Hooked up

Whether you’re trolling for a big barra on the Daly, flick­ing a plas­tic into the lilies on a Kakadu bil­l­abong, or c chas­ing macs on the blue wa­ter, we’ve got you cov­ered

Sunday Territorian - - FISHING & HUNTING FRONTIER - MATT FLYNN

AS a young bloke, I en­joyed drag­ging a prawn net through the shal­lows of Dar­win Har­bour and Shoal Bay. It was hard work, but the re­ward was a bucket of small prawns, barely big enough to eat. The other re­ward was the joy of dis­cov­er­ing what was lurk­ing in the murky shal­lows, re­vealed as the net was pulled into the last few inches of wa­ter.

We caught small triple­tail, flat­head, st­ingrays, a zil­lion glass­fish, stingers, whit­ing, long­toms, gar, blue crabs, mul­let, sar­dines, and even a stone­fish or two.

Drag­ging on the Lud­milla mudl­fat near Night­cliff one morn­ing, we hauled in a load of baby barra, all care­fully re­leased. The barra were lucky that day, as it was cool. I was im­pressed by how su­per­heated the wa­ter over the har­bour’s mud­flats could be­come.

In warmer ar­eas, ev­ery­thing in the net died as it was dragged into the hot wa­ter.

For­tu­nately, for free-swim­ming fish, lo­calised hot wa­ter is usu­ally not a prob­lem. If the flats get hot, they can go else­where. But for fish fry such as bar­ra­mundi, tem­po­rar­ily trapped in high tide pools, ex­ces­sive heat is not so easy to es­cape.

It is the ma­rine life that can’t move that doesn’t do so well in ex­treme con­di­tions. And that’s what we have seen this year. Re­searchers re­vealed the worst recorded mass bleach­ing event in the Great Bar­rier Reef’s his­tory, caused by warm wa­ter.

This week, they an­nounced a fol­low-up on this bleach­ing event.

About 80 to 100 per cent of coral reefs sur­round­ing Lizard Is­land off Far North Queens­land were now dead from bleach­ing, they said.

James Cook Univer­sity spokesman Pro­fes­sor An­drew Baird said re­searchers vis­ited 50 reefs be­tween Townsville and Lizard Is­land this month.

He told the ABC the re­sults were con­fronting.

“What we’re see­ing now is lots and lots of dead corals ... there’s not much coral at all, north of Port Dou­glas,” he said.

Worse, he said there was only a slim chance the north­ern third of the Great Bar­rier Reef could re­ju­ve­nate, and it would de­pend on the health of the south­ern reef sec­tions.

“There’s still a lot of reef which could sup­ply the propag­ules for the reef up north to re­cover, but it’s likely to take a very long time be­cause the scale of the event around Lizard Is­land and fur­ther north was so large,” he said.

“It will also de­pend on it not bleach­ing again, par­tic­u­larly in those ar­eas that are still in good con­di­tion.”

He said most of the reefs sur­veyed off the coast of Townsville and fur­ther south were only lightly bleached and were in rea­son­ably good con­di­tion.

“That’s a pos­i­tive, but with the cur­rent tra­jec­to­ries of car­bon diox­ide and ocean tem­per­a­tures, there’s noth­ing to say that those ar­eas might not bleach as soon as next year,” he said.

The re­searchers said the fi­nal death toll from the bleach­ing in the north would not be known un­til all sur­veys were com­pleted in midNovem­ber.

The two pre­vi­ous ma­jor GBR bleach­ing events were in 2002 and 1998.

The lat­est bleach­ing event hap­pened about the same time that thou­sands of hectares of man­groves died in the Gulf of Car­pen­taria.

One might think shal­low trop­i­cal wa­ters will

be ground zero for global warm­ing, be­ing vul­ner­a­ble to su­per­heat­ing.

But things are chang­ing in the south­ern lat­i­tudes.

There has been a mass kelp die-off along the Tas­ma­nian coast, and At­lantic sal­mon farm­ers have been told to have mass mor­tal­ity plans in place for their Port Mac­quarie farms.

The Tas­ma­nian abalone sea­son has been a dis­as­ter, with divers say­ing the fish­ery has likely col­lapsed.

While over­fish­ing has been blamed for lost abalone stocks, sci­en­tists are say­ing hot wa­ter has been smash­ing Tas­ma­nia.

For more than 100 days over the last sum­mer, the wa­ter tem­per­a­ture rose by as much as 4C above av­er­age.

CSIRO re­searcher Alis­tair Hob­day said the re­cent El Nino dwarfed other warm wa­ter events.

Warm wa­ter events also oc­curred off Tas­ma­nia in 2009, 2010 and 2013.

So there can be lit­tle sur­prise in the on­go­ing de­cline of kelp, cray­fish and abalone.

Some sci­en­tists have sug­gested the global run of record hot years might take a break in 2017 as the world moves to a slight La Nina pat­tern.

Given this sce­nario, if 2017 de­fies that pre­dic­tion and breaks heat records again, it must be time for gov­ern­ments to start tak­ing warm­ing far more se­ri­ously.

Our fish­eries are the ca­naries in the coal mine.

Bar­ra­mundi fish kills hap­pened un­der nor­mal build-up con­di­tions.

Un­der a warm­ing sce­nario, th­ese kills will only get worse.

There will also prob­a­bly be new, un­fore­seen con­se­quences.

If you thought global warm­ing wasn’t go­ing to af­fect you, it might be time to re­think.

Your sport could soon be on the line.

Mor­gan Far­row and brother-in-law Ben McGill had an ac­tion-packed trip to Melville Is­land, catch­ing queen­fish, bar­ra­mundi, golden trevally, cod, fin­ger­mark, pikey bream and a span­ish mack­erel

Tackle World’s Shane Com­pain hit his Kakadu coastal hotspot again last week and scored more cracker jew­fish like this and a load of barra Gareth Shack­le­ton from Perth with a cracker Cor­ro­boree Bil­l­abong bar­ra­mundi, caught with Ob­ses­sion Fish­ing Sa­faris

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