It’s one of the most radical decisions we have seen around fishing in Australia for as long as I can remember. The SA state government has approved regulation changes to ban snapper fishing from November 1. Snapper is an iconic fish in South Australia and a primary target species for the commercial, recreational and charter boat fishing sectors. However, South Australia faces a massive challenge in the sustainability of Snapper in this state and patience of local anglers and business.
Why is the snapper ban necessary in South Australia
The SA government have openly documented that these radical changes are absolutely necessary to protect major declining snapper numbers. which Primary Industries Minister, Tim Whetstone, reported that the ban is necessary. “They are heavy measures but they are necessary so we can have sustainable stocks here in our South Australian waters,” Minister Whetstone said.
The closure until January 2023 is due to an assessment of snapper numbers showed an alarming 87 per cent decline in Gulf St Vincent, and 23 per cent in the Spencer Gulf. The report showed the state’s 277,000 recreational fishers were taking significantly more fish, up from 384,000 in 2007-08 to 437,300 in 2013-14. But what is really hurting fish numbers is the retention rate; the number of fish released rather than being kept has fallen from 74 per cent to just 53 per cent over the same time. In June 2019, SARDI provided updated information on Snapper spawning biomass estimates from the Daily Egg Production Method (DEPM), which identified that over the past five years, biomass in Spencer Gulf has reduced by an estimated 23% and biomass in Gulf St Vincent has reduced by an estimated 87%. an extended period of poor recruitment of juveniles entering the Snapper stock, especially in Spencer Gulf a reduction in commercial catch rates concerning declines in biomass.
What impact does the snapper ban have on charters and recreational anglers
Charter operator, Tom Di Vittorio said his livelihood will be affected. “Do I put my business away do I just shut it completely? I’ve got customers already ringing up and they’re stressed out,” Mr De Vittorio said. This is, however, a major setback for recreational anglers, local charters and local tourism that draws seasonal holiday goers for snapper season. The state government has a plan to compensate all those, with financial support, a plan and counselling to those who need it. But I can’t help but stop and question what are the real and long-term costs. Will a once-thriving snapper destination ever get back to its former glory and what happens to all the local anglers, potential holiday comers and local businesses during the ban.
Many of our local well-known fisherman many who have their own tv shows and shops have openly lashed out at these measures. Suggesting that recreational fisherman is being grossly put out to years of mismanagement and years of overharvesting. That these measures will cripple a once-thriving recreational fishing scene and the mecca of snapper fishing in Victoria. Professional fishermen are shocked at the decision, but the SA government said it’s supporting those affected by cutting the cost of commercial fishing licences in half.
As a recreational angler, it also does make us question why commercial fishing is allowed to carry on in certain areas whilst the recreational anglers who consume only a drop in the ocean compared to commercial fishing. I’m not sure that this makes any sense
The facts – Changes to Snapper closures from 1 November 2019
From 1 November 2019 new management measures will be introduced to achieve long-term improvement and return the Snapper fishery to sustainable stock levels.
These measures have been introduced following consideration of the latest available science and feedback from all stakeholders.
What is changing?
Total Snapper closure will apply to waters in the West Coast, Spencer Gulf and Gulf St Vincent regions from 00:01 hrs on 1 November 2019 to 23:59 hrs on 31 January 2023.
Annual seasonal Snapper closure will apply to waters in the South East region from 00:01 hrs 1 November to 23:59 hrs 31 January each year.
During the closures, the targeting, take and/or possession of Snapper will be prohibited in these waters. $315 on-the-spot fines or, if prosecuted, a maximum penalty of $20,000 may apply.
Accidentally hooked Snapper caught while fishing for other species must be carefully handled to immediately return it to the water. Catch and release fishing is strictly prohibited.
For the remainder of the year, the South East region will be open to fishing. However, to ensure the protection of the South East Snapper stock, a total allowable catch (TAC) will be set and shared between all fishing sectors – commercial, recreational and charter. If the TAC is reached, the fishery will be closed.
Snapper commercial fishing restrictions in South Australia
In addition to these closures, the following measures will apply to commercial fishers:
A total allowable commercial catch (TACC) will be set for South East region from 1 February to 31 October each year. The existing proportional catch shares taken by the commercial fishing sector will be maintained at 81% of the Total Allowable Catch as in the management plan.
Further consultation with the commercial sector will be undertaken to determine how the TACC will be managed, including whether there will be an allocation of TACC among fishers.
During the open season, increased management restrictions and appropriate compliance and monitoring will be undertaken in South East waters to ensure any shift in the effort is controlled and does not jeopardise the health of the South East Snapper stock.
Once the Commercial Marine Scalefish Fishery Reform process is finalised, commercial restrictions will again be reviewed.
Snapper charter and recreational fishing restrictions
In addition to the closures, the following measures will apply to charter and recreational fishers:
A total allowable recreational catch (TARC) will be set for the South East region from 1 February to 31 October each year. When the TARC is caught, the fishery will be closed to recreational and charter activities.
The TARC will be set based on a scientific assessment of the maximum sustainable yield from this stock. From this total allowable catch, the proportional catch shares taken by the recreational and charter fishing sectors will be maintained at 18%.
