ENVIRONMENT: Here we go again…

BOXING Day morning last week at a Jervis Bay beach. A bunch of keen anglers are out early to beat the beach crowds. They’re a mix of seasoned regulars and holiday makers, many of whom are youngsters armed with Christmas rods and reels. They’ve all got good bait, worms or live nippers, and appropriate soft plastics. But they’re catching almost nothing, despite this beach being known for its runs of summer whiting, bream, flathead and tarwhine when it’s rougher, plus the occasional silver trevally, Australian salmon or mulloway.

Why so quiet? Well, one reason might be that despite the beach being adjacent to a marine park no-take zone, there’s still at least one estuary general licensed operator still netting the beach. And the locals report it was netted a week before Christmas, just prior to visitors arriving to spend several thousands of dollars a week for a beach experience… which for many will hopefully include catching some fish.

NSW DPI’s own website says rec fishing in the state generates $3.4 billion worth of economic activity annually and provides 14,000 effective fulltime jobs. If that’s so, how can beach netting on heavily fished beaches in peak tourist season be even remotely considered to be a sensible, equitable practice? Even fish evading the nets are likely to vacate the whole area for a period of time after the nets are run.

When the Jervis Bay Marine Park was set up, there were recommendations to buy out the two remaining Estuary General licences, for a reported cost of around $500,000 in total. Supposedly, NSW Treasury baulked at providing the funds and it didn’t happen. Again supposedly, the licences were not to be renewed when the holders retired, but subsequently DPI allowed at least one to be on sold.

Which is an example of why prior to the last NSW election four years ago, the then shadow Minister for Fisheries Mick Veitch was lobbied to push for making creation of an independent Recreational Fisheries Management Authority Labor policy. The party agreed but didn’t win the election. Mick has been replaced as shadow minister since.

So, what now? Don’t know as yet, with Labor leader Chris Minns taking a Albanese-style low target approach to campaigning and slowing drifting out his party’s policies. As Dave Rae noticed in his magazine piece a couple of issues back, DPI remains primarily committed to the commercial and aquaculture sectors in its fisheries management and research activities. Rec fishing is not a primary industry. It’s a wealth creator for NSW sure, but it’s essentially a recreation and lifestyle activity. What it does, and how it spends our licence fees, should be determined by an independent board advised by specialist committees of experienced anglers and researchers.

Whether this is still on the radar of the major electoral contenders is at this stage unknown. Hopefully editor Scott is preparing to ask the players for their rec fishing policies and plans as the election draws closer.

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