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Comment: Politicians’ comp a win-win for anglers

AFTA’s Allan Hansard had a stroke of genius when he came up with the idea of staging a fishing comp for politicians. Up until now, the political establishment really hasn’t had much of a clue about recreational fishing. At best, they’ve tended to think we’re an offshoot of the commercial industry. At worst, they don’t think of us at all.

This comp, held yesterday on a blustery St Georges Basin, marks a real change in the way the angling sector engages with politicians.

Getting a bunch of MPs out of their suits and away from the cloistered confines of parliament house was a fairly unique strategy for AFTA to take, especially in an election year. But pitting the politicians against each other in a bream comp proved to be a bloody brilliant way to get them thinking about fishing.

As it turned out, it was a bit of a win-win. Federal Fisheries Minister Joe Ludwig, fishing as part of Team Rapala, caught himself the biggest bream. Ludwig’s Opposition rival, Richard Colbeck, fishing with team Schneider, took the honours for the biggest flathead and second place overall.
Having the two blokes set to define federal fisheries policy in the upcoming election go head-to-head in this way is pure political gold.

The event itself was taken out by Team Jarvis Walker, which featured NSW National MLC Rick Colless. This, in my view, was a fitting result – unlike most of the politicians who attended, Colless is actually a very keen fisho.
All the teams weighed in fish and the general feedback was that a fat time was had by all. The fact that the politicians were blasted around in expensive tournament boats probably impressed on them the idea that there’s a fair bit of money involved with the sport. More than one pollie told me that they didn’t realise how exciting this sort of fishing was – the fast boats, the top-of-the-line tackle, all the electronic gadgetry combined to present fishing as an attractive and interesting lifestyle.

And then you had the sustainability aspects. Like most tournaments these days, this was a lure only C&R comp. While all the politicians I spoke with understood that one of the main attractions of fishing is catching a feed, they also appreciated the idea of releasing fish. Presenting rec fishing as a sustainable, conservation-based activity is key if we’re to combat the lock out agendas of anti-fishing groups.
It was also good to talk with various MPs and senators about the importance of developing specific rec fishing policies. There has been a tendency for fisheries ministers, both state and federal, to attempt to adapt plans designed for the commercial fishing sector to fit rec fishing requirements. That rarely works. Hopefully this comp helped a few MPs understand that we as a sector have unique and specific policy requirements. I know I certainly bent a few ears on this subject!

One of the biggest benefits I reckon this comp achieved was helping the MPs realise just how important rec fishing can be to the average Aussie family. There was quite a crowd in attendance at the weigh-in, many of them young families. There were probably 30-40 kids all lined up in front of the BETs tank, all watching the various fish get weighed and then released to swim around. Like kids anywhere, they were overawed by seeing the shiny silver fish zipping around in the tank. Their excitement and pleasure was obvious to all. I saw more than a few politicians taking note of the kids’ exuberance and joy at seeing all the fish and being part of the whole tournament scene.

Sure, we need to protect the environment so that these kids, as well as future generations, can enjoy and appreciate the simple pleasure of catching a fish. Politicians play a major role in developing the sort of policies needed for conservation and fisheries management. But they also need to encourage and develop opportunities for these kids to go fishing, not just focus on locking areas up or allowing inappropriate commercial/industrial exploitation.

Hopefully the images of the excited little kids all looking at the fish that they themselves had caught will inspire our political representatives to develop the sort of proactive rec fishing policies we so desperately need. AFTA’s inaugural politicians comp has laid the groundwork to make that, and much more, happen.

Jim Harnwell is the editor and publisher of Fishing World.

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