Oyster reef grilling served up by councillors
Noosa’s newly elected councillors including Mayor Clare Stewart have given council’s experts working on the Noosa River Oyster ecosystem restoration project a good grilling.
And that includes Mayor Stewart and Cr Amelia Lorentson raising the issue of including representatives of local commercial fishing families on the project’s technical advisory group at Tuesday’s planning and environment committee meeting.
All the new faces on council including Cr Karen Finzel and Cr Tom Wegener had questions for a project being undertaken by council and The Nature Conservancy to restore biodiversity to the river system with the use of artificial oyster reefs.
Cr Lorentson said the commercial fishers “would provide valuable independent historic input into project”.
The project officer Craig Bohm, who is TNC’s southeast Queensland’s marine co-ordinator, said this information source “sounds fantastic” but did not think the TAG was necessarily the best place to capture that.
He said the TAG is there to advise him on “getting through the critical work” such as securing permits for the project.
“Broadening the group makes it unwieldy as a group to manage for me,” Mr Bohm said.
Undaunted, Mayor Stewart asked if there was the capacity for council to have representation on the TAG through these fishing families.
Mr Bohm said this was not “a community stakeholder group, it’s a technical group for a different purpose”.
“However, if the council is interested in doing that we can bring a proposal to TNC and I could take it to the TNC hierarchy.
“It does change the nature of the group, it makes the conversations different,” he said.
The mayor said some councillors were coming at this with “new eyes and we’re not abreast of this”.
Cr Finzel said: “I do think the community needs to be involved at some capacity, we’re not sure what that its yet, we’re new kids on the block in these roles.
“We’re just trying to make sure there is (an) equitable voice at the table for the community as well.”
Cr Finzel said there are a lot of issues around the community “feeling disengaged”.
The council under the agreement with the TNC this financial year is due to pay $200,000 once the project payment is made on demonstrated achievement of the “measurable outcomes”.
Cr Stewart asked council’s environment services manager Craig Dolan where she could find “the exact assessment of prawn and fish stock in the river now currently”.
Mr Dolan said this information was available in commercial fishing report which council undertook last year, which contains the most up-to-date fisheries catch for the last five years.
He said there is detailed prawn catch information contained in a University of Sunshine Coast study report.
Cr Stewart asked where she could find in the measurable outcomes of the contractual agreement with TNC so “that we can see that that baseline is improving”.
“From where I’m seeing this, there’s a lot of measurables and monitoring, just where’s the specifics?” he said.
Mr Dolan said the details were in the project management plan, which councillors are being asked to approve, and he said the council had also undertaken a look at the recreational fish catch.
“The project plan identifies what will be monitored before and after the project, the exact methodology I can’t answer to that at this stage.”
Cr Finzel asked who will own the research data and was told by Mr Dolan there would be no intellectual property and all information would be publicly available.
She also wanted to know if council staff were satisfied that the agreement milestone which requires Indigenous involvement by the Kabi Kabi people had been met.
“No it hasn’t to this point, but that’s part of the second stage of payments which is four to six months away,” Mr Dolan said.
“That’s one of the conditions that needs to be met to meet the second milestone.”
He said by that stage he expected a Kabi Kabi would be represented on the project on the technical advisory group.
Cr Joe Jurisevic said in line with mayor’s questioning “how do we manage success of this going forward and can it be done numerically?” Cr Jurisevic said.
“There must be some measure more than anecdotal of an increase in species and or the numbers of fish at the end of this project?”
Mr Dolan said this matter would be addressed when the project plan is discussed at the general committee meeting of council on Monday.
Mayor Stewart added: “We can’t know that (with) this project, that things are getting better and this is working unless we’ve got a baseline, and that’s what we need”.
Cr Lorentson said the councillors also need to know “what constitutes success and what constitutes failure”.
“In the latter, what’s council’s position? What happens if the project fails, do we have any recourse as a council? Can we seek compensation?” she said.
“This is a project that’s been heavily invested in and I think they’re serious considerations,” Cr Lorentson said.
Committee chair Cr Brian Stockwell said this management plan contained the “best monitoring evaluation by any project that I’ve seen come before council”.
Cr Lorentson asked whether council had looked at the ongoing cost of the artificial oyster reef maintenance and who would be funding that?
Mr Dolan said: “There’s been consideration, we don’t know exactly what it’s going to be.”
He said the intent of the project is for the reefs to require very little maintenance but this would depend on what the final oyster reefs looked like.”
Cr Wegener asked where this oyster project fitted in with the upcoming Noosa River Plan and Mr Dolan said he would take this on notice.
“The river plan as it is, certainly sees the oyster reef reconstruction as a key element in improving basic infrastructure in the river,” he said.
Mayor Stewart asked: “If there are any liability issues, (with the project) are we at risk?”
Mr Dolan said the council needs to maintain insurance like it did with the previous oyster reef trial.