NSW Southern Trawl Fishery to join the South-East Trawl Fishery

 Photo: Oceanwatch
Photo: Oceanwatch
Photo: Oceanwatch
Photo: Oceanwatch

The NSW and Australian Government have been working on merging the NSW-managed Southern Fish Trawl and the commonwealth-managed South East Trawl fisheries. The NSW trawl fishery operates inside three nautical miles and the commonwealth trawl fishery between 3 and 200 nautical miles.

The push for the merger has come because the two fisheries often target the same species with the same trawl method and operate side by side but do so under different rules and restrictions. The 2016 Productivity Commission report investigated management inefficiencies between commonwealth and state fisheries and recommended that these fisheries merge.

An agreement between NSW and the commonwealth sets down how the two fisheries operate and share the resource.

NSW operators have limits on "commonwealth quota" stocks like tiger flathead. This frustrates NSW operators because they are often forced to discard commercially valuable fish that have little chance of survival.

Commonwealth operators are frustrated because NSW catches are debited to commonwealth quotas. This ensures that the sustainable limit, set by the commonwealth, is not exceeded but means that commonwealth operators are the last in the line and only receive what NSW don't catch (noting NSW vessels can only catch limited volumes). Commonwealth fisheries are also frustrated that the NSW fishery does not contribute to the cost of assessing stocks.

Often fishers hold both NSW and commonwealth endorsements but cannot operate inside and outside the three-mile line on a single trip. This too is inefficient, said the South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association (SETFIA).

The three-nautical-mile-rule in NSW is based on how far a cannon ball could be fired in the 17th century.

"The truth is that both sectors have an equally strong right to operate and there must be a better way to organise a fishery", said SETFIA.

The NSW and Australian Governments formed the Southern Fish Trawl Working Group, made up of fishers, associations and managers from both fisheries. They have agreed how the NSW Southern Fish Trawl could become part of the commonwealth South East Trawl Fishery. NSW released a consultation document that captured these proposals. The proposal is that rather than debit NSW catches to commonwealth quotas, that NSW operators should become commonwealth operators working on a special permit allowing them inside "the line" (three miles) and be issued around 246 tonnes of commonwealth quota. A separate NSW allocation panel would divide up this quota across the 23 NSW operators.

Under this system there is no change to the sustainable catch and no quota is taken from existing owners to give to new NSW entrants to the commonwealth system – the catch is already coming off commonwealth quotas.

The committee also made recommendations that NSW vessels entering the commonwealth fishery should operate seabird bafflers, VMS (satellite monitoring) and be subject to normal conditions such as ongoing efforts to reduce discards and by-catch.

SETFIA said it supports the transition under these terms, and believes it offers benefits such as simplification reducing regulatory burden, better data collection and improved understanding of stock status, security of access for NSW fishers, and no more trip limits and less discarded fish from NSW vessels.

SETFIA said it is frustrated at some recreational fishing groups who have led with headlines like, "the trawlers are coming", when this is not the case at all.

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