Harm of net fishing bans will be widespread

Claims that banning commercial net fishing is necessary to protect the Great Barrier Reef and tourism jobs ignores the human cost of unnecessary and harsh government intervention, and also raises serious national security questions for North Queensland.

How does Labor justify also imposing net bans in the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Great Sandy Straits when they are about 600km and 155km respectively from the nearest part of the Great Barrier Reef?

It is deliberately misleading to insinuate gillnets are used on the Great Barrier Reef, but Queensland and Federal Labor are using this scare tactic to justify their betrayal of these communities.

These net bans will essentially wipe out Karumba and Normanton.

Families will move away, risking the closure of already limited education and childcare services.

House prices will collapse and residents will be left with crushing debt.

There will be no jobs, including for Indigenous communities.

Major support centres for fishing such as Townsville, Mareeba, Cairns and Cardwell will suffer job losses.

Consumers and retailers from Cooktown to Melbourne will lose ready and affordable access to wild-caught barramundi.

Labor likes to talk about protecting jobs but it is ignoring the impacts on fishers, net makers, marine mechanics, chandlers, cold storage operators, ice makers, transport companies, fish and chip shops, and seafood outlets.

I have met impacted fishers and seen their anguish, frustration and despair.

Seafood retailers from Cairns to Brisbane tell me there is no doubt these net bans will drive prices up for all seafood.

I challenge Labor Senators and Queensland MPs to look impacted people in the eye and explain why their livelihoods are being ruined.

But they have run for cover at every turn.

The Queensland Fisheries Minister has refused media interviews, even when he turned up to buy fish and chips from a Townsville shop while a journalist was there interviewing the owners about the net ban’s harsh impacts.

Can’t he see the irony of destroying the industry that supplies one of his favourite meals?

Of course not, because Labor’s obsession with appeasing international radical activist groups is far more important than defending its own citizens.

People are sick of the buckpassing. The Federal Fisheries Minister blames the Queensland Fisheries Minister, the Queensland Minister blames the Federal Environment Minister. No one is taking responsibility for the northern part of the state. It’s a disgrace.

The other implication for North Queensland is that without net fishermen, there will be fewer eyes out for illegal boat arrivals, drug running and illegal fishing.

Border Force does an outstanding job intercepting these incursions but the role commercial fishers also play in monitoring our northern borders cannot be discounted.

Fishermen have gone well beyond the requirements for sustainable fishing and have been willing innovators in improving their industry’s environmental measures.

Gulf fishers created and funded a barramundi hatchery in Karumba to release fingerlings back into the system each year.

They also asked to extend the Gulf closed barramundi season for an extra month – four months instead of the government-mandated three.

They have established their own “no go” zones to reduce pressure on fish populations, and they set up their nets far from where they know non-target species congregate.

But Labor has given them zero credit. All it has done is piled on more regulation and more criticism.

Labor claims net fishing “only” accounts for 2.6% of the East Coast wild-caught seafood harvest, but what is the figure when the Gulf and Great Sandy Strait is included?

This figure also doesn’t factor in the value of wild-caught barramundi – an iconic species sold around the country, highly sought after by tourists and which fetches top dollar at restaurants.

Nor does it account for the economic impacts on regional North Queensland or the cost increases already struggling families will have to pay for seafood.

Australian governments should be seeking ways to work with primary producers to ensure they can keep operating, not shutting them down.

The demise of commercial fishing in North Queensland, the decline of northern communities, the national security ramifications and the impacts on consumers and family businesses will be to Queensland and Federal Labor’s eternal shame.