fishing sustainability debate rages
By Stan Gorton of Narooma News
May 29, 2013, 11:20 a.m.
THE debate over the sustainability of current levels of commercial
netting in two of Narooma district’s iconic bream lakes
is reaching fever pitch among NSW recreational anglers.
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Online coverage by Fishing World magazine and by fishing identity
Steve Starling last week prompted the Department of Primary
Industries to issue a lengthy statement defending the current
commercial estuary fishing arrangements on Coila and Brou lakes.
Then recreational fishers from Narooma on Sunday stumbled upon
up to 40 bream slashed in half, presumably to allow them to
sink, on Corunna Lake.
While some immediately assumed a commercial fisher was responsible,
one local ex-professional suspects it’s poachers, as the
commercial fisherman who fishes Corunna is currently away and
slashing and dumping undersize fish is not something licenced
There’s also the possibility the fish could have been
caught elsewhere and dumped, especially if they were the yellowfin
variety that are not so plentiful in non-tidal lakes such as
The fish were found in about 1.5 metres of water, 200 metres
south of the main boat ramp on the east side of Corunna, in
a small bay where there is an access track used by professional
fishermen and others.
The fish had a slight smell so perhaps they'd been in the water
a couple of days and they were just under legal size.
As a backdrop to all of this is the review of recreational
size and bag limits currently out for public comment, and on
top of that is controversy over commercial fishing arrangements
and even accusations of inadequate resourcing of NSW’s
But it is commercial haul netting and the stocks of bream much
treasured by recreational fishermen sparking all the debate
Fishing World last week reported online it had been informed
that the netters have taken between 5000 and 8000 bream from
the lakes, with crews taking up to 80 boxes a night.
Local professional fishermen however have said that number
of boxes taken in a night was simply not possible.
Ironically, the bream fishing on Coila had been one of the
best kept recreational fishing secrets with locals including
fishing identity Steve Starling catching and releasing huge
hauls of bream up to 50cm in length.
Ron Bakos from Bungendore is a regular visitor and keen angler,
as is evident by this 48cm black bream he caught on Coila Lake
earlier this year.
He contacted the Narooma News last week upset by news of netting
in the lake.
“After the recent news circulating of the rape of this
pristine fishery by the haul netters, it may be quite some time
before I can pull a fish of this quality from that system as
no doubt this fish and countless others succumbed to the nets.”
The comments have come thick and fast on his StarloFishing
page on Facebook.
“We have really just started,” Mr Starling said.
“We are planning a public meeting in Tuross soon….
Most of us want the pros bought out and compensated.
“We are not trying to take away livelihoods but it’s
The Department of Primary Industries responded to the controversy
with a lengthy 1800 word statement, the entirety of which is
posted at the end of this article.
In essence the department said while it recognised the value
of recreational fishing, it stood by its current management
arrangements and “It would be a shame for the community,
residents and visitors to have to rely on imported fish for
their fish and chips.”
The statement confirmed based on historical data, the total
reported commercial catch from Coila Lake over the last three
fiscal years (2009/10, 2010/11 and 2011/12) has been 16.3 tons,
22.2 tons and 19.2 tone, respectively - with bream accounting
for roughly a third of this.
While Fishing World reported that crews of up six possibly
non-local boats had been fishing the lakes, ex professional
fisherman Tony Rose, whose own family still actively nets, said
they were more likely to be local.
Hauling was only practiced by two local fishermen when conditions
were suitable and most activity was set mesh nets.
But even so and like the department, he said hauling had been
practiced sustainably for more than 30 years and when done properly
did not destroy the bottom.
The technique of setting the net with a boat and hauling it
slowly back to the shore using small winches and Mr Rose said
net lengths had recently been reduced and larger mesh sizes
let smaller fish escape.
Scientific studies on the technique were conducted on Wallaga
and Corunna lakes over the last several years had there was
no evidence of damage to the bottom or adverse impacts.
“It’s fully sustainable and used across NSW,”
Mr Rose said.
The commercial fishers monitored fish stocks and knew when
they had grown to sufficient size, with larger fish worth $7
a kilo compared to smaller fish worth $5, he said.
The crux of the problem according to Mr Rose was that while
there were still around 40 active commercial fishermen, the
amount of water open to them had been reduced by 75 per cent,
50 per cent to recreational fishing havens and another 25 per
cent to marine parks.
Before these closures, he said the commercial fishing effort
was more spread out and productive, but now the only decent
thing would be to buy-out licences.
“You offer these blokes a decent buy-out offer and I
bet many of them would take it, but it has to be decent and
fair,” he said.
“The recreational fishers should be asking what is happening
to their licence money and where is the management.”
State Fisheries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson meanwