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Fish Catch Shrinking on Great Barrier Reef; Overfishing Blamed

July 19, 1991

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) _ The size and amount of fish caught on the Great Barrier Reef are declining dramatically, said a survey released today, and officials were reportedly considering restrictions on sport fishing.

The survey of 1,000 sport fishermen between Cairns and Rockhampton off Australia’s northeast coast show that the average weight of some fish has halved in 10 years.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park stretches for 1,300 miles from the Torres Strait in Cape York on the far northeast tip of Australia to Queensland state’s mid-coast.

Popular with scuba-divers and sport fishermen, the reef consists of about 3,000 individual reefs containing 4,000 species of mollusks and 1,500 fish varieties.

Sport fishermen, most of them overseas tourists, take 70 percent of the reef’s catch each year, park officials said. The reef attracts 500,000 visitors annually.

The survey results show that the average size of fish caught in reef waters off Mackay, Queensland, was 3.1 pounds, a decline of 39 percent from the average reported in a similar survey in 1980.

The survey also showed that the total fish catch is dropping. Last year, between 7.7 million to 9.5 million pounds of fish were caught by sport fishermen on the reef, a 40 percent drop from 1980.

Russell Blamey, a university researcher who helped conduct the survey, said tighter restrictions on the thousands of sport fishermen using the reef should be considered.

″Catches are falling at a significant rate, but at the same time, the number of boats using the reef is rising,″ said Blamey.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported the Queensland Fish Management Authority is considering imposing an unprecedented bag limit for recreational fishing in reef waters. No other information on the limit was given.

The amount and size of fish in the 80,000-year-old reef are not the only problems associated with the colorful coral. Scientists have been warning for more than 40 years that the coral is slowly being destroyed by natural and man-made predators.

Recent fresh-water flooding this past southern hemisphere summer, combined with a new outbreak of coral-stripping starfish, has heightened fears that Australia’s $780 million tourism revenue earner is in peril.

A more long-term problem is the amount of nutrients and sediment building up in the reef from agricultural run-off rich in soil and fertilizers, including herbicides and pesticides.

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