ACCESS for anglers is one of the most contentious issues that we write about here at Fisho. Support marine protected areas with no-take zones and you cop a whack from the “inalienable right to fish anywhere” brigade. Support reduced or altered area boundaries and the “lock everything up” protectionists come out firing. I reckon it would be fair to say that not all Fisho writers subscribe to exactly the same position on this issue, but we do agree that denial or removal of access to fishing spots for no sound reason is something to be opposed.
Government agency policy and political sensitivity, rather than logic and evidence, often determine outcomes on access denial. In NSW, decision makers are again discussing access for anglers for some metropolitan water catchments around Sydney, all of which are rumoured to hold fabled stocks of native and assorted imported species. I was involved in similar talks maybe 15 years back, when NSW Fisheries was advocating for a better deal for reccies. They got the Recreational Fishing Havens up, and getting access to catchments was looking good until a cryptosporidium outbreak put the fear of god into the water managers and killed the proposal stone dead. Our argument was that well-regulated fishing in catchments was allowed in other states and other countries without negative health impacts, so why not NSW? Basically because of a perception of risk and resultant negative publicity from parts of the media.
Risk drives all sorts of decisions in our terrestrial national parks. Tracks and access to rock fishing spots are often cut off because anglers might fall while walking in or have a bit of a cliff fall on them. Trouble is these decisions are usually made without consultation with the folks who have safely accessed these spots for years and solutions, such as redirecting tracks away from particularly dangerous points, aren’t considered. Too hard, too costly.
Being “hard” or “costly” doesn’t necessarily warrant a blanket exclusion. NSW Fisheries initially was pushed to exclude all forms of fishing from areas adjacent to grey nurse shark aggregation zones, even fly fishing or luderick fishing from the shore, because it would make fishing inspectors’ jobs a bit more difficult. After consultations and site visits, good sense prevailed, and only impactful fishing methods such as bottom bait fishing were excluded.
Separate decisions by non-connected government agencies often lead to compounded access restrictions. The Rec Fishing Alliance estimates that fishing or spearfishing are restricted in some way in 60.72% of Sydney Harbour. On the ocean side of that same city, government agencies have created a complex web of different types of marine protected areas, with unique and sometimes misunderstood local rules. Nasty confrontations between anglers and protectionists often result.
Having said all that, we can at times be our own worst enemies on access restriction. Mess up ferry wharves with bait, fish guts and rubbish, or yahoo around at night, and they’ll soon be off-limits. Enter private rural properties to fish without asking and you’ll soon see “private property, no river access” signs go up. To ensure continued access to our fishing spots, it‘s more than ever time for good sense all round by the regulators and the regulated.