CONCERNS: Bowen commercial fisherman Travis Rynn and Arabon Seafood’s owner Terry Must.
CONCERNS: Bowen commercial fisherman Travis Rynn and Arabon Seafood’s owner Terry Must. Cas Garvey

Fishermen on the move to catch some work elsewhere

THERE'S a spot called the Strawberry Patch far off the coast of Bowen, where Terry Must's fishermen catch the reddest coral trout in Australia.

The fish is a top earner for Bowen's Arabon Seafoods owner, who live-exports it to China, where it's red colour is revered.

But although Mr Must has done well to secure the niche industry, he believes the flow-on effects of net free zones could have disastrous effects for his business.

The three net free zones came into effect yesterday, and while they are a long way from Bowen, Mr Must and commercial fisherman Travis Rynn are worried.

"We've already had about three guys up from Rocky (where a net free zone was established) up here looking around. They can't just get another job, they're fisherman, they have to move to somewhere they can fish," Mr Rynn said.

"But it's going to cause a shift in effort. These fishing areas still open; they're going to get flogged.

"If more fishermen come here, it will increase the effort. It will affect the fishery.

"It's just like farming. You can't just put 280 head of cattle in a paddock meant for 100. This shift in effort, it needs to be addressed."

Mr Must had seen closures before in the industry, but said there was little to show they had any effect.

He said weather, especially cyclones, were the key indicators for the fishery.

"When it's a drought on the land, it's a drought in the sea," he said.

"In 2005 we caught 140 tonnes of live coral trout. Last year we caught 34 tonnes. (The reduction) it's to do with the (existing) closures and the cyclones."

Mr Rynn said the buyback of licences would have been a far more effective way to protect the resource, but believed government opted for zone closures because they had become heavily politicised.

He also cited a report released last year by government that said all fish species assessed were at sustainable numbers.

"I see the sense in a buyback. Even if they rotated the closed zones, I could see a sense in that. But just closing a zone for good, it just means other areas will get flogged," he said.

While there was little the fisherman could do to stop the net free zones, they said they would like to see government adopt the eighty recommendations of a MRAG review, published in December 2014 by an independent fisheries and aquatic consulting agency.

"These findings are based in science, not politics," Mr Rynn said.

"We'll keep going with petitions to show the support we still have from consumers.

"It's the consumer that I worry about the most."