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Angler protest action forces minister to review fishing ban

AS Fisho has reported at length in recent weeks, a group of concerned fishos and local community members has formed an alliance to oppose proposed fishing closures at popular offshore venues at South West Rocks on the northern NSW coast. The Community Action for Fish Rock group (CAFR) held a fishing “challenge” last Saturday to demonstrate to the powers that be that recreational fishers do not hook grey nurse sharks at Fish Rock – one of two areas subject to new closures under a NSW Industry & Investment (Fisheries) proposal.

No sharks were hooked, despite intensive fishing effort targeting kingfish, the main target species at Fish Rock.

Part of the evidence used to justify the proposed lockouts had stated that “research has observed grey nurse sharks trailing lures at Fish Rock”. Fisho this week received a copy of a NSW Industry & Investment response to a Freedom of Information application that verified that this claim had been based on a phone survey conducted 10 years ago with commercial dive operators working in the area.

Whichever way you look at it, a decade-old phone survey with a bunch of dive charter operators – who more than likely oppose recreational fishing because it gets in the way of their money-making ventures – is not exactly scientifically valid “research” warranting a fishing closure.

The fact that an FOI application was needed to get NSW Fisheries Minister Steve Whan to admit the evidence he is basing his decisions on is spurious in the extreme is a good indication that these proposed fishing closures are more likely an attempt to placate anti-fishing green extremists than they are to protect grey nurse sharks.

If Minister Whan was really serious about protecting grey nurse sharks he would immediately ban the bottom set long lines used by commercial fishermen to catch wobbegong sharks around coastal reef areas. These wire rigged longlines doubtless catch and kill many GNS every year. This management option was refused by disgraced ex-fisheries minister Ian Macdonald on the grounds that it would disadvantage commercial operators.

Last Saturday more than 50 boats from South West Rocks, Hat Head, Urunga, Coffs Harbour, Kempsey, Camden Haven, Newcastle and Sydney attended the challenge. More than 30 rock and beach fishermen, also affected by the proposed closure, gathered at Smoky Cape lighthouse to protest against the lockout. Shooters and Fishers Party MLC Robert Brown was in attendance; Steve Whan, although invited, did not attend, nor did he send a representative.

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Due to marginal weather conditions, only 25 boats ventured out to fish at Fish Rock; the remainder gathered in protest at the Macleay River. The target at Fish Rock was kingfish, which the spot is renowned for. According to a CAFR spokesman, Chris Wallis, healthy numbers of kingfish were caught on the day. Based on the number of boats and crew, a total of more than 300 man hours was spent fishing Fish Rock – no grey nurse sharks were hooked.

The organisers say this again proves the science behind the proposed lockout is “bogus” and the proposed fishing lockout has nothing to do with grey nurse sharks, but is simply a move to secure Green preferences at the next state election.

As outlined in Fisho’s earlier stories, (read here) NSW Fisheries had presented two closure options, both of which would severely restrict current recreational fishing opportunities. CAFR says the proposals had been made with no economic consideration for the small coastal towns that heavily rely on tourism/fishing, no community consultation has been undertaken and the justification has been based on bogus information that fishers are hooking grey nurse sharks.

In response to the two closure options CAFR put together an Option 3 proposal to present to Minister Whan. Option 3 proposed the following:

1. Ban on the use of wire traces.

2. Ban on stainless steel hooks when bait fishing.

3. No boat based fishing between dusk & dawn.

4. No anchor zone increased from 200m to 400m.

5. Public awareness/education programs by local fishing clubs and fisheries.

Prior to last weekend’s Fish Rock challenge there had been no response from the Primary Industries Minister to the Option 3 proposal.

Shadow Primary Industries Minister Duncan Gay has been vocal in supporting the CAFR cause, with many in the action group believing Gay could be their “saviour” if, as is widely expected, a change of government takes place after the NSW state election in March.

In an interview with Fisho recently, Duncan Gay said that if elected his party would “put in place” Option 3.

“It’s all about dialogue. The key fishermen want is to be talked to,” Gay said in reference to the state Labor Government’s lack of consultation with local communities prior to announcing the closure proposals.

CAFR had unsuccessfully contacted Minister Whan on numerous occasions to discuss a more “community sensitive” proposal that would provide even greater protection for the grey nurse sharks, as outlined in the Option 3 proposal.

Yesterday morning, Fisho was alerted to news that Minister Whan had contacted CAFR to arrange a meeting. The crux of that meeting, according to CAFR’s Chris Wallis, was that the minister was “going to continue to review the situation”.

Fisho contacted the minister’s office to confirm the South West Rocks closures are still under review.

“We had a fruitful meeting with CAFR and discussed their concerns, and I’m still assessing all the options, including submissions from CAFR and other stakeholders,” Minister Whan told Fisho.

“A broad timeline was discussed with CAFR and we will be keeping in contact with them to discuss the proposed closure and any developments.”

Fisho will keep you updated on the Fish Rock issue.

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