13 September 2023

COMMENT: Government's arrogance shines through with lack of serious consultation

| Matt Nicholls
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This will soon be a thing of the past in Queensland if the state government continues to shut down fishing areas in the Gulf.

There’s something fishy about the way the Queensland government is handling the proposed net-free zones in the Gulf of Carpentaria and, frankly, it stinks.

The secrecy, the lack of public consultation and the lack of science behind decisions suggest that influences from outside the Cape and Gulf are pushing for these dramatic changes.

Queenslanders want Queensland seafood in their supermarkets, fish and chip shops and restaurants.

How can that continue if we continually make it harder for commercial fishing companies to operate in this state?

Yes, we must continue to strive to protect our threatened species, which can at times be caught up in these nets, but trying to shut them down completely will simply send the problem elsewhere.

If the state government has its way, we’ll be eating mostly imported seafood from places like Indonesia, which has virtually no commercial fishing management plan.

Out of sight, out of mind for our politicians? You bet.

What Minister Mark Furner and the Queensland government should be doing is establishing the world’s best practices in our own backyard.

Commercial fishing might not be the most glamorous job, but it’s an honourable one.

We can’t all sit behind a desk or drive a truck in the mines.

Having a diverse economy and range of career choices is what has made Queensland a great place to live and work.

But more and more jobs are being eroded.

Cattle grazing has been driven out of the Cape, while commercial fishing appears to be clinging to a liferaft in the Gulf.

It was great to see Robbie Katter stand up for this issue in parliament, but where is Cynthia Lui on this topic?

Silent, as per usual.

A group of Weipa residents have been pushing for Albatross Bay to become a net-free zone, so the proposed closure map will no doubt please them, but shutting down most of the Gulf’s productive fishing area would be a step too far.

The Queensland government’s Fisheries Department has become a victim of its own incompetence over the years. It has failed to do enough to manage the waterways and gather accurate data on catch numbers.

Now it has been backed into its corner by UNESCO and it believes the only option is to shut places down, rather than manage the situation.

Most people who work in the industry don’t even believe there is a major problem.

As Karumba’s David Wren said: “Commercial fishers are not in the business of killing our own livelihoods. We care about our patch of water and do everything we can to make sure it’s sustainable.

“There aren’t many cowboys left in the fishing industry because there’s so much paperwork required. You have to run a legitimate business to survive now.”

Minister Furner says no decision has been made on these net-free zones.

Now it’s time for him to show some leadership and put a pause on any closures until more consultation is done with stakeholders who have their livelihoods on the line.

Most commercial fishers in the Gulf concede they will lose some ground to net-free zones.

But which ground is lost should be a two-way discussion.

Hopefully, common sense prevails. However, based on the growing arrogance of this government, that’s most likely wishful thinking.

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