Major proposal to expand fisheries benefits in Qld
A MULTITUDE of much-needed restocking projects can be revitalised to improve fishing and the environment if a Queensland-wide freshwater permit is created.
As experienced restocking official Garry Fitzgerald highlighted, his proposal would significantly bolster revenue but not cost recreational anglers any more money than they are currently paying to enjoy freshwater fishing.
The Somerset and Wivenhoe Fish Stocking (SWFSA) president has spent months working on a plan to upgrade the current Stocked Impoundment Permit Scheme (SIPP) to a Queensland Freshwater Fishing Permit (QFFP).
Under the current guidelines since 2000, everyone aged 18 or over is required to purchase a SIPP to fish in 63 freshwater locations in Queensland. That covers 40 dams and 23 weirs.
However, Fitzgerald hopes a QFFP would expand that to focus on all freshwater waterways in Queensland that can be restocked and featured in major fish recovery and research programs.
Fitzgerald sees the potential for upwards of $3 million a year to be generated from an expanded Queensland wide freshwater permit, which can used to bolster several vital fisheries projects.
He said about $1 million was generated 2-3 years ago from the current SIPP arrangement. However, that funding dropped to $700,000 last year before slightly increasing to $850,000 in recent months due to more people fishing being unable to travel as much interstate and overseas.
"But it's still well below the million where it was,'' Fitzgerald said.
He said his proposal was "really driven by seeing all these things that are wrong with our freshwater fishery,'' he said.
Fitzgerald said a major concern was two of Queensland's major impoundments being massively under stocked at the moment due to the drop in permit funding.
He said Lake Somerset was only at about 41 per cent of its recommended stocking rate.
Wivenhoe Dam is only at 12 per cent.
"The current SIPP licence is not doing what it was set out to do 20 years ago,'' he said.
"It is not even remotely achieving that.''
While the Maroon (70 per cent) and Moogerah lakes (40 per cent) are faring better in restocking rates, Fitzgerald said a funding boost was needed to stop the available revenue plateauing out or spiralling downward in the future.
Stocking groups rely on the permit funding to continue a host of important projects.
These include funding endangered fish recovery programs, helping control noxious species like tilapia, restocking once common species like jungle perch, and research.
"We've got noxious fish that are just going ballistic, particularly the tilapia and pearl cichlids,'' he said.
"They are in all our coastal creeks now.''
With Queensland Fisheries having no budget to deal with that, it's up to other groups to find ways of managing the problem.
Another example of why increased funding is crucial is replenishing native species like jungle perch which have disappeared from Queensland waterways.
"They have learnt how to breed them but now there's no funding for a reintroduction program in southern Queensland,'' he said.
Under Fitzgerald's proposal, people fishing freshwater locations in Queensland would still only pay $10 for a weekly permit or $50 for a yearly permit with a discount rate for concession card holders.
But with more non-tidal freshwater areas included, he expected a massive injection of revenue delivered to a Recreational Fishing Trust, to fund major projects.
"We are going to do so many more things but it's not going to cost people any more,'' he said.
"This is not a new tax. It is an expansion of the current system that has already been expanded once.''
Fitzgerald is currently talking to politicians around the state about his detailed proposal.
Under a Queensland wide system, permits would continue to be available at Australia Post outlets and online through the Queensland Fisheries website.
The long-serving restocking official is passionate about ensuring native freshwater fishing populations recover and are enhanced.
Fitzgerald is focused on ensuring recreational anglers have exciting opportunities to fish in freshwater locations around the state with less environmental problems to deal with.
"The increase in man-made barriers (like dams, weirs and barrages), the removal of riparian vegetation and increased water harvesting has put greater pressure on native fish stocks making the need for restocking to be more important than ever before,'' Fitzgerald said.
He said enhancing habits in impoundments, creeks and rivers will make fishing more desirable in coming years.
"The re-establishment of riparian vegetation could see the need to restock native fish reduced or removed in the future,'' he said.
In his proposal, Fitzgerald summaries the benefits of expanding from the current SIPS program to a QFFP strategy:
Increase in funding for fish restocking for currently stocked waterways, leading to better recreational fishing;
New fish restocking opportunities with a wider reach of improved recreational fishing other than current SIPS lakes and weirs;
Increased spend with commercial fish hatchery operators, resulting in more employment in the aquaculture sector;
Restoration of endangered or threatened fish species;
Improved habitat along waterways, creating more homes for fish, birds, insects etc;
Control of introduced noxious fish like carp, tilapia, pearl cichlids;
More people fishing in freshwater locations takes pressure off all other fisheries, estuary, offshore etc and infrastructure;
Increased freshwater fishing opportunities will provide greater lifestyle for rural/regional residents as well as creating drawcards for tourism;
Simplified enforcement. An all freshwater permit would see the removal of any confusion as to which location requires a permit and which does not;
Improved water quality through a more balanced ecosystem and reduction in water treatment costs.
"We're rolling it out trying to get politicians on board,'' Fitzgerald said, also eager to increase awareness in the wider community.