Commercial and recreational fishers are permitted to use gillnets in Tasmania. There are several classes of gillnet distinguished by mesh size - commercial gillnets include, small mesh, graball and shark nets, while recreational gillnets include mullet and graball nets. During the past 5 years around 150 commercial operators each year have reported gillnet use, for an average catch of 200 tonnes of scalefish. Recent information for the recreational sector is limited though recreational netting remains popular, with over 10,000 net licences issued in 2009. Previous surveys indicate that recreational fishers target much the same species as commercial operators.
Over the past decade there have been several management initiatives, including a prohibition on night netting for most areas and, more recently, the introduction of maximum soak times. These initiatives have been designed to improve gillnetting practices, and reduce wastage and impacts on non-target species. Despite this, there have been conspicuous declines in the abundance of several key gillnet species along with increasing community concern about the ecological impacts of gillnetting. This concern has been particularly evident in the debate surrounding the introduction of marine protected areas, with gillnetting identified as a key threat to biodiversity. Furthermore, in the 2009 Scalefish Fishery review DPIPWE identified the need to develop strategic policy in relation to no-netting areas to address issues including resource sharing, wildlife interactions and stock management.
In view of the above, there is an urgent need to better understand how recent management initiatives have influenced netting practices, and to objectively assess the risks and impacts on target and non-target species. Ultimately such an understanding will be pivotal in informing the on-going debate over the future management of gillnetting in Tasmania.