Recreational fishing is booming in Queensland, so should fishers pay a licence fee? | Ralph-Lauren

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The booming popularity of recreational fishing could be having an impact on Queensland’s fish stocks, with a need for government to investigate better record keeping.

A rise in the number of boats registered and increased activity at launching sites has been documented since the beginning of COVID-19 restrictions during April 2021.

During those months, fishing for food was a permitted outdoor activity under strict movement controls designed to prevent any community spread of the virus.

Boat trailer numbers at nine of the 48 sites surveyed by Fisheries Queensland were the highest recorded since data collection began in 2016, including ramps at Yorkeys Knob, Bowen, Mackay, Gladstone, Mooloolaba and Raby Bay.

Registered recreational vessels in the state increased by 9per cent over the 2020 calendar year with 271,561 boats now listed with TMR.

Pandemic at play

North Queensland seafood retailer Dominic Zaghini said the pandemic had boosted interest in recreational fishing, with yet unknown outcomes for fish stocks.

“With COVID, we had the opportunity to food gather, so many people used it as entertainment to get a fishing rod and go,” he said.

fish on processing table
Bait sales have skyrocketed for one Queensland fisherman, as fishing’s popularity boomed during the 2020 lock-downs.(ABC Rural: Tom Major)

“Talking with fisheries researchers, there’s a lot more pressure out there from recreational fishers, I think the government is looking which way to turn on this.

“No one knows how many are out there because we’ve got no licensing, no way to detail the pressure we’re putting on the system.”

Professional fisherman Chris Bolton supplies the bait trade with poddy mullet and garfish and said sales had boomed in the past 12 months.

“Our bait sales went through the roof, we sold more bait in 2020 than we sold in the three years prior to that, without that market we would have been in trouble.”

But some researchers are calling for more data on recreational take, amid a collapse in certain popular recreational stocks like snapper interstate.

woman standing in fish shop
Researcher and fish retailer Renae Tobin says research on recreational anglers’ involvement in Queensland fisheries is well behind that of other Australian states.(ABC Rural: Tom Major)

Social science researcher Renae Tobin has spent 15 years studying attitudes to Queensland’s various fisheries and says existing data on recreational take is generally poor.

“It’s very hard to get accurate data when you’re just doing boat-ramp surveys in such a large coastline with such a large number of people fishing in that area,” she said.

“You just can’t get out enough for accurate numbers about how many people are fishing, where they’re fishing, regionally specific or species-specific data is highly variable.”

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has been contacted for comment.

Recreational fishers’ take responsibility

President of Queensland Sport Fishers Adam Royle said the increased interest in fishing was a positive for the scene but cautioned that impact on stocks needed to be quantified.

“It does come with extra pressures, a lot of guys are changing their efforts, becoming catch and release,” he said.

Mr Royle said he supported recreational fishing surveys at boat ramps and the amateur sector taking a greater role and responsibility in reporting catch, to ensure sustainability.

man standing in front of lake
Queensland Sportfishers president Adam Royle says a permit system could enable better resourcing for the state’s fisheries and ensure sustainability.(ABC Rural: Tom Major)

“If we want to have a say in the management we need to play a part in understanding where the fishery is at, and how to maintain a sustainable fishery for recreational and commercial,” he said.

“Some species are under pressure, that’s why we need more evidence, we do encourage rec fishers, like the commercial guys do to report their catches, because unless they do we don’t understand that.”

On the sometimes divisive topic of licensing for recreational fishers, Mr Royle said a permit could improve resourcing of fish sustainability measures.

“I buy stocked impoundment permits when I go to those dams and see the benefits those permits bring in restocking and habitat creation: I look at that side of things rather than the $50 cost,” he said.

Dr Tobin said surveys of Queenslanders on the topic of a licence supported the establishment of a system similar to other Australian states.

“It’s partly so they can be included in management, get a seat at the table, but also to show they’re being responsible so we can get improved information,” she said.

“It’s in everyone’s interest to make sure the fishery remains sustainable.”

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