The Amateur Fishermen’s Association of the NT (AFANT), the peak body representing the Territory’s 61,000 recreational fishers, and the NT Guided Fishing Industry Association (NTGFIA) the peak body representing the guided fishing industry in the Territory, have today categorically rejected any moves to open the Shady Camp fishing grounds in Chambers and Finke bays to commercial barramundi netting. The peak bodies are instead calling on the Northern Territory Government to offer an urgent buy-back of the commercial barramundi netting licences that have been affected by the closure of other waters following failed access negotiations with the Northern Land Council and Traditional Owners.
Today’s announcement comes in response to comments from the NT Seafood Council calling for government support in the form of a licence buy-back or the opening of Chambers Bay and Finke Bay after commercial barramundi netters were locked out of the Mini Mini & Murganella region, an area that recreational fishers and tour operators have also lost access to.
In recognition of the iconic status of Shady Camp and the Mary River system for recreational fishing and fishing tourism, Finke and Chambers Bay were closed to netting by commercial Barramundi fishing operators in 2013, following a campaign from AFANT, fishing guides and the fishing community. At that time the Northern Territory government bought back licenses to adjust for the loss of access and to ensure the financial sustainability of the commercial fishing industry.
The NT recreational and fishing tourism sectors have continued to grow with Commonwealth Government data published this year revealing a value of $270M annually and 2,500 ongoing full-time jobs. One in three Territorians go fishing each year and the fishing effort of interstate and overseas visitors rivals that of locals. Premier fishing locations such as Shady Camp depend on naturally abundant fish stocks and the absence of obvious resource conflict.
AFANT and NTGFIA say that with recent access restrictions announced by the Northern Land Council (NLC) last year, and the inability of successive Territory Governments to resolve enduring recreational fishing access to rivers and intertidal waters since the Blue Mud Bay Decision of the High Court 14 years ago, reopening Chambers Bay and Finke Bay to commercial Barramundi netting would be reckless and irresponsible, as well as deeply unpopular with the community.
AFANT and the NTGFIA have both reiterated their support for fairness and say that with the Government and the Northern Land Council failure to resolve access to much of the NT coastline and rivers after 14 years of negotiations, it should not be the fishers, whether they be recreational, tourist guides or commercial who suffer. This means the NTG must immediately implement a buy-back of the affected commercial barramundi fishing licenses before they are further de-valued.
Importantly, action is required before even more pressure is put on the remaining open areas, like the Daly River where resource conflict is already an issue between the recreational/tourism sectors and the commercial fishing industry.
Comments attributable to David Ciaravolo AFANT Chief Executive Officer:
“The Shady Camp region, including Chambers Bay and Finke Bay must not be re-opened to commercial barramundi netting under any circumstances. This area is the jewel in the crown of the NT’s famous Barramundi fishery.
“After 14 years, the negotiations on Blue Mud Bay access have failed to produce certainty for businesses or for the tens of thousands of Territorians who love to go fishing.
“The Government cannot sit by while the increasing loss of access devalues businesses, whether those businesses are recreational, tourism or commercial fishing businesses.
“Access to fishing waters for all sectors has been declining and this is creating more resource conflict, as we can already see with these calls to reintroduce commercial netting to waters currently managed for sustainable recreational, tourism and traditional fishing only.
Comments attributable to Kane Dysart NTGFIA Executive Officer:
“An immediate buy-back of the affected commercial Barramundi licenses is the only reasonable way forward for Government to address the looming resource conflict. The re-opening of Chambers Bay and Finke Bay to netting would have devastating impacts on the guided fishing industry and the quality of recreational fishing.
“We are only just starting to see the results of the commercial netting closures in the area, which is now widely regarded as the world’s premier big Barramundi and King Threadfin hot spot and supports a thriving fishing tourism industry.
“The failure to act promptly will undoubtedly see resource conflict spread to the remaining open areas. Our many operators have already lost access to the Finniss River and the Mini Mini region, we don’t want to see more issues arise in the form of increased resource competition at places like Anson Bay at the mouth of the Daly River.
“Under current management arrangements there are no regional quotas or mechanisms to prevent commercial effort being concentrated in the remaining open areas.