During the open season, increased management restrictions and appropriate compliance and monitoring will be undertaken in South East waters to ensure any shift in effort is controlled and does not jeopardise the health of the South East Snapper stock.
A system to trial the use of Snapper recreational harvest tags will be developed and trialled in the South East. The number of tags will be limited to ensure the total recreational catch is constrained to within the TARC. During the trial, the recreational and charter catch of Snapper in the South East will no longer be managed by current bag and boat limits, but through the tag system instead. Size limits will still apply.
Before a recreational fisher can target Snapper, they will be required to have a recreational harvest tag. Any legal-sized Snapper caught will have to be tagged upon capture. Full details on the harvest tag system will be released prior to the fishery opening on 1 February 2020.
When the South East fishery reopens on 1 February 2020, recreational fishers will be required to use methods to maximise the survival of releasing Snapper, including using release weights.
South Australis snapper ban support measures
Commercial fee relief: Marine Scalefish Fishery licence holders’ impacted by the new management scenario will have their licence fees cut by 50 per cent for the duration of the ban, at a total cost of more than $3 million.
Science funding: The State Government has committed more than $1 million from the Regional Growth Fund to ensure a full suite of snapper science will be conducted for the 2019-20 spawning season. A Management Advisory Committee will also be established to improve the management and engagement of key stakeholders in the fisheries management process.
Recreational fish restocking: $500,000 over two years from the Regional Growth Fund to fund snapper fish stocking in Spencer Gulf to help replenish depleted fish stocks, as recommended by the Minister’s Recreational Fishing Advisory Council. $200,000 over two years to fund Murray Cod restocking in the River Murray to create recreational fishing opportunities.
Increase penalties for poaching: Review and increase penalties for offences under the Fisheries Management Act 2007. With few exceptions, the current expiation fees under the Act have not increased for over 15 years. In many cases the Victims of Crime Levy exceeds the amount of the fine. Increased fines on illegal fishing is expected to raise $1.4 million over four years.
Underutilised species awareness campaign: The State Government will invest in promoting many of South Australia’s fantastic lesser known seafood species to consumers, recreational fishers, charter boat clients and tackle shops to promote the great diversity of local seafood and promote the range of fishing experiences and opportunities we have here in South Australia.
Charter Sector diversification program: A two-year program of $500,000 from the Regional Growth Fund will be established to support the charter boat sector diversify in light of the snapper closure and improve their businesses to offer a broader suite of tourism experiences in South Australia’s majestic coastal waters. The State Government will work with the Surveyed and Charter Boat Operators Association to develop this program informed by the Charter Sector Growth Strategy to make the state’s fleet more attractive for local, interstate and international tourists.
Commercial marine scalefish fishing sector reform: Consultation is currently underway on a number of options for reform, including proposals to reduce the number of commercial fishing licences. Commercial fishers have been meeting across the state. Consultation closes on 11 October 2019. Formal advice will be provided to the Minister by the end of 2019 as to industry’s preferred reform package for this fishery.
Update to SA recreational fishing app: Working with the Minister’s Recreational Fishing Advisory Council to update the SA Recreational Fishing guide app to make it more user-friendly – will include consumer education and awareness and the development of a new statewide fish maps feature displaying where/how to catch lesser known species.
Barotrauma research program: The State Government is partnering with the Commonwealth Government Fisheries Research and Development Corporation to work with the charter and commercial fishing sectors to enable a small number of fishing trips to undertake a scientific catch, tag and release snapper program during the closure, to contribute to new science about minimising barotrauma and enhancing survival of caught snapper.
Juvenile snapper monitoring program: Commencing in 2019-20, the State Government is partnering with the Commonwealth Government Fisheries Research and Development Corporation to conduct a research project to develop a cost-effective method of monitoring the number of juvenile snapper that enter the South Australian population each year.
New recreational fishing survey: The State Government is partnering with the Commonwealth Government Fisheries Research and Development Corporation by investing $1 million to undertake a new national recreational fishing research project, using South Australia as a case study, to design a more modern recreational fishing survey methodology which will use the latest technology to develop a more accurate picture of the recreational fishing catch data to improve fishing management in the future.
National snapper workshop: The State Government is partnering with the Commonwealth Government Fisheries Research and Development Corporation towill convene a national snapper workshop in Adelaide in November 2019 to bring together fisheries management, science, recreational and commercial industry experts from around Australia and New Zealand to discuss the most effective ways to conduct scientific stock assessment and management of snapper stocks.
The State Government is aware of the change in snapper management arrangements will have economic and other impacts, particularly on commercial fishers and charter boat operators.
A new program has been established to promote and support the mental health and wellbeing of commercials, charter and seafood processors. The Fisheries Family and Business (FaB) Support Program as part of a ‘Stay Afloat’ program is now available to assist those experiencing tough times.
Our Fisheries FaBs are experienced in discussing and addressing difficult issues that come about as a result of hardship and other adverse events. Mentors will:
work closely with other service providers such as Centrelink, Rural Financial Counselling and local health networks and connect people to those services as required
provide a free, informal, confidential, independent and understanding approach available for individuals, families or businesses in South Australia who may be affected by hardship.
The program is provided at no cost to the South Australian fisheries industry.