Petition shows statewide support for a sustainably managed fishery, including gillnets

Nov 14, 2023

The Queensland community has rallied behind a parliamentary petition with almost 10,000 signatories pledging their support towards the continuation of sustainable gillnet fishing practices along Queensland’s east-coast.

The petition, raised by Principal Petitioner Lucas Dansie, and sponsored by Hinchinbrook MP and Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) Deputy Leader Nick Dametto, was tabled in the Parliament on Tuesday 14 November with an official total of 9,991 signatures.

The petition was in response to a joint State and Federal Government decision to ban gillnets along the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) from 31 December 2023. A $160 million compensation package was promised, however those in the industry that will be impacted are still waiting to hear what reimbursement they may be entitled to for the loss of their business enterprises.

Recently, the Hinchinbrook MP called on the Fisheries Minister, Mark Furner MP to immediately withdraw the decision to ban gillnets or at least postpone the bans by 12 months which would allow fishers to continue making a living until Government was clear about what the remuneration packages would look like.

“Only a few months ago we stood on the steps of Parliament House with the Queensland Seafood Industry Association (QSIA) and the commercial fishers impacted by the east-coast gillnet fishing ban, asking for the State Government to readdress what is going on here and consider the livelihoods of these people,” Mr Dametto said.

“Off the back of that, a parliamentary petition was raised by Lucas Dansie and that closed with just short of 10,000 signatures from people right across the state who wanted to support local wild caught Australian seafood.

“These people want to make sure there is a way forward in the future to ensure that sustainable fishing is carried out but also that the nets stay in the water.

“We’re talking about intergenerational fishing families. The Green family from the Burdekin said they have been doing this over three generations and they want to continue doing it.

“People have put some much time, energy and resources into making sure that they are doing this as sustainably as possible and now we have a State Government that is beholden to UNESCO when it comes to what happens here in Queensland.

“$160 million has been committed from the State and Federal Governments to reimburse everyone affected. A taskforce was set up to investigate how that money should be distributed and I understand that report sits with the Minister now.

“Most of these families are not earning a dollar right now and Queenslanders want to know what is going on with that report.

“We’re asking them to postpone the gillnet fishing bans by 12 months to give everyone, including Government and departmental staff, some breathing space and to ensure that if we’re going to move forward, it is done in a measured way.

“We’re saying they need to sit down with the fishers and sit down with the QSIA. We don’t want a repeat of what happened at yesterday’s QSIA annual general meeting where a departmental officer was sent down to deliver messages on behalf of Government.

“Some of the things I heard from yesterday’s meeting were disgusting and unprofessional. The Fisheries Minister should be apologising and pushing these bans back or even better, scrapping it all together.

“Once upon a time the DPI (as it then was) used to stand up for industry and acted as a support mechanism between industry and Government. Now it seems the DAF we have today is engulfed by people with WWF affiliations and clear conflicts of interests who are hellbent on shutting the industry down.

“Imagine if the Education Minister was closing down schools or the Health Minister was shutting hospitals. Here we have an Agricultural and Fisheries Minister who is shutting down the very industries he is tasked to protect.”

QSIA, Executive Officer Mr David Bobbermen said yesterday’s QSIA meeting was emotive with a number of fishermen and their spouses speaking to department officers about the decision that will be impacting their lives and communities.

“It was really distressing,” Mr Bobbermen said.

“I am hearing from families who don’t know if they can give their kids anything this Christmas or go on a holidays this year. They want to know what’s in their future.

“What I found most disheartening was when I relayed these concerns to a Senior Officer in the Department of Environment the response I got was ‘…what are they worrying about, they’re going to get a cheque’. I had to walk out of the room. It was embarrassing.

“Not the Minister, nor the Premier have had the guts to face these people and tell them what they’re doing. They keep sending puppets from departments to deliver a message which for the most part is ‘we can’t tell you anything’.

“WWF are currently trialling gillnets in other areas of the world to reduce interactions with threatened and endangered species so these claims that gillnets aren’t socially acceptable is rubbish.

“The Queensland and Federal Governments have a moral belief they are running with. There is no science behind it.

“We don’t fish on the reef. We provide sustainably harvested seafood from a naturally renewable source. We extract the seafood in a way so that what we harvest is available next year and for many years to come.”

Commercial net fisher, Mr Neil Green, attended yesterday’s QSIA meeting in Townsville but claimed it was a nothing meeting with “a lack of empathy shown to us fishermen and our businesses”.

Mr Green said he believed government had sent these bureaucrats up here to test the waters to see our response to the predetermined direction they are rolling with.

“They personally insulted me by calling us ‘unprofessional’ as leaders of industry of the past, something I donated mine and my family’s life to for seven years,” he said.

“I reckon if Furner does not dismiss this bureaucrat at the very least he should be getting her to be making a public apology for her comments. This is the most disgusting process I have ever encountered in the 47 years I’ve been in the industry.”

Traeger MP and KAP Leader, Robbie Katter said the Gulf was home to a sustainable fishery that provided fresh seafood to Australians and also underpinned the many services up in the Gulf such as fuel supply, general transport and employment in Indigenous communities, all of which have not been consulted on this decision.

 “When the Fisheries went up there for so called consultation, the messaging given was that the rest of the world doesn’t like gillnet fishing and this was purely just a deal with UNESCO,” he said.

“They aren’t even bothering with science anymore and I think that’s the truly scary thing, that this issue is bigger than commercial fishing, the issue here is sovereignty.

“This is nothing more than political posturing to groups such as UNESCO. Some political parties might be okay with this but we’re not and it’s disheartening to see the Labor MPs up there in the north, who are meant to be representing these people, and they’re sitting here in Brisbane silent on the issue.

“I’d like the Premier and the Minster to stop building policies around Finding Nemo and David Attenborough.”

KAP Member for Hill, Shane Knuth said the State Government succumbing to UNESCO just demonstrated a weak Government.

“A good government would have said ‘Stuff UNESCO, we’re here for the best interest of small businesses and the best interest of Queenslanders’,” Mr Knuth said.

“Firstly, they came out saying that this was about protecting the Great Barrier Reef, but now they are targeting the Gulf so that’s got nothing to do with the Great Barrier Reef.

“I say to this Government – get up here and stand up for Queenslanders and small businesses.”

A meeting is scheduled with Minister Furner this Thursday, 16 November to discuss the issue.