Black market fishing is killing off local stocks
ILLEGAL fishing and a voracious black market for Gladstone's best species could be driving the decline of local fish stocks.
And if there's no fish, there's no fishing - so local fishers are worried.
Amateur fisherman of 30 years experience, Charles Hartridge, said Gladstone region fishers have observed the decline of key species.
"We all collect a lot of data, and over the years you can see the decline in the number of red throat emperor that are caught," he said.
"Fish stocks have gone down considerably but no changes have happened."
The highly prized deep-sea fish is a local favourite and is also exported, but because local knowledge doesn't match statewide trends, its population is deemed sustainable by the fisheries authority.
A spokesperson for the state Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said red throat emperor populations were sustainable but confirmed this assessment does not provide localised data on the health of fish stocks.
Because of competition from overseas fish farms which have reliable supply and less costs, local commercial fishers are under pressure to exceed their catch quotas, according to Mr Hartridge.
"If it's not for 'quota creep' they wouldn't make profit," he said.
Fishing over quota is illegal, but enforcement has been lax according to local charter operator Johnny Mitchell.
He said that since Gladstone lost its dedicated government fisheries officers, enforcement of fisheries rules is basically non- existent.
"For years when we grew up we had fisheries officers, who would pull you up on the water and check your catch and your boat," he said. "The government's pulled funding and just about ripped the mat out from under the majority of fisheries officers."
As a result, Gladstone no longer has its own fisheries enforcement officers.
"Instead of being able to bring home their bag limit, there's no reason they can't then onsell fish illegally," Mr Mitchell said.
To add to this problem, people want cheap, quality fresh fish and if they can't get it "off the back of the boat" from local fishermen, "they'll go to a supermarket and buy frozen, crap fish", according to Mr Hartridge.
Both Mr Hartridge and Mr Mitchell were enthusiastic about the potential for a review of fisheries management to help address these and other important issues.
"Last night it was a very dignified meeting where both camps (commercial and recreational fishers) had time to speak about what their concerns in the industry were," Mr Hartridge said.
A spokesperson for the fisheries department said members of the public should report suspected illegal fishing and the illegal sale of fish to the Fishwatch Hotline on 1800 017 116.