Sydney salmon to be “obliterated”

LIKE many anglers who heard the news last week that the NSW Government had given the green light to increased salmon netting, Sydney-based fishing guide Justin Duggan didn’t immediately see the full implications of the announcement.

“I didn’t take in the numbers and so on at first,” Duggan, who runs Sydney Flyfishing Tours, told Fisho today.

“My initial reaction was that it was just going to be a little bit of netting for some trap bait up north. When I sat down and read [the NSW DPI media release] and realised it was three tonnes per endorsement … per day … I realised that this has the potential to absolutely obliterate local recreational fishing for salmon.”

Duggan is in a good position to make informed comment about the potential impact of the salmon netting increase. For the past 10 years he’s been a specialist fly and lure fishing guide on the waters of Sydney Harbour, Broken Bay, Pittwater and the Hawkesbury River – all known salmon fishing strongholds. In that time, Duggan has come to understand where salmon schools congregate around July to October each year. He says you don’t need to be a genius to realise that commercial netters are armed with similar knowledge – and as a result the decimation a salmon school could just be all in a morning’s work for the net crews.

“I don’t think [NSW DPI] put any thought into what will happen to the salmon in localised areas,” Duggan. says. “Using Broken Bay as an example, there are three or four major salmon aggregation areas there during the peak season. If I was trying to net salmon I would be naturally gravitating to these areas .. those aggregation points are going to get hammered [by the netters].”

According to Duggan, this increased netting pressure will almost certainly limit the recreational salmon fishery in the Sydney area, home to almost 60 per cent of NSW’s 1 million anglers, reducing opportunities for rock, beach and boat anglers and their families and causing flow-on effects in the tackle and boating industries.

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Will Sydney salmon fly action like this become a thing of the past? Pic: Justin Duggan

Where are the Greens?
Like most anglers, Duggan sees himself as conservation minded. As a result, he is perplexed by the silence from environment groups and Greens politicians on the salmon issue. He sees it as “hypocritical” that green groups aren’t up in arms over the move, especially as he says it has the potential to directly impact on at least two endangered species.

The first of these are the juvenile great white sharks that live off Stockton Beach on the Central Coast. Salmon are believed to be a major source of protein for these sharks. With great whites on the World Heritage endangered species list, the increase in salmon netting in this area could reduce food supplies for the sharks. Salmon netting also has the potential to impact on seals, dolphins and various seabird species.

“When you move that amount of protein from the environment that is potentially food for many, many predators there is going to be some impact,” said Duggan.

Increases in salmon netting could also impact on the endangered grey nurse shark.

“Having spoken to divers and spearfishers, salmon schools are a great spot to find grey nurses. Even during the day, grey nurses are found under salmon schools. So once again we are eating into a known protein source for an endangered species.”

Various conservation organisations, as well as Greens Party politicians, have long campaigned for increased protection for grey nurse sharks, calling for bans on fishing activities at various locations up and down the coast. Duggan, along with many other anglers, notes with interest that none of these groups or politicians have entered the debate about the possible ramifications of the salmon netting increase on these sharks or various other species.

Economic loss
Duggan is also concerned about the socio-economic aspects of the salmon netting increase. The increased catch will be used for trap bait by commercial operators fishing for lobster and other species. Many other bait sources are available but salmon are historically the most convenient bait for the trappers to use. Like other anglers, Duggan sees no economic value in netting tonnes of sportfish simply to make life more convenient for a small group of commercial operators. While the right of these commercial fishermen to operate a profitable business is not under question, the netting increase will almost certainly negatively impact on rec fishing businesses, including Duggan’s. Between July and October each year he has charters four or five days a week when the prime target is salmon.

“They’re one of the best sportfish on offer. We’re lucky to have them,” he says.

No compensation will be paid to professional guides like Justin Duggan whose businesses stand to suffer due to the salmon netting increase. Fisho understands that angling groups are currently considering a push for government compensation over the salmon issue. This could come in the form of increased rec-only areas, the declaration of key species as rec-only or increased size limits on commercial operators targeting popular recreational species such as bream, flathead and kingfish.

Duggan is confident the salmon issue can be resolved with a bit of lateral thinking. European carp are a pest species in plague proportion in many waterways. Like salmon, they have a naturally oily flesh and a reputably good as berley and bait for saltwater species.

Removing carp and using them as trap bait makes sense on a number of levels yet it doesn’t seem to currently be on the table. Duggan believes it should be.

“We finally get [salmon] to return to numbers that they really should be at, and then the [commercials] think that because there’s a proliferation of these fish that they’re entitled to just turn them in to crab bait. Why would they do that and not utilise carp as bait?”
Good question … And you can be assured that we’ll be asking NSW Fisheries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson why this can’t happen.

Meantime, Fisho urges all concerned fishos to contact Minister Hodgkinson here to let her know your thoughts on this important issue. See below for a salmon fishing video supplied by Justin Duggan.

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