YEPPOON-based fisheries officers will have access to drones as a weapon to combat illegal fishing activity despite initial reports indicating they had been excluded from the technology roll-out.
Over the weekend it was reported in some media that drones had been deployed to the Gold Coast, Warwick, Noosa, Hervey Bay, Bundaberg, Mackay, Townsville, Cairns, Karumba and Brisbane, along with trained pilots in each of those locations.
This led many to believe that Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol (QBFP) frontline officers in the Central Queensland region either didn’t require the new technology or had been left high and dry.
But yesterday Minister for Fisheries Mark Furner told The Morning Bulletin that this was not the case, and he confirmed that Central Queensland had been allocated two drones for officers to monitor marine habitats and fishing operations from a distance.
“QBFP uses a cluster model to ensure the flexible and efficient use of resources across the state,” he said.
“Under this model, Queensland has five clusters – Far North Queensland, North Queensland, Central Queensland, North Coast and South Coast.
“Staff and resources, such as drones and boats, can be deployed to areas within the cluster to meet operational needs.
“The CQ cluster, which includes Rockhampton and Yeppoon, was recently allocated two drones.”
Minister Furner said Urangan (Hervey Bay), Bundaberg, Kingaroy and Gladstone also fell under the CQ banner.
That means the region’s two allocated drones will have to be shared across an extremely large area.
Long-time recreational fishing advocate Kim Martin said he would “watch with interest” to see if drone usage helped fisheries officers catch law breakers.
Mr Martin, who previously headed-up the now defunct Capricorn Sunfish recreational fishing advisory body, said the wide expanses and diversity of the region’s fishery made it hard for officers to “police”.
“Like the Fitzroy River for argument sake, how would you deploy a drone to see if people were doing the right thing or not because it’s 40km of river?”
“Drones might work better though on the foreshores of Moreton Bay where you’ve got a hundred people fishing on a weekend.
“We’ll watch with interest in the areas the drones are deployed and see how they go.
“Look it’s technology, so they have got to run with it, but I just wonder what advantage drones will provide over what fisheries officers already do?”
Drones are not permitted to be used within the city limits of the Fitzroy River as this area is deemed a “no fly zone” under Civil Aviation Authority Guidlines.
Mr Martin said he believed the Queensland Government would be better off looking at Boating and Fisheries Patrol staffing levels in Central Queensland.
“Nothing much has changed for a long time in that regard,” he said.
“We’ve still got the same number of (Fisheries) officers on the ground here as we’ve had for a long time and they’re covering a massive area.”
A Yeppoon-based industry insider, with links to both the commercial fishing and retail sectors, did not wish to be named but agreed with Mr Martin on resourcing issues.
“Fisheries run as a band-aid organisation at the moment,” he said.
“Drones are a waste of time and money.
“I’d rather see the money spent on more fisheries officers and giving them better resources like boats.”
Minister Furner said the CQ cluster had a total of 22 staff with four of those staff based at Yeppoon.
“In September 2018, seven graduates from an 11-month intensive training program were assigned to the CQ cluster to boost QBFP compliance operations in the area,” he said.
“Part of this expanded program was the re-opening of the QBFP Gladstone office in October, 2017.
“The Palaszczuk Government also invested $100,000 to promote responsible fishing following the introduction of net-free zones in Rockhampton.”
The drone technology roll-out comes as new and wide-ranging fisheries reforms are set to become law in Queensland in September.
Anglers have until 5pm on July 19 to have their say on those reforms during the final round of consultation.