Pro calls for net ban

HAUL netting on beaches and estuaries is unsustainable and should be banned, a veteran NSW South Coast commercial fisherman has revealed.

The whistleblower, who spoke with Fisho on condition of anonymity, said recent conflict over intensive netting in fragile estuary systems, as well as the dumping of undersized fish, had inspired him to publicly voice his concerns about the state of play in the commercial fishing industry.

The netter, who we’ll call “JD”, said he had worked in the commercial fishing industry for the past three decades and had “just about done it all”.

According to JD, haul netting is “the worst thing (NSW) Fisheries (has) ever allowed”.

Hauling is unsustainable, JD said, due to the amount of undersized bycatch killed in the nets.

“I’ve seen it firsthand what it does,” JD said, referring to a previous incident on Coila Lake when haul netters left a trail of destruction in the form of “dead snapper floating everywhere … there would’ve been hundreds of boxes [of snapper] just floating dead”.

An immediate ban on all haul netting is the only way to stop the slaughter of undersized and unwanted fish, JD said.

“With the hauling there is no way you can (prevent bycatch). The only way they’re going to save the fish stocks is to ban it (haul netting).”

JD told Fisho that despite claims by the commercial sector varying the size of mesh nets used for hauling did not reduce bycatch. “When the nets are hauled in the mesh tightens and reduces the openings, trapping everything in their path,” he said.

The general public was not aware of the “ugly” side of the bycatch issue because “a lot of it is out to sea”. The public only sees “about one percent of what’s normally dumped”, JD said.

JD revealed that the commercial operators who recently netted large numbers of trophy black bream in Coila and Brou lakes on the NSW South Coast were “probably” from interstate. “There is a ‘cowboy’ element among netters who travel around netting indiscriminately without any care for the future of the fisheries they exploit,” he said.

“The locals who are in it for the long haul really want to look after the fisheries,” JD said.

The “cowboys come in, catch what they can and get the hell out. They don’t care if they go and kill a hundred boxes of undersized fish in a couple of nights”.

JD also revealed that a black market trade in illegal fish was common. While most netters probably do the right thing, fish caught by unscrupulous operators often bypass co-ops and fish markets to be sold direct to restaurants and take away food outlets, he said.

Commercial line fishing should be considered as an alternative to netting, JD said.

There was a growing market for live fish on the NSW South Coast with some commercial boats line fishing for species like snapper. These fish are kept in holding tanks and sold out of a live fish market based in Ulladulla. This form of “minimal take fishing” can be very lucrative with live fish such as snapper potentially fetching up to $25 a kilo, JD said.

Fisho recently heard of a push by commercial prawners and mesh netters on the NSW South Coast to be allowed to operate back in the Batemans Marine Park. JD has verified this is the case but said he “can’t see that happening”.

Prawn trawling is a destructive form of fishing that also has a horrendous bycatch rate, JD said.

“I’ve always been dead against the prawn nets because I’ve seen firsthand the damage they do. The [net] mesh size is that small and the amount of small fish you kill … once they get in the net it’s the end of them and it’s all bycatch so you can’t use it.”

So does JD see a time when recreational and commercial fishers can come together for the good of our fisheries?

“I think it’s the only way we’re ever going to get anything done,” he said The only thing we can do is try and come together, form a solution and present a united front to government.

“(Doing that) is going to work to our advantage in the long run.”

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