Impending Spanish mackerel decision means success of flagship reforms hangs in balance

Strong measures to tackle overfishing of Spanish mackerel in Queensland’s east coast waters must be urgently implemented if the State government is to meet targets set out in its Sustainable Fishery Strategy 2017-2027, a new report for the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) says.

The analysis of the implementation of the strategy at its half way mark states that the next few months will be critical for strengthening the effectiveness of the strategy. Science-based and effective management actions for Spanish mackerel and other depleted stocks such as snapper, pearl perch, saucer scallops, and Gulf of Carpentaria king threadfin, will be critical to making Queensland fisheries more sustainable and ensuring the strategy achieves its goals.

The report analysed progress against each of the 33 actions as well as the 2020 and 2027 targets identified in the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy, concluding that good progress had been made in establishing a solid reform foundation – particularly regarding policy, research and monitoring, and public engagement.

However, key actions are falling behind and yet to be addressed, with significant gaps between the targets and the adopted management actions, particularly in relation to recovering depleted species and reducing the risk of fishing to iconic threatened species like dugongs, turtles and sawfish.

AMCS Great Barrier Reef fisheries expert Simon Miller said: “The Queensland government has laid solid foundations for the reforms to Queensland fisheries, with significant investment and policy development. But if the Queensland government is to deliver on its promise of world’s best fisheries management, difficult science-based decisions need to be made and on water actions implemented, starting with recovering overfished east coast Spanish mackerel.

“To give this fishery a hope for future sustainability, it must be closed for two years until it recovers to above 20% of unfished levels, and then fishing should be gradually reintroduced until the stock reaches healthy levels again.

“Doing nothing is not an option. If we don’t turn this fishery around, the stock could be pushed to the point of collapse and that will be even more devastating for fishing communities along the Great Barrier Reef coast, where the majority of fishing for Spanish mackerel takes place in Queensland. The large decline of what was once a widespread and prolific predator is combining with other pressures to further undermine the health and impact the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef.

“The delivery and legacy of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy hangs in the balance on difficult decisions like this one. But these and others must be taken to recover depleted fish stocks and reduce the number of deaths of iconic species like dugongs, turtles and sawfish.”

The report’s other recommendations include:

* Developing harvest strategies that help to recover stocks like Spanish mackerel to 60% of unfished levels.

* The implementation of cameras on boats so that fish stocks and bycatch of protected marine wildlife can be properly monitored.

* Addressing the risk of reactivating fishing effort in commercial fisheries.

* Introducing a recreational fishing licence.

Mr Miller added: “This assessment shows that implementation of the strategy over the first five years has laid many of the foundations of the world class management it strives for. The Queensland government now needs to take practical and sometimes difficult steps to ensure that the reality meets their commitments to deliver sustainable fishing in the state.”

Notes for editors

There are two stocks of Spanish mackerel in Queensland. The depleted stock is found on the east coast and is fished for on the Great Barrier Reef. The other stock is found in the Gulf of Carpentaria and is at 32% of unfished levels and on a long term downward trajectory.

A peer-reviewed stock assessment for the east coast Spanish mackerel population recently found that it had dropped to just 17% of its unfished levels. This is below the 20% level outlined in Queensland Government policy and established as world’s best practice, at which point a fishery should be closed to allow stocks to recover.

Submissions to the consultation on Spanish mackerel close at 5pm on Thursday 5 May.

A full explainer on the decline of east coast Queensland Spanish mackerel can be read here.

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