Published: 25 March 2024 Updated: 26 March 2024
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DATE 26 Mar 2024
FEEDBACK/STORY SUGGESTIONS Dempsey Ward Communication Coordinator +61 2 6122 2134

After the recent decision to phase out gillnets on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area by mid-2027, senior FRDC representatives visited the fishers who will be impacted and were struck by their resilience and determination. 

Deputy Chair of FRDC Dr. Chris Calogeras and FRDC Managing Director Dr. Patrick Hone, accompanied by David Bobbermen Executive Officer with the Queensland Seafood Industry Association, were inspired by the resolve of these fishers, despite this setback. 

“It was not only their acceptance of the situation,” says Patrick, “but their willingness to look for solutions to ensure a positive and sustainable future.” 

The trio’s journey spanned four locations that were most heavily impacted by the gill net phase out decision: Townsville, Ayr, Airlie Beach, and Mackay. 

The purpose of these visits was to listen and understand the impact this decision and to explore how FRDC could most efficiently and effectively, invest in research and development that benefits these communities. 

Race against time 

Key to the discussions were how best to invest in the development and use of alternative gears. Speed and innovation are paramount, with a "move fast, fail fast" mentality aiming for success by June 2026. Ideas led by the fishing sector and informed by science, took centre stage. Participants proposed diverse solutions, from tunnel nets and electrofishing, to utilising historical trap locations and harnessing data-driven AI technology. 

"It's a contest of ideas," Patrick observed. "We’re not just looking for incremental improvements, we need concepts that will forge new pathways”. Conversations with fishers also revealed a clear focus on future improvements to make the fishery future proofed to other potential changes. These discussion topics included climate change, animal welfare, minimising bycatch, eliminating interactions with Threatened Endangered Species (TEPs), and enhancing fisher safety. Fishers were also keen to contribute their thoughts on future research programs to develop or expand the use of technology such as drones, data analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI). 

Reef reimagined 

Chris believes that amidst the challenges, a spirit of unity and optimism shone through each discussion. Many fishers, including some who are transitioning to the fishery as a means of retirement, spoke with pride about their efforts and commitment to sustainability despite community and regulatory concerns.  

“We could not be more impressed with the strength and unity of those we talked to. Their willingness to look forward was a consistent feature of our conversations,” Chris added. 

Learning from these visits will be critical if a future fishery for these fish stocks is to survive change.  

“This isn’t an ending” Chris notes, “it is a wave of change. Together we hope to secure a future for this fishery and protect the life below water that we all cherish.”