A leader in Queensland’s Gulf Country is calling for a ban on commercial fishing, which he says is decimating fish stocks and protected species around Mornington Island.

Key points:

  • A mayor in the Gulf of Carpentaria says commercial fishing practices are to blame for a depletion in fish around Mornington Island
  • He is proposing a green zone be implemented around the island 
  • Local fishers say a ban would have far reaching consequences

Mornington Island Mayor Kyle Yanner’s concerns have been echoed in several government reports that reveal a history of overfishing and risks to vulnerable species in the Gulf.

But the idea of axing commercial operations has sparked a backlash from fishers who say the industry already observes sustainable practices.

Proponents of fishing in the Gulf say environmental factors are to blame for changes in behaviour of sea life.

Cr Yanner said he had noticed a depletion of fish around the island in the past eight years, an issue he puts down to overfishing and poor enforcement of regulations. 

Mornington Island Mayor Kyle Yanner

Mornington Island Mayor Kyle Yanner.(

ABC News: Leonie Mellor


“The fishermen just drag up all the seagrass beds. They disturb all the natural ecosystems,” he said.

“The federal government has made all these rules, but there’s plenty lacking in enforcing them.”

Of its 1,200 residents, nearly 90 per cent of Mornington Island’s population identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. 

“We’re so reliant on being able to catch our own food, and now we’re having to look at buying fancy boats to take us further out because there’s no fish on our shores anymore,” Cr Yanner said.

Mornington green zone

A map showing a green shape around Mornington Island

Cr Yanner is proposing a green zone be implemented around Mornington Island.(

Google Maps


Cr Yanner wants a green zone to be implemented around Mornington Island to prevent all fishing or collecting activities.

He said the aim would be that First Nations people would still be able to fish.

The idea has triggered a backlash from professional trawlers like Karumba man David Wren, who has been operating in Gulf waters for 38 years.

The veteran fisherman, who supplies grey mackerel across the country, said axing commercial fishing would dissipate communities and deprive Australians of quality fish.

A group of fishermen holding grey mackerel stand in a room

David Wren (third from the left) operates Wren Fishing, based in Karumba, near Mornington Island.(

Supplied: David Wren


“Without commercial fishing, what do ordinary people eat? They rely on us to put quality food on Australian tables,” Mr Wren said.

“Not to mention the hundreds of jobs involved in the chain of operation,” he said, adding that he felt the industry already implemented sustainable methods.

“The paperwork involved and the rules and regulations are very strict and very expensive, and it’s all about making it a sustainable fishery for the generation coming through.”

Carpentaria Mayor Jack Bawden said a green zone would have dire consequences for the industry and the region.

“I can’t see any reason why a green zone should happen,” he said.

“It’s not just the guys on the water it would impact — it’s the trucking industry, the freight services, the tourist industry in Karumba.

Cr Bawden said environmental factors could also be influencing the presence of fish close to shores.

“It’s well known that weather conditions on land impact the conditions in the water. Flood run-off into the ocean can impact the behaviour of sea life.

“So that needs to be considered as well. It may not be fishing activity,” he said.

Aerial photo of Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Cr Bawden says the weather and other environmental factors may be influencing fish behaviour .(

ABC News: Lucy Murray


Overfishing and ecological impact

The Gulf of Carpentaria Developmental Fin Fish Trawl Fishery (GOCDFFTF) is the area in which commercial trawlers operate.

Several government assessments of GOCDFFTF have raised concerns with overfishing, poor data collection, and risks to vulnerable species.

Historically, barramundi, king threadfin, and black jewfish have been overfished along with ‘byproduct’ species such as mangrove jack, according to the Australian Government Department of Environment and Energy’s 2019 report.

Meanwhile, a 2021 assessment by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment found that greater efforts were needed to protect Species of Conservation Interest (SOCI), such as turtles and batoids (stingrays, skates), which were found to be at “intermediate risk”. 

Currently, fishers use Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRDs) and Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) to minimise bycatch, but greater recording of data about the interaction with protected species was needed, according to the report.

Cr Bawden said while there was a history of overfishing in the region, new policies and procedures meant most professional fishers were doing the right thing.

“Of course you’re going to have the odd one that flaunts the rules,” he said.

“But most of the guys out on the water are doing the right thing.”

A spokesperson for the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) said it currently implemented strategies to combat illegal fishing.

“In order to effectively deter illegal fishing in Commonwealth fisheries and the AFZ, AFMA delivers a risk-based, intelligence-led compliance and enforcement program.

“The approach includes communication and education, targeted strategies and ongoing monitoring and maintenance programs,” the AFMA said.

Posted , updated 

Call for commercial fishing ban in Queensland Gulf angers fishers
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