Angling rep supports netting

A MEMBER of NSW’s Advisory Council of Recreational Fishing (ACoRF) has publicly supported the continuation of commercial netting despite widespread angler outrage over so-called professionals dumping fish and haul netting fragile estuary systems.

John “Stinker” Clarke last week wrote in a Port Stephens newspaper that while the dumping of fish was “deplorable”, there was “no case” to ban or restrict commercial netting.

Clarke, who writes a weekly fishing column in the local paper, was appointed to ACORF by disgraced former fisheries minister Ian Macdonald. He has previously courted controversy by successfully lobbying current Fisheries Minister Katrina Hodgekinson to increase netting of Australian salmon, a species previously recognised as a rec-only sportfish.
Clarke’s comments about netting have angered angling activists. “We’re trying to lobby the NSW Government to reduce beach hauling and estuary netting but we’re faced with the crazy situation of having someone who’s meant to be representing angler interests seeming to be actively campaigning against us,” Keep Australia Fishing (KAF) board member Scott Mitchell told Fisho today.

“Mr Clarke is obviously entitled to his views but we would think that a member of ACORF should have as his main priority the interests of NSW fishos, not the commercial fishing industry.”

ACORF chairman Bruce Schumacher told Fisho that he would be “surprised” if Clarke’s comments about netting would be endorsed by the rest of the ACORF committee. “In this instance Mr Clarke’s views are his own – he doesn’t speak for ACORF in these matters and I’d be surprised if anyone on ACORF supported what he had to say.”

  John “Stinker” Clarke with NSW Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson.

Mitchell, a former ACORF member and a well-known sport fisherman, is currently engaged in efforts to “correct” the Great Sandy Marine Park and remove commercial netting the Yellow Conservation Zones in Hervey Bay in Queensland.

A strong anti-netting push is also on in southern NSW where fishing media identity Steve Starling is campaigning to ban netters from exploiting fragile estuary systems. Fisho is aware of similar efforts currently underway by grassroots angling organisations in Geelong, Victoria, and Cairns and Mackay in Queensland.

“It is clear from all the recent online comment and fishing media articles that there is a significant concern amongst the rec-fishing sector that intensive netting of beaches, estuaries and inshore areas is having an impact on fish stocks and angling opportunities,” Mitchell said.

“KAF and other groups are keen to work with the commercial sector and government to work out ways we can better utilise the socio-economic benefits of our inshore fisheries and maximise the environment and sustainability. There’s no doubt that there is a groundswell of public opinion against netting in these areas and it’s time all concerned fishos banded together to fight for the changes we want to see happen.”

In his article, Clarke attempts to justify the recent dumping of about 1000 bream at Seal Rocks on the mid North Coast by saying that “the fish were under the legal size and were therefore unsaleable. To commercial fishermen, the netting of ‘bycatch’ – those fish that are undersize or species that are unwanted – is unavoidable”.

Clarke went on to say that attempts by NSW Fisheries to eliminate “bycatch” have failed. “So what are the commercial fishermen expected to do with bycatch?” he asks.

Clarke defended the commercial sector by saying bycatch presents netters with “further complications”, referring to the difficulties netters have when attempting to return dead or dying fish to the water or dumping them away from the public eye – as in the Seal Rocks incident.

“These fish will either be gulped down by the army of pelicans or more likely, washed up on the shoreline for concerned members of the public to discover and register their disgust,” he writes.

“This in no way is a justification of the deplorable act of dumping fish. It is the reality that exists for commercial fishers every time they set, haul or trawl a net.”

Clarke then goes on to say “there is no case to cease commercial fishing on the beaches or inside the Port [Stephens]”.

He also believes that commercial fishing and rec fishing can co-exist in Port Stephens in the future,”With proactive resource management and sound scientific research by NSW Fisheries”.

“On current evidence, I would not support any attempt to ban commercial fishing based in Port Stephens,” Clarke concludes.

KAF’s Scott Mitchell said Clarke’s stance on commercial netting was “confused and irrational”.

“Mr Clarke acknowledges that there are big problems with bycatch and the waste associated with ‘unwanted’ fish but then he somewhat bizarrely says it’s fine to continue the netting. This stance doesn’t make sense. If netting and trawling is resulting in unacceptable bycatch and the destruction of fish stocks, then it should be banned or restricted. It just doesn’t make sense to just let it continue on.”

Mitchell said KAF was working with grassroot angling groups to formulate a national anti-netting campaign, details of which are expected shortly.

Read John Clarke’s article at:

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