Gillnet fishing ban to protect Great Barrier Reef

Fraser Barton |

Gillnets fishing will be phased out from the Great Barrier Reef, the Queensland government announced
Gillnets fishing will be phased out from the Great Barrier Reef, the Queensland government announced

Gillnet fishing will cease in the Great Barrier Reef area by 2027 and affected fishers compensated under a program announced by the Queensland government. 

A combined $185 million investment by the state and federal governments will phase out gillnets from the Great Barrier Reef, rezone the Great Sandy Marine Park, and increase protection from gillnet impacts in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Gillnet fishing involves using fine-meshed nets at river mouths or estuaries that catch “everything”, said Bob Baldwin, chair of the Australian Fishing Trade Association.

“They catch dugong, they catch turtles, they catch fish they are not targeted for. The bycatch rate is massive,” he said.

“These are nothing but a death wall.”

Fishers in the N2 and N4 areas on the east coast of Queensland will receive $90 million in compensation, representing about 242 licences.

Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said by mid-2027 there will be no gillnet fishing in the Great Barrier Reef, Gulf of Carpentaria or the Sandy Straits Marine Park.

Mr Furner said the $90 million figure is purely compensation for affected fishers, with additional measures of up to $125 million for deck hands and industries involved in the commercial fishing sector.

Those with gillnet fishing licences will be taken at market value and will also receive three years of ex-gratia payments in lieu of income.

“They’ll also receive amounts to help with obtaining financial advice, reskilling of crew … and the government has agreed to pay to purchase the nets back, they will then be destroyed,” said John Tanzer, chair of the Future Fishing Taskforce.

Financial provisions exist for affected fishers to also seek mental health advice.

Mr Tanzer conceded there will be families and communities impacted, which is why the task force concluded that the compensation must be comprehensive.

“It needed to be fair, and it needed to err on the side of generosity to allow these people to transition,” he said.

Transition arrangements for gillnet fishers will begin on January 1, 2024, with strict conditions applying for a reduced number of licences.

It is estimated just over 2.5 per cent of Queensland seafood comes from gillnet fishing.

Mr Tanzer said it is expected the industry will more than halve when reforms begin in 2024.

Katter's Australia Party leader Robbie Katter
Katter’s Australia Party leader Robbie Katter says the legislation will harm the fishing industry

Katter’s Australia Party leader Robbie Katter, who has many affected fishers in his electorate, called the move a coup de grace on the fishing industry.

Mr Katter said Queenslanders can expect poorer quality of fish on grocery store shelves and less private business in the economy.

“There will be people today that were holding out some hope that there might have been some future for them, for families, for generations of fishers,” he told reporters on Thursday.

“People need to watch the government’s media conference today and reflect on that – you’re visualising the death of an industry, and it happens once or twice in a generation.”