ENVIRONMENT: The way ahead?

CONGRATULATIONS to the incoming NSW Minister for Agriculture (including Fisheries) Tara Moriarty, MLC. She will no doubt be receiving plenty of advice on her portfolio and how to manage it from current and retired bureaucrats, party officials, lobbyists and vested interest parties from assorted fishing groups and associations, so we might as well add to the mix.

Minister, it’s still unclear from the policy statements issued before the election as to how exactly the incoming Labor government intends to manage recreational fisheries in NSW. The “official” statement had it sounding like Labor would establish a peak recreational statutory advisory body…RecFishNSW… similar to entities that exist in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. But in answering pre-election questions put by the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), it appeared that the body could have a statutory management role separate from the Department of Primary Industry (DPI), which was the position taken to the electorate in 2019.

I’d love to see rec fishing managed by a dedicated small statutory agency separate from DPI. Rec fishing is not a primary industry. Whether it’s designated as a “sport” or a “recreational activity” doesn’t matter too much. What does is that it’s managed and directed by people who understand its societal and economic importance. 4.2 million fishers per year Australia-wide, $11 billion per year into the Australian economy and 100,000 jobs. Approximately 20% of NSW residents go fishing each year. 

A rec fishing agency shouldn’t be competing for funding with other bits of the DPI portfolio. It shouldn’t have to tread lightly on vital reform issues such as closed seasons and bag and size limits because, historically, for most of its existence NSW Fisheries favoured actions that supported commercial fishing. For a brief period about 15 years ago we saw some headway with the introduction of all water licences and Recreational Fishing Havens, but that time in the sun passed when Ian Macdonald inherited the fishing portfolio and told us in an interview soon after that “the balance has moved too far towards recreational and I intend to move it back to commercial.”  The lobbying of Mr Macdonald by the commercial fishing industry was legendary.

Minister, there’s a bucket of money in the recreational licence funds reserve, and it’s pleasing to note that your policy is to audit exactly how this is currently being spent. Post audit, it would be fantastic to see future decisions on its expenditure made by a professional board of a dedicated rec fishing management authority, after genuine consultation with the primary stakeholders, that is the tens of thousands of fishers on the licence data base. Yes, there might be privacy issues to be addressed, but that can be done.

Get one of your folks to take a look at the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s website for inspiration. It prides itself in being “the only agency in the federal government whose primary responsibility is the conservation and management of fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the American people.” Since the passing of the Sport Fish Recreation Act in 1950, the agency has directed US$8 billion into conservation of sport fish and their habitats, plus programs that support connecting people with nature through outdoor recreational opportunities and aquatic resources education programs. Now that’s an achievement to aspire to. And Minister, please consult widely…..

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