GULF FISHERY THE PAST AND THE FUTURE
Commercial fishers have been at the forefront of research & development in the Gulf inshore net fishery ever since the early 1950's when they commenced sending Barramundi product in quantity to the East Coast. It is largely thanks to the efforts of a few visionary souls over the years, & the good sense of their followers, that the industry enjoys the prominence & respect that it has today: a multi-species multi-product fishery with national & international markets, & which is an economic cornerstone of the Gulf community, proactive in caring about the resource on which it depends & progressive in its outlook for the future. The fishery was extended in 1999 to include the N9 fishery and has since been extended to include the joint authority permit holders. In 2012 this offshore fishery became the N13.
Looking beyond Barramundi, Gulf fishers have seen the need to promote the worth of a range of inshore species in consumer markets around Australia. Prominent among these is King Salmon, Grey Mackerel, Jewelfish and Mud Crabs. Value adding of the landed catch has opened up specialty markets as well as reduced waste. There is now a move to diversify into other species in offshore waters, but to do so in a conservative way while the extent of reserves are established.
Understanding how highly prized species live & how their numbers change over time are essential for safeguarding a future for the fishery. Queries from Gulf fishers in the mid-1970's on sustainability of Barramundi stocks helped instigate investigations across northern Australia into this species. Present knowledge about Threadfin Salmon, Jewfish, Grunter and Mackerel are a direct result of studies called for, paid for (through licence fees) and assisted by Gulf fishers during the late 1980's and is still continuing. The tradition among Gulf fishers of active involvement in research included the on-board observer program, (recently suspended by the Qld Government), fish sampling of commercial catch covering several species & several river systems throughout the year. & the continued support of restocking programs in various Gulf rivers.
Gulf fishers have long pursued an active role in protection of the environment as a positive contribution towards quality of life in the Gulf area and sustaining a future for the fishery. The present network of Fish Habitat Areas along the Gulf coast owes much to the urging by fishers who first recognised the importance of these areas through their own experiences. The Gulf fishermen have lobbied hard to have community concerns about environmental harm and human health risks from coastal developments heard & acted on by authorities.
Getting along with neighbours is as necessary in the Gulf as anywhere else. Gulf fishermen recognise that they must share fisheries resources with other users. The Gulf industry has a long history of successful negotiation with these other interest groups to achieve access arrangements to resources that all parties are comfortable with. In recognising the rights of indigenous communities, Gulf fishers have been well ahead of their time. Correctly implemented, partnerships bring benefits to all involved. The Gulf of Carpentaria Commercial Fishermen have worked over many years with fisheries management agencies to get the best deal for members and to safeguard the fish stocks they harvest. The past success shows that co-operative management will be just as important in meeting the many new challengers for the Gulf fishery in the future.
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