be in the water for around 12 hours during Winter, extending to around 19 hours in Summer, when the bulk of the netting is done. This gives the possibility of longer soak times than were permissible under the previous regulations

What about commercials netting?
- Netting is a commercial practise. It is necessary in some form to supply a sustainable commercial market. The average person needs to be able to go to the shop or market and buy a meal of fish, it is a necessary part of our diet.
- There have also been many restrictions places on Commercial netting practices in past years.
- Commercial netters waste little as they attend and work their nets to maximise return.
Regardless two wrongs do not make a right.

What about policing?
This rule makes it easier for the Police. Under the old rules, changing buoys for day and night sets meant that every buoy and every net had to be scrutinised for its legality. Under Rule 73, if it's in the water more than an hour after sunset or before sunrise, it is illegal, and the police can act. The Police were consulted extensively in the development of the plan.
It also makes it easier for recreational fishers and the general public to keep a check on their own fishery and report any suspect fishing.

Won't netting be given an advantage if the rule is overturned?
I spoke earlier about the process of establishing a new rule or set of rules if Rule 73 is disallowed. If the disallowance of Rule 73 goes ahead there will be a huge push to remove recreational netting completely. This push will be supported by many anglers, including AFTA, the Australian Fishing Tackle Industry's Association, and ANSA, the Australian National Sportfishing Association for example. It was in a spirit of compromise that these groups agreed to only ask for a small restriction.

Is it really supported?
Netting, and netting practises have been discussed and consulted with the public at every fishery meeting for the last ten years. It has had a high profile so that all the issues could be teased out.
It is widely supported, including by Tasmania Police and the many NGOs detailed in this paper.

Do we know it will work?
There are many examples of improvements in fishing when netting has been removed or restricted in an area. This improvement in some cases has been evident after a very short period. Tasmania has an opportunity to see a revival in responsible recreational fishing such as has been seen in Georges Bay and in the Far North West. Reports of the improvement in the fisheries in these areas are common.
What about not only the moral but also the legal responsibility of netters.
According to Marine Police once a fish is in a net it is in the net owner's possession. This means that any netter can easily have more than their bag and possession limit without any controls over their catch.
Fish die relatively quickly in a net, and certainly die overnight. With regular daytime checks of nets there is a chance to release fish alive if too many of the target species or any protected species are caught.

Where is the science? The facts...
Reports that we have show that our fisheries are in trouble.
More people are taking up fishing every year.
Nets account for a disproportionate number of fish per person.
A net has no control over a bag limit or size of fish and yet all agree that both bag and size limits are a valuable management tool.

In conclusion

  • This plan, including rule 73, has been arrived at by a long, thorough, consultation process that covered the entire state.
  • The plan, including rule 73, was prepared with the advice of the Ministers Fisheries Advisory Councils that include representatives from all relevant Government Agencies, all recreational and commercial sectors, members of the public, environmentalists, police and scientists.
  • That we have a demonstrated decline in all of our fisheries and this is part of a worldwide problem.
  • That as far back as 1882 this Council received evidence of fisheries impacts and of fisheries that are now long collapsed. There was even then ample concern as to wastage by the net fishery.
  • That we have an increasing population that has more access to fishing waters and technology and this is already having a serious impact on fish stocks.
  • At least 94% of Tasmanian fishers do not net, and many of the few that do net agree with the new rule.
  • That we have a serious problem with many of our fish stocks.
  • That we can demonstrate the positive impact of reducing netting.
  • That this plan was a compromise by all concerned and that some netting has remained.

Lets work together to move forward:
The opportunity you have today is to play the most important part in a process that has the support of  recreational, commercial, scientific and government sectors but more importantly is for the wellbeing of our Recreational Fishery. On behalf of The Fishery and Recreational Fishers present and future Please do not disallow rule 73.

If you managed to read through all of that I am sure you will see how much work TARFISH put into it. It was clear and concise and put the case well.

The Result
Legislative Councillors voted 14:1 against the disallowance motion, Paul Harris being the only LC to support it.

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