Leading light for fish habitat restoration

ANYONE who’s met Craig Copeland would know how passionate he is about the restoration of fish habitat.

As manager of NSW Fisheries’ Conservation Action Unit he’s pursued fish habitat restoration across NSW since 1989 and lately pursued the cause with recreational fishers via the Fishers for Fish Habitat Program, commenced in 2009, and into the other mainland states via the Fish Habitat Network (FHN). But angler engagement with the programs is low when compared with overall angler numbers.

To better understand why this is so, and to see what’s been achieved in some other comparable countries, Craig applied for and won a Churchill Fellowship to investigate what motivates recreational fishers in the USA, UK and Ireland to commit their time to the restoration of fish habitat, and what the lessons may be for Australia.
(See related story HERE)

Craig contends that the factors motivating northern hemisphere anglers to get involved in habitat work should apply to Australian anglers. These include the camaraderie of being involved with people of like mind, “doing the right thing”, and “giving something back” so that there will be fish for coming generations. So why the low level of engagement here so far?

Craig wisely “accentuates the positive” by describing factors which have contributed to overseas successes, rather than being critical of what has and is happening in Australia.

Some examples:

  • In Wales the average rod catch of salmon had dropped from 5,500 to 542 in the Wye and Usk valleys despite efforts centred on stocking and regulating exploitation from 1972?1999. The last 10 years have focussed on habitat rehabilitation and the catch has climbed in the Wye alone to over 1200 in 2012.
  • In the UK, 414,000 anglers out of 3 million total are members of the influential Angling Trust; in Australia, there are about 145,000 dispersed fishing club members out of a total of 3.36 million.
  • In Ireland an angler told him “We were seeing some electrofishing work being done in two rivers to see what was there. One in a place that rehabilitation had been done and one in a river that hadn’t. There was so much difference you didn’t need to count and from that point on we were convinced”.
  • In the USA, there are environmentally-oriented charitable trusts and conservation groups which anglers work with rather than against.
  • In the USA since 1950, a Federal Act has required an excise tax be paid on fishing tackle and boat fuel which is provided to the States for management of their fisheries; States devote some of this plus part of their fishing licence revenues to habitat management.

While Craig doesn’t overtly say it, we’re well behind the countries he visited in these areas. We still don’t have a peak body with a large enough membership to make our politicians really appreciate angler power, despite some recent successes of the Keep Australia Fishing group. We don’t have a significant funding pool for habitat projects based on industry contributions via levies and Australia-wide fishing licences. We still largely view conservation groups as the “enemy” rather than as potential allies. We don’t have a tradition of bequests for this sort of work, or a tax system that would encourage it.

And, significantly, we’ve still got it pretty good.

We can fish year round in most parts of the country and catch fish, as despite the historic damage we’ve done through poor habitat/environmental practices and questionable fisheries management we’ve lifted our respective games in time to avoid genuine disasters. We just don’t seem to recognise how great we could make our fishing by restoring habitat and despite efforts by some massively hard working individuals, we anglers as a totality (3.36 million of us) aren’t great joiners or voluntary workers in this field.

Clearly these few hundred words can’t do justice to Craig’s report, to what he’s learnt and what he proposes to increase participation and long term achievements in habitat restoration. But it does appear clear from his findings that this will involve three key stakeholder groups lifting their levels of commitment: elected governments, the boating and tackle industries, and anglers generally.

Craig’s full report is available at

John Newbery is Fishing World’s environment editor.

What's your reaction?

Related Posts

Load More Posts Loading...No More Posts.