Community consultation extended on proposals to change fishing rules

Number: A63/2019

Relevant: Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Topic: Community consultation extended on proposals to change fishing rules

Date: 22 August 2019

The Australian Government is extending the consultation period on proposed new recreational fishing legislation for Christmas Island (CI) and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (CKI) until Sunday 1 September 2019, in response to significant community interest in the changes.

The Exposure Draft: Christmas Island Applied Laws Amendment (Fish Resources Management) Ordinance 2019 and Exposure Draft: Cocos (Keeling) Islands Applied Laws Amendment (Fish Resources Management) Ordinance 2019 address environmental concerns and propose placing restrictions on recreational fishing by creating bag limits, identifying protected species, controlling the use of certain fishing gear, and restricting the export of fish from the islands.

The Australian Government, through the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development, funds Western Australian (WA) Fisheries (part of the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development) to provide services in the Indian Ocean Territories (IOT).

The ordinances were drafted following more than 10 years of research and community consultation and balance the need to protect the fishery with community expectations. 

WA Fisheries has provided the following further information on the draft fisheries ordinances:

Exemptions and totally protected species

Along with the ordinance, commercial and recreational fisheries can be managed through licences, management plans, subsidiary legislation, or exemptions. Different management tools will be used depending on an issue. Taking into account recent consultation with the community, it is proposed that the ordinance may be accompanied by the following exemptions:

  1. Take of passionfruit coral trout – Permitting a small number of coral trout to be taken.
  2. Cultural allowances – Subject to negotiation exemptions could be put in place that will allow for increased bag limits for times of cultural significance.
  3. Community fishers – In recognition of historic fishing practices, community members would be able to apply and be exempted from the need to hold commercial fishing licences, subject to conditions such as:
    1. All recreational fishing rules are complied with, including recreational gear restrictions, no take of protected species, and no fishing in closed areas;
    2. The amount of fish taken would be restricted to recreational bag limits;
    3. Fish taken would only be able to be sold locally; and
    4. Fishers would be required to complete and submit records of all catches.

Why manage things through exemption?

Exemptions are generally used for short term management. Administratively, they are quicker to adjust, refine or amend compared to other legislation. It was considered appropriate to use an exemption to manage coral trout as a precautionary approach. The number of passionfruit coral trout have been low in the past. However due to the apparent recovery in fish numbers, the intent is to allow for a small number to be harvested by way of exemption until longer term data is available to inform a more permanent solution. Cultural allowances and permitting community fishers is a unique proposal and has never been done before on the mainland. As such, these may need to be adjusted or refined as we learn more about how the framework works in practice.

Totally protected species

Due to remoteness and the limited information available, decisions about fish management are risk-based. That is, fish that are generally considered at higher risk (due to biology, history, movement or fishing pressure) will have a more precautionary daily bag limit, or be listed as totally protected. Notwithstanding this, there are two listed fish that have been subject to further consideration – sharks (identified by the community as important to dive tourism) and coral trout (as above).

Community members who have any questions prior to making their submission are encouraged to contact WA Fisheries (via the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development) by emailing IndianOceanTerritories@dpird.wa.gov.au

The proposed Fisheries ordinances can be viewed on the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development’s website at: regional.gov.au/territories/publications and all views are welcomed.

Comments or feedback on the proposed ordinances should be emailed to IOTLegalPolicy@infrastructure.gov.au by midnight on Sunday 1 September 2019. All community feedback received via this channel will be considered prior to finalisation of the new rules.

Mrs Natasha Griggs

Administrator of Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands