FW COMMENT: Shame ACORF, shame

In these days of rampant no-fishing zones and anti-fishing rhetoric from green extremists, it’s a real worry to find out that those who are supposed to be representing our interests seem to be actually working against us. The NSW Advisory Council on Recreational Fishing (ACORF) is a ministerially appointed board which “advises the Minister for Primary Industries on recreational fishery issues including maintaining and improving the quality of recreational angling”.

You might be surprised to learn that ACORF is now actively reducing fishing opportunities for NSW’s anglers by moving to ban electric reels for deepwater fishing. I served on ACORF for some years and I’m disgusted that it has seemingly caved into pressure from NSW Fisheries and commercial fishing interests over this issue. You can read the transcript of ACORF’s deliberations at its last meeting on August 25, 2009, under item 10 at According to sources we spoke to, NSW Fisheries has come under pressure from commercial interests to limit access by anglers to tasty (and valuable) deepwater fish such as gemfish, hapuka, bar cod and so on, and has thus put the pressure on ACORF to do its dirty work in giving the pros unfettered access to this public fishery. Shame on Fisheries, even more shame on ACORF for not pushing this back on Fisheries and seeking better management outcomes for us, the poor bastards it allegedly represents.

Most offshore fishos know that electric reels are the most effective way to reach these fish, which often are only found in waters deeper than 100 fathoms. NSW Fisheries is worried that anglers using these reels are plundering the depths, even though extremely tight bag limits on these fish apply in NSW waters. (Interestingly, limits don’t apply to commercial operators, who can take as many as they like.)

The main point Fisheries officials made to ACORF on August 25 was that anglers using electric reels to access deepwater species can “high grade” their fish – ie, chuck a small one back if they get a bigger one. Because of the depths involved with this style of fishing, C&R is not an option so any “low graded” fish would go back dead. That’s a fair point – although I’ve been fishing electric reels for some years now and have never heard of this occurring – but as such it’s a compliance issue, not a gear banning issue. If Fisheries is worried about this, then it needs to make sure anglers obey the rules. That is, after all, its job. How Fisheries officers do this is not our concern – but it’s just not on to have ACORF make life easier for Fisheries by banning the most effective tool by which we can responsibly catch these fish.

That aside, on the surface this seems to be is a “catch sharing” issue. The simple fact is that the pros don’t want to “share” deepwater species with us – they are worth too much money – and they are actively seeking, via their mates at NSW Fisheries, to reduce the opportunities for offshore anglers to catch a couple of blue-eye or cod. Thanks to ACORF, the pros will now have unfettered access to these fish and we’ll be ripped off – yet again.

The ban on electric reels – which it must be said are a tiny part of the tackle market and used mainly by very keen offshore anglers who usually make a drop or two either before after or before a day’s marlin or tuna fishing – came about because “the majority of (ACORF) members considered the use of electric reels was not a traditional (or) acceptable form of recreational fishing and therefore, the use of powered/electric reels should be restricted”.

Based on that line of thinking, all anglers who don’t fish using cutty hunk lines off a hand-made red cedar spool should be banned. After all, threadlines, braid, graphite rods and 6:1 hi-speed overheads aren’t exactly traditional, are they?

What a joke!

The commercial sector has not “traditionally” used hydraulic winches to pull up their drop lines – but they do now. Obviously it’s a hell of a lot easier and more efficient. For the sake of fairness and equality, maybe ACORF and NSW Fisheries should be pushing for the pros to go back to hauling their gear up by hand? After all, why should they use “non-traditional” gear when we can’t?

I’d like to know which ACORF members have used an electric reel and what their specific objections to these amazing examples of modern technology they are. It seems to me that ACORF – and Fisheries – think electric reels are just winches to haul fish up. They’re not – they’re actually specifically designed sport and game fishing tools. I use an electric reel to target blue-eye and gemfish on the shelf off my home waters of Jervis Bay. It’s a fishery I explore a few times a year when the sea, wind and current allows. I enjoy it because finding the fish in such deep water requires extensive use and understanding of my sounder and GPS. It’s certainly not easy and you only catch fish when a whole set of variables come together. Constructing the circle hooks rigs, attaching lumo tubes and lights, dropping the baits down with a heavy lead for what seems like hours and then watching the rod tip bounce and then load up is all bloody good fun. And there’s the lengthy retrieve spent hanging over the side looking for that first flash down deep – is it a tasty gemmie, blue-eye or just a pesky green-eyed shark or frostfish. One or two drifts is all you usually get – the wind usually gets up and makes the boat move too fast. The depths I fish are way out of reach for “traditional” gear. This a fishery that is very limited but now has significant appeal because so many other spots closer in are now off limits due to marine parks. Out over the shelf, with land just an indistinct line in the distance, you would hope to escape the rules and regulations that plague us all. Thanks to ACORF, that’s no longer the case.

The other point to consider – and which I’m sure the worthy folks at ACORF certainly did not consider – is that electric reels are also used to present and retrieve baits to certain gamefish, notably broadbill swordfish. The electric motor is used to quickly retrieve and check baits from the extreme depths at which these enigmatic fish live. If you had to wind it up, it’d take you all night. When a swordie bites, it’s fought using the reel’s conventional handle and drag, just like you would using a normal game reel.

This is admittedly a very small aspect of fishing but what gives ACORF the right to stop someone from doing it if he or she wants to invest in a suitable reel and give it a go?

In my view, ACORF should have rejected the ban on the grounds that electric reels are a completely legitimate way for NSW’s recreational anglers to access deepwater fisheries. That it didn’t do so is disgraceful and demonstrates that our so-called “fishing leaders” have little understanding of real fishing scenarios, especially regarding offshore fishing. For those who are interested, the motion to ban these reels was moved by Charlie Howe, who is described on the ACORF website as “an experienced recreational/commercial fisher in both estuary and offshore fisheries”. It was seconded by John Drew, a “life member and president of the Coffs Harbour Deep Sea Fishing Club”. John Humphries, Ann Garard and Neil Ryan were the only ACORF members who voted against the electric reel ban. Kevin McKinnon, Sanchia Glaskin, Max Castle, John Clarke, Adrian Wayne, Ron Croker, Claudette Rechtorik and Jan McLeod all supported it, as did long-serving chairman Bruce Schumacher.

I suggest that ACORF reconsider its stance on electric reels and in doing so look more closely at the nefarious machinations by the commercial sector in wanting to limit angler access to this public fishery. It should also require NSW Fisheries to come up with better management options to manage deepwater fishing than simply seeking to enforce a ban on what is unquestionably a legitimate item of modern tackle. If ACORF does that, it will be actually doing what it’s supposed to do by looking after the interests of NSW anglers, not restricting them. If it doesn’t, well, serious questions will have to be asked.

Jim Harnwell

Editor, Fishing World magazine


Fisho had contacted NSW Industry & Investment for clarification on this issue, the department’s response is as follows:

Re: Response to Fishing World magazine re electric reel, 14 January 2010

Industry & Investment NSW (I&I NSW) is aware there has been some community concern regarding the use of electric reels by recreational fishers to harvest deep sea fish.

The issue of the use of electric reels will be considered during the next review of recreational fishing rules, including bag and size limits and gear usage, which is due to commence in 2011.

CLARIFICATION 22/1/2010: It had earlier been reported that ACORF member Neil Ryan had abstained from voting on this issue. Ryan rang Fisho to say he had loudly protested against the ban at the ACORF meeting and voted accordingly. 

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