How to

Do the right thing in the racks!

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Oyster farms provide valuable habitat, shelter and food sources for a range of popular estuary sportfish, including some very big bream!

Words by NSW DPI. Images by Shane Chalker Photography.

THE thrill of hooking a solid blue-nose bream amidst the tangle of posts, racks and trays that make up a typical oyster lease is about as good as it gets for NSW-based estuary anglers. Heavy leader and locked up drags are standard techniques for “rack” fishing specialists. It goes without saying, however, that maxxed-out tackle and brutal tactics don’t always result in hooked fish being landed. The bream are often only centimetres away from cover when they eat the lure or bait, meaning frayed leaders, lost fish and bruised egos are always on the cards.

Oyster leases, often also known as oyster farms, are an important regional industry producing world-class fresh seafood. In NSW, the oyster industry comprises 2254 individual farms covering almost 3000 hectares across numerous estuary systems, including many Recreational Fishing Havens. The industry is worth about $40m annually and employs hundreds of professional workers.

The farms are also opportunistically used by recreational fishers, providing small boat and kayak anglers with opportunities to target the aforementioned bream as well as common estuary sportfish such as dusky flathead, luderick and whiting. Other species associated with oyster farms include estuary perch, tailor and mulloway.

The reason oyster farms can be productive places to fish is because of the shelter and food offered by the sticks, oyster trays and baskets and shade cloth used to protect smaller oysters from oyster catcher birds, fish and rays. This infrastructure attracts bait which in turn attracts and holds the target species. In many ways, an oyster farm acts like artificial reef in providing habitat, food and shelter for fish.

In NSW, oyster farms operate under a non-exclusive lease, meaning other users – such as recreational fishers – can share access to our waterways. However, it is an offence to damage or interfere with lease infrastructure or the oysters growing within the lease.

It makes a lot of sense for recreational fishers and the oyster industry to work together to share and benefit from our waterways. Anglers can do their bit by fishing responsibly and doing the right thing to ensure the oyster farmers continue to produce world-class product.

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Modern oyster farms are fragile, so ensure you avoid contact with infrastructure including poles, cages and shade cloth.
So, what can fishers do?

There are a few simple rules to follow when fishing around oyster farms. These relate to positive, responsible actions you can take to reduce damage, prevent oyster theft, maintain water quality and ensure your safety and that of the oyster farm workers.

Don’t damage the farm

Many fishos may not realise that modern oyster farms are fragile. If you’re fishing in or around a farm, ensure your vessel does not come in contact with any oyster farm infrastructure, including underwater ropes and cables. It goes without saying that you should never tie up or “park” your boat or kayak on an oyster farm.

Ensure you obey Maritime regulations for the waterway you’re fishing in and show respect for the oyster farmers by slowing down as you pass their farms, remembering these areas are their workplaces. Boat wash can cause damage and can make work in the farms harder than it needs to be. Always use weedless lures and/or barbless hooks to minimise the chances of snagging up on oyster farm infrastructure. If you do hook up, do all you can to retrieve the lure without causing any damage.

Say no to black market oysters

Criminals involved with organised large scale oyster theft, as well as smaller scale opportunistic thievery, can cost the oyster industry big money and present a food safety risk. Oyster farmers monitor water and meat quality to ensure the safety of their products. Ensure you say no to black market oysters. If you see any suspicious activity around oyster farms while you’re out on the water, call the Fishers Watch Phoneline on 1800 043 536 and report it.

Keep It Clean

One of the biggest concerns for the oyster industry involves maintaining water quality. Anglers can play a major role in ensuring our estuaries are clean and safe by avoiding using the waterway as a toilet. Make sure you are familiar with the location of public toilets around the waterways you fish and use them. An outbreak of disease caused by someone relieving themselves in the water can result in oyster production being halted for extended periods, costing oyster farmers huge amounts of money and potentially causing job losses. Report any pollution out on the water to Roads and Maritime on 13 12 36.

Keep it safe

Fishing and navigating around semi-submerged structures like oyster farms poses obvious safety issues. Maximise your safety – as well as that of the oyster farmers – when fishing around oyster farms by avoiding all contact with farm infrastructure, slowing down and reducing wash when passing farms and using weedless lures and barbless hooks. Specific Maritime regulations may apply in certain areas around oyster farms so keep an eye out for signs and make sure you obey the rules.

Current boating safety and rules information is available at Oyster farmers are generally a pretty friendly bunch so if you see a farmer working his or her lease, give a wave or say g’day. The farmer will appreciate you asking if it’s OK to fish nearby and can probably give you some worthy advice on any areas you should avoid or take particular care around. They’ll probably also have very good ideas on where the fish are as well. There’s a lot to be said for making friends with your local oyster farmers …

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Take the time to get to know your local oyster farmers so you ensure your fishing activities don’t interrupt their work on the leases. The farmers will be able to give you some great tips on where the fish are!
Wrap Up

The network of oyster farms across NSW’s estuaries, rivers and coastal lakes provides huge benefits for regional economies and provides a world class seafood product while also being a popular and productive place to fish. It’s up to us fishers to do all we can to support and work with local oyster farmers to ensure this vital industry goes from strength to strength. So next time you’re casting a bait or lure around your favourite rack in search of a trophy blue-nose bream or a big flattie, remember to follow the simple rules detailed in this article. Your local oyster farmer will really appreciate your respect and support!

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