STAYING OUT: A local fishing trawler works Gladstone Harbour (file photo).
STAYING OUT: A local fishing trawler works Gladstone Harbour (file photo). Contributed

Scallop sanctuaries to stay in place

SIX scallop replenishment areas off Gladstone, Rockhampton and Bundaberg will remain closed to all trawling, with no signs of reopening.

The closures were put in place on January 3 this year when stock assessments indicated catch rates were the worst seen in 39 years, potentially as low as 5-6% of 1977 biomass levels.

A Fisheries Queensland spokesman this week said the replenishment areas would not reopen until there was confidence the stock was recovering and could support commercial fishing.

The value of the scallop fishery has declined steadily during the past 10 years from $16 million to $4 million and last year's stock assessment was seen as a significant cause for concern.

The Fisheries Queensland spokesman said urgent action was needed to stop further decline of scallops and to protect the commercial fishing industry.

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"These changes were not without precedent," he said.

"Sections of the fishery were closed in 1989 and 1996 due to the same concerns about sustainability."

The closure is expected to reduce the total scallop catch by up to 40% with local restaurants hit hard.

Brass Bell restaurant head chef Michael McClymont said prices continued to rise, forcing him to buy imported scallops from Canada, which were larger than anything available locally.

"It's not the ideal way we'd like to go," he said.

"I like to keep it local as possible, but unfortunately we're here to do a job."

Scallop fishers are able to operate in the majority of the scallop fishery area during summer and fish for other species like Moreton Bay bugs and eastern king prawns under their licence.

Fisheries Queensland spokesman said the eastern king prawn fishery had been performing well over the 2017 winter period with catches and prices high, particularly in areas offshore of the scallop fishery.

"Local fishers and processors affected by the scallop closures have to some extent been able to offset the loss of revenue from the scallop closures through strong prawn catches," he said.

Fisheries Queensland has requested funding for a monitoring program to include a fishery-wide survey with information on the natural mortality and habitat requirements of scallops.

The fishing industry will be able to participate in the research with an announcement expected in coming weeks.



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