Management Committee member Gerry Graham and Independent Science Panel Chair professor John Rolfe.
Management Committee member Gerry Graham and Independent Science Panel Chair professor John Rolfe.

Lessons for fishers from harbour report

WHERE and when you're likely to catch a fish is a perennial question for anglers in Gladstone.

The 2019 Harbour Report card does not hold the answer, but as the data builds, so does the picture of what's happening beneath the water.

After five years of monitoring, Professor John Rolfe said the team behind the report was starting to learn what questions they should be asking.

"As a general rule, we think we need 10 years to start to get a really good feel for what's going on," he said.

One of the more challenging questions is what the fish are up to.

The latest numbers suggest general health is good, and visual inspections are promising.

But the actual number of fish in the harbour, particularly juveniles, tells a different story.

One explanation for poor fish recruitment could be the extended dry spell. Less flows from rivers typically mean less nutrients added to the food chain.

"In a few years' time we'll be able to see whether there's a relationship between fish health and fish recruitment," Prof Rolfe said.

Economically the harbour is performing well aside from commercial fishing.

"It's a poor result compared to what it has been," Prof Rolfe said.

Calculations compare economic income with the average for the previous 10 years. Pot fishing is considered the most stable, and net and trawl fishing were also investigated.

Concern for the commercial fishing industry is not unique to Gladstone.

Senior vice president and chair of the Queensland Seafood Industry Association, Allan Bobbermen, said tumbling prices and a domestic market flooded with overseas products was making life difficult for fishing businesses.

He estimated that about 75 per cent of seafood consumed in Australia was imported, suggesting that number was too high for a country surrounded by ocean. At the market, that meant local mud crabs were competing against cheaper crustaceans from overseas.

"Mud crab fishers are on the verge of collapse," he said.

Looking forward, Prof Rolfe said ongoing monitoring and reporting could be used to identify trends and factors of what's happening and why.

"Then comes the question, what can you do about it?" he said.

The full report card can be viewed at the Gladstone Healthy Harbour Partnership's website