COMMENT: Keep pros out of rec havens

ANGLERS need to stamp on proposed plans to allow commercial fishing back into rec fishing havens in NSW. The recent state upper house fishing enquiry proposed that limited commercial operations be allowed back into the havens, and the NSW Coalition, which looks almost certain to win power at the upcoming state poll, has started making noises about “swapping” commercial and recreational fishing zones.

The commercial sector has been actively lobbying politicians to allow them back into the rec havens, set up almost a decade ago by controversial Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid when he was fisheries minister.

The havens, which include Lake Macquarie, Botany Bay and St Georges Basin, as well as various other systems along the NSW coast, are paid for via the angling licence fees, and have been an overwhelming success, with scientific surveys revealing enormous increases in fish diversity and size since the nets were removed.

The commercials want back in, ostensibly “just” to trap eels and net mullet. In Fisho’s opinion, letting the pros back into the havens would be a retrograde step. Anglers need to unite and let NSW Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell know that we will not accept any moves to downgrade the efficiency and sustainability of our havens if and when he takes power after the March 26 election. Mr O’Farrell and his fisheries spokesman Duncan Gay need to realise that these are “our” havens. We pay for them, we look after them. They belong to us. They are not bargaining chips to use to court favour from the powerful commercial fishing lobby.

If the pros are allowed back into the havens, you can guarantee that it won’t just be eels and mullet that they’ll be after. They want the lot. If we allow them to get a foot in the door they’ll eventually achieve that goal.

So it is vital that the commercial sector realise once and for all that the havens are no-go areas.

If the Coalition wants the support of anglers at the upcoming state poll, Mr O’Farrell and Mr Gay need to publicly state that the integrity of the havens will not be compromised in any way, shape or form. The Coalition needs to assure NSW’s 1 million anglers that no commercial fishing will ever be allowed in the havens. Not now, not ever.

It’s important also that Robert Brown from the Shooters and Fishers Party publicly oppose any moves to allow commercial fishing back into the havens. Brown has achieved much for anglers but he needs to stand firm against any moves to downgrade the havens. To the average punter (and the average MP or MLC), allowing pros back in to “just” trap eels or net mullet sounds reasonable. But the reality is that it’s the thin edge of the wedge. “Just” eels and mullet will turn into “just” eels, mullet and a few bream as by catch. And then a “few” flathead. And then a “few” boxes of jewies or whiting that were netted by mistake. You get the picture. We can’t allow this to happen.

Fisho today contacted the NSW Fisheries Minister Steve Whan, Mr Gay and Mr Brown seeking their comments and policies on rec havens.

Robert Brown of the Shooters & Fishers Party responded with the following: 

“There is a recommendation in the Recreational Fishing Inquiry (Rec. # 20 that supports consideration of limited commercial access to Rec Fishing Havens. This recommendation was highly qualified, and in no way was intended to signal a general move to re-introduce Commercial fishing into Rec Fishing Havens.

“As you correctly point out, the suggestion was made by one pro fisher, and related only to eels and mullet in Lake Macquarie.

“This issue seems to have been further confused by the Coalition’s recent release of its fisheries policy, wherein the Shadow Minister, Duncan Gay, talks about “area and resource swapping” between pros and amateurs in Marine Parks (the reference below is to “zoning arrangements” , so I assume that he is referring to Marine Parks).

“3. An incoming NSW Liberals & Nationals Government will provide resource access security for commercial fishers. A scientific audit will be established to explore the environmental appropriateness and effectiveness of existing zoning arrangements. We will investigate an area and resource access swap proposal, where agreed to by both recreational and commercial fishermen.”

“The Coalition’s policy to provide $16m for further commercial licence buy-outs, should be directed to those areas already identified by rec fishers as “desirable” new sites for Recreational Fishing Havens ( Camden Haven and the Shoalhaven are two that have been highlighted). We will support this policy,” said Brown.

The Shooters & Fishers Party leader went as far as suggesting Sydney Harbour should also be declared a Recreational Fishing Haven, as the commercial effort has already been removed and says his party “will not support re-allocation of resources from recreation take to commercial take – including any attempt to annexe the fish stocks ( or the water) in Recreational Fishing Havens.”

Brown added, “We do support an extensive trial of artificial reefs in Habitat Protection Zones – a solution that would greatly improve the recreational fishery in Marine Parks – in effect potentially creating massive new ( productive) Rec Fishing Havens with no loss to the commercial industry (as they are not allowed into Habitat Protection Zones now).”

Stay tuned to for more news and opinion pieces,including detailed policy statements from all the major parties, as theNSW election draws closer.

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