Is NSW now the anti-fishing state?

ANGLERS in NSW face an uncertain future thanks to the mixed messages coming from the state’s Coalition Government.

A scandal involving the publication on the official NSW DPI website of a “wish list” produced by commercial netters and their departmental managers involving increased access to iconic coastal sportfisheries has soured relations between the recreational sector and Fisheries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson.

See an Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation press release on this issue HERE.

See HERE and HERE for coverage.

Rec fishing organisations are calling for the Minister to immediately rule out the proposed netting increases and publicly support the $3.4bn recreational fishing sector.

Although the “wish list” was published on the DPI website almost a month ago, in the process attracting widespread criticism and anger from outraged anglers, the Minister has not yet responded to the concerns raised.

This has further accentuated feelings throughout the rec fishing community that the Minister and her department are more interested in looking after the commercial sector as opposed to ensuring the state’s 1 million recreational anglers are treated equitably and with respect.

To add fuel to the fire, mainstream media reports today seem to indicate that NSW’s new Environment Minister, Rob Stokes, could well be planning more marine parks lockouts.

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NSW Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson.

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald published a report saying “new state Environment Minister Rob Stokes shares a passion for the ocean with Premier Mike Baird and has vowed to enhance protection of marine areas during his tenure”. The paper said the “politicians are close friends, keen surfers and serve beachside electorates – Stokes in Pittwater and Baird in Manly”.

“There is going to be a renewed focus on environmental protection,” the Herald quotes Mr Stokes as saying. “The Premier has indicated that he is really keen that our marine estate is effectively protected.”

Fisho has long advocated for meaningful marine protection measures based on science as opposed to ideological or political motivations.

It may well be that Mr Stokes shares a similar viewpoint – and we’re attempting to ascertain his policy direction via his office – but the fact remains that the NSW Government is currently delaying release of an independent study into rec fishing in some marine park habitats.A study by an “expert panel” into line fishing in some beach and headland zones in the NSW marine park network was commissioned more than year ago. The study coincided with an amnesty on rec fishing in these areas.

The NSW Cabinet has the finalised report but has not publicly released its findings. At this stage, we can only speculate on what the report contains … but the key point is that all responsible anglers should accept the science regardless. If the report clearly demonstrates that line fishing off beaches in marine parks poses grave environmental risks, then there no argument that fishing should be limited or restricted in those areas. Likewise, if the report makes it clear that fishing poses little or no threat, then it’s obvious that all unnecessary restrictions should be permanently lifted.

The problem is that delays in releasing this report has resulted in anti-fishing groups including the Nature Conservation Council and the Australian Marine Conservation Society undertaking scare campaigns. This includes media comments that allowing familes to fish off beaches will result in “species extinction” in places like Jervis Bay and claims that recreational fishing is an “illegal” activity.

It’s hard to see that any half-decent Environment Minister could support this sort of extremist rubbish. However, the fact that Rob Stokes is quoted in the mainstream media as wanting “more” marine protection while sitting on an independent report on fishing and marine parks is a significant concern.

Fisho joins with other rec fishing organisations in calling for the immediate release of the expert panel’s report into line fishing in some marine park zones (see an Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation press release HERE). Once the report is made public we’ll know where we stand on this key issue. More importantly, we’ll also be able to judge the Government on its responses to whatever the report recommends.

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