Project number: 2018-049
Project Status:
Completed
Budget expenditure: $125,693.00
Principal Investigator: Andrew Chin
Organisation: James Cook University (JCU)
Project start/end date: 31 Jan 2020 - 29 Aug 2021
Contact:
FRDC

Need

• Bycatch reduction in the Qld East Coast Inshore Finfish Fishery (ECIFF), especially of species of conservation interest (SOCI) species is a key priority for Qld DAF (see https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/sustainable/sustainable-fisheries-strategy/fishery-working-groups/east-coast-inshore-working-group/communiques/communique-5-6-march-2019).
• The trialing of alternative gear types such as tunnel nets is specifically listed in the Queensland Government’s Directions Paper release in January 2019 (see file:///C:/Users/jc184965/Documents/JCU/Projects/A%20BETTER%20WAY%20TO%20FISH/FRDC%202019/queensland-government-direction-on-fisheries-reform-2018.pdf)
The need for these policy reforms are driven by multiple factors:
• Inshore net fisheries face mounting challenges in operating costs, competition, environmental sustainability, regulatory environment, and social license. Bycatch of species of conservation interest (SOCI) and finfish bycatch mortality has fed community concerns, fisher conflict, and regulatory scrutiny.
• Sustainability concerns and conflict have driven recent regulatory changes that have diminished resource access and community trust of independent small scale commercial net fishers (SSCNFs).
• There is an urgent need to explore new options and approaches for SSCNFs if the fishery is to remain viable.
• There is also an urgent need to move the fishery in a direction of becoming a community supported fishery where consumers understand how fish are caught, are connected to SSCNFs, and value locally caught, demonstrably sustainable product.
• SSCNFs are interested in trailing new environmentally friendly fishing methods – tunnel nets or fish traps - that would replace existing mesh nets. This innovation aims to maintain harvest of target species, but significantly reduce interaction with and mortality of bycatch species including SOCI.
• However, gear feasibility and performance needs to be assessed. If the method is successful, this information will be crucial to designing future management and advising wider adoption.
• Trailing these methods also provides opportunities for SSCNFs and local communities for shared learning, increased understanding, and career development

Objectives

1. Complete site visits and fisher exchanges to develop a “Preliminary Feasibility Trial Implementation Plan”. This also constitutes a GO/NO GO/ REVISE point for the project.
2. Limited tests of the feasibility of tunnel nets in north Queensland waters at two sites
Mackay and Cardwell.
3. Successful community engagement resulting in community knowledge of, and support for the preliminary feasibility trials.

Final report

ISBN: 978-0-6452143-6-9
Authors: Andrew Chin Sushmita Mukherji Mark Ahern Allan Bobberman John Page Dave Thomson
Final Report • 2022-04-26
2018-049-DLD.pdf

Summary

This study found that tunnel nets are technically feasible in this location. In spite of the weather conditions, the fishing gear remained intact and successfully captured significant numbers of marketable fishes. Importantly, SOCI species were released alive and in excellent condition, as were other species of potential conservation interest such as wedgefishes and guitarfishes. Modifications to the gear by increasing the line strength of the ‘traps’ would likely increase the catch of key target species such as Barramundi and King Threadfin. While the tunnel nets are technically feasible, their viability as alternative fishing gear to replace N2 mesh nets remains unknown. The drawbacks of the gear include the need (and cost) for three to four fishers to work the gear, the limited number of suitable locations to deploy the gear, and the limited seasonal and weather window when the gear can be successfully used. Establishing viability will require full scientific trials to document the financial performance of the gear, modify the configuration of the traps and the exclusion grid to better suit local species, and to establish the gear’s fishing power to establish how often the gear could be deployed without causing local depletions. Further consultation and engagement would also be needed to identify opportunities to reduce inter-sector conflict. Project participants also expressed that some of the key limitations of tunnel nets could be resolved by using semi-permanent arrowhead fish traps instead, which have the same operational principles but are much less labour intensive and can be operated in more weather conditions.   

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