COMMENT: Beach netting – who’s kidding who?

When I was a young bloke, beach netters were still working very actively around Sydney. The headland at Shelley Beach, near Manly, had a spotter’s tower built high up on it and in kingfish season one of the crew was stationed up there until a school came into the bay. He’d then signal his mates on the beach, who’d run a net around them using a clinker skiff and take the lot. The first really big kingies I ever saw were flapping on the beach there, now part of a marine reserve.

There was another tower just inside Sydney Harbour, used mainly by sea mullet netters during the spawning run. That’s also a marine reserve now, and commercial fishing no longer occurs anywhere in the Harbour. Some years later at Seal Rocks I watched a crew take a massive spawn-run school of yellowfin bream from the beach … again, now in a reserve.

Those old netters could identify the species of fish and exactly how many boxes were in each school. If they weren’t commercially high value fish, say luderick or Australian salmon, or if the market price for a high value species was down due to over supply, or the school was too small to justify the use of ice, fuel or manpower….then they’d be allowed to pass.

Not any more. Either through greed or desperation, or boredom or bloody mindedness, beach haulers now seem to take whatever they see. Last year we highlighted some of the worst of these excesses: schools of massive breeding mulloway and permit taken and sold for a pittance in per kilo terms. When confronted the haulers rely on “our mistake, we thought they were something else” excuses for their behaviour. Absolute balderdash.

If experienced operators fishing clear, shallow water can’t tell large permit from mullet they must be blind as bats or dumb as the proverbial. It’s bloody mindedness: the fish are there, we’ve got a licence, we’re going to take them, even if we don’t cover our costs, just to show we can. Is that sustainable fishing? Is dumping tonnes of luderick or salmon because there’s no market for them anything like sustainable practice, which supposedly underpins Australia’s fisheries management strategies?

It’s a disgrace. Then there’s the ludicrous situation that exists in marine parks, where next to sanctuary zones where you and I can’t take one single fish, beach haulers can still run their nets to their hearts’ content. Some of the beaches in Jervis Bay get targeted for bream and whiting right in the middle of holiday periods, effectively ruining the fishing holidays of visitors. The flow on effects for local businesses must be colossal.

How’s this happened? Because no government has ever seriously looked at the relative values of beach rec fishing and beach hauling to regional economies and made some hard, business-based decisions. Maybe during the next few years, with the infamous “hung parliament “, there will be an opportunity to get the issue considered seriously and for recreational fishers to finally get some sway with the serious political players.

Messrs Katter, Oakeshott and Windsor all have big rec fishing constituencies. If you’re reading this and are in their electorates, send them a letter, or even better, a petition, about beach netting.


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