Fish Rock protest group await final outcome

As was reported last week on the Fisho website a public protest meeting against the NSW governments’ plan to close Fish Rock and Green Island to angling was held at South West Rocks on Friday 14th January.

The meeting was attended by several senior NSW politicians, and large numbers of local anglers. What eventuated was a fascinating snapshot of how NSW Labor has alienated itself from its traditional voter base and why, if the polls are correct, they are looking at being ousted at the March election.

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The meeting opened with an introduction from the Community Action for Fish Rock (CAFR) protest group’s Sean Morgan, who along with Chris Wallis, Maurie Britten and Les Palmer, has been leading the protest response. For any anglers up and down the coast feeling powerless about angling restrictions and closures, take heart from what a handful of committed activists have accomplished at South West Rocks. They have done a fantastic job which should be an inspiration to us all.

First up was Bill Talbot, Director of NSW Fisheries. Talbot argued that Fish Rock had to be closed or severely restricted to anglers, due to our fraternity representing an unacceptable threat to the grey nurse shark, and despite the heavy restrictions already in place.
His credibility was instantly compromised when he estimated the grey nurse population at between 400-2100 individuals. Scientists have already identified 600+ individual sharks by spot patterns, on their flanks. So his lower figure is clearly incorrect. He told attendees that twelve autopsies had been conducted on sharks found dead over the last year or so, and fish hooks were found in nine of the twelve carcasses. He mentioned the results of the $400,000+ research programme undertaken to determine whether anglers represent a threat to grey nurse sharks at Fish Rock. This was probably a tactical mistake, as recently it has become widely known that anglers paid for this study via their fishing licence fees, despite the NSW Government promising that licence fees would be spent on enhancing fishing opportunities.

The second speaker was local Green candidate, Jeremy Bradley, who acknowledged he had virtually no knowledge of the topic.

The next speaker was Andrew Stoner, who is both the local Member and, if the polls are correct, will be the NSW Deputy Premier by April. Stoner is an extremely forceful and well spoken politician. His feisty speech in defence of the local community was very well received. He said he was prepared to accept a ban on night fishing and wire traces at Fish Rock, which would go a huge way to prevent any perceived grey nurse issues. He also explained that Fish Rock is a small battle in the greenies war on angling and that their main project is the Sydney/Hawkesbury Shelf marine park.

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Next up was Duncan Gay, MLC, Leader of the Nationals in the NSW Upper House. Duncan was right on top of his game and exhibited an encyclopaedic knowledge of the agenda behind the war on fishos. If the polls are correct Gay will be Fisheries Minister within ten weeks and he promised, “if they get this wrong, we will fix it.’ Gay said that Labor, not the Greens were the problem, and that if they had managed NSW competently they would not need to cut a deal with the Greens. He described as laughable the argument that recreational fishing is a key threatening process, and gave two examples as to why Labor cannot be trusted by anglers. Firstly, that the previous fisheries minister, Ian MacDonald, promised no more marine parks just prior to the last election, then did an about face when Labor was returned. He also mentioned that senior Labor identity and MLC, John Robertson, had promised to support Robert Browns’ (Shooters & Fishers MLC) Bill for a moratorium on the creation of more marine parks, then flipped when the political breeze changed. He mentioned that Nicky Hammond, from the National Parks Association, was the main green lobbyist working against anglers and that the NPA had pulled down their web page demanding a 300 per cent increase in marine parks. Overall, Duncan Gay was extremely well received by the audience.

The last speaker was Robert Brown MLC, representing the Shooters & Fishers party. Brown chaired the almost year-long parliamentary enquiry into recreational fishing, which wound up at the end of 2010.

He started his presentation by displaying a photograph from the October 2010 issue of National Geographic magazine. The image showed a grey nurse shark (called a Sand Tiger Shark) from Japanese waters, trailing a hook and line. This struck a solid chord with those familiar with angling politics because the Greens present grey nurse sharks as exclusive to NSW waters, whereas they are found in every ocean in the world. The inference was that the grey nurse campaign is driven as an international agenda, as was the recent mako shark campaign.

Brown explained that NSW has a Game Council, which oversees the management of hunting licences and has been instrumental in arranging access by hunters to hundreds of state forests. There they are doing an excellent job in culling feral animals like pigs, deer, foxes and feral cats which either prey upon or compete with native species. Brown held up his hunting license and fishing licence, one in either hand. He said that the Game Licence gives excellent value for money and has widened his hunting opportunities, whereby the fees paid for his fishing licence are diverted into anti angling expenditure such as research designed to provide a rationale for restrictions on angling. Like Duncan Gay, he sees the Fish Rock campaign, and Meroo Lake and the Solitary Islands marine park extensions as overtly political. He said that the vast majority of marine park declarations had been in seats held by the Opposition, and that none had been made in Labor coastal seats like Wollongong or Newcastle. His presentation was very well received by those attending.

A short question and answer session followed, with questions directed from the audience to selected speakers. Duncan Gay fired up big time at one point, over the topic of Labor’s claim that marine and land Park declarations boost eco-tourism. He outlined how that commitment had worked in the case of the Pilliga National Park, a large area of forest in central NSW, which in the past was the major supplier of termite resistant Cypress pine. He said the Government had predicted an upswing in eco tourism following the conversion of the State Forest into national park, but that the three or four towns in the area which previously had been dependent on forestry are now ghost towns. With South West Rocks so reliant on recreational fishing and holiday income, that was a telling point.

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This event was a credit to the organisers, and to the politicians and public who attended. The way this small community has responded to the threat is an example to every town held at knifepoint by the Green/Labor agenda. And with green campaigns like Meroo Lake, the Hawkesbury Shelf MP, snapper closures in SE Queensland all on the table, there’s plenty more fights to come. With all due respect to my friends in the fraternity, forget easy options like online petitions and letters to Ministers. Take aboard the lesson of what worked with the mako campaign, and is working with the Fish Rock campaign. This is not about conservation, it is about green politics, preferences, and paybacks. The response needs to be political too. The Fish Rock crew have not ruled out any options in fighting these proposals, up to and including civil disobedience.

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The question that must be asked is, why must we anglers constantly defend ourselves against attacks on our right to fish? Why are we always responding to closures, bans, red tape, and license/registration increases? If politicians want our support, we need them to commit to policies that expand, not contract, our angling opportunities. An agenda that earns our vote in a positive way, rather than choosing the Party that does us the least harm. There are countless options; access to Warragamba, Avon and Cordeaux dams; trout stocking in Kosciusko National Park; buybacks of commercial licences (which must be voluntary, and have the support of those affected); installation of FADs and artificial reefs. When you consider the millions of anglers in this country, it is quite an eye opener to realise the contempt with which we are treated from so many quarters. We have been too easy going, but due to outrages like the mako ban and the Fish Rock closure the dragon is finally stirring. All credit goes to people like Sean, Chris, Maurie and Les who are showing us the way.

Editor’s note: Post meeting, Fisho spoke to CAFR’s Chris Wallis who had noted some key points brought up in discussion. One highlight concerned Bill Talbot verifying that NSW Industry & Investment has still been receiving closure proposal submissions, despite the closing date expiring last October – testament perhaps to overall public concern at such closures occurring along the east coast.  

Wallis acknowledged the protest forum was largely a success but he remains cautious of the final  outcome. 

“We’re waiting with bated breath.” he said in the wake of news CAFR has since received that Primary Industries Minister Steve Whan has the final closure proposal paperwork  awaiting his signature. 

Whatever the outcome, Wallis says CAFR will “continue to monitor the issue … stay vocal, to keep everyone informed.”

Fisho will post any further updates as they come to hand. 

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