Last week the Australia Recreational Fishing Foundation (ARFF) announced that talks between them and the Small Pelagic Fishery Industry Association (SPFIA) about operations of the Geelong Star had collapsed.

The reasons given by ARFF were that SPFIA were not taking the talks seriously. In particular, it is understood the SPFIA took over a month to respond to an ARFF Proposal for a way to address recreational fishing concerns over industrial scale fishing of the Small Pelagic Fishery (SPF), and responded only after ARFF gave the SPFIA an ultimatum – respond or the talks are off!

The ARFF Proposal outlined a way to minimise the effects of industrial fishing the SPF on recreational fishers and the communities that support them by managing where and when the trawler fished and developing a research program to fill the gaps in the knowledge about the fishery.

ARFF identified recreational fishing ‘areas of concern’ made up of iconic and popular recreational fishing spots and areas were there are spawning aggregations. All in all, the ‘areas of concern’ make up less than 10 percent of the total area of the SPF (3.2 million sq kms). ARFF were seeking the trawler not to fish these areas while more was learnt about the fishery. However, apparently the areas of concern are also the areas where the managers of the trawler wanted to fish – or as one skeptical recfisher put it – want to fish, now they know where they are.

When SPFIA did respond to the ARFF proposal its understood that its response allowed only partial closure for less than 10 percent of the ARFF ‘areas of concern’ and said nothing of the research program. In addition it’s understood the SPFIA tried to hold ARFF responsible for any actions by protest groups against the operations of the trawler.

Apparently by this stage ARFF had had enough and ceased the talks, stating that they will now seek to have their concerns addressed through other avenues. We understand as part of this strategy they will be meeting with Coalition MPs in coming days.

What is interesting here is what was revealed in the talks about the operations of the Geelong Star in the SPF fishery? We all thought the trawler was going to fish the vast area of the fishery (3.2 million square kilometres) to obtain its quota. However, it is clear that the vessel managers wish to fish the 10 percent of the fishery that is close to the coastline that also corresponds with the ARFF identified areas of concern.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority has stated that the Total Allowable Catch for the SPF is around 39,000 tonnes a year, and make up around 7.5 percent of the total biomass.

However we understand these figures are based on the total area of the fishery being fished (3.2 million square kilometres) to obtain these 39,000 tonnes a year.

But what if the total allowable catch (39,000 tonnes a year) is fished from an area that is one-tenth the size of the total fishery – the ARFF ‘areas of concern’? Does this mean the intensity of fishing in those areas increases ten times?

If this is the case, then the trawler could be taking as much as 75 percent (7.5% X 10) of the biomass from these areas, far exceeding sustainability levels for the fishery at that local level.

This again raises the concerns that many have had about the effects of the trawler on localised depletion and the movement of fish stock within the fishery.

For recreational fishers, the impacts are far reaching, from effect on availability of bait, and key species through to effects on the local bait and tackle store and the local servo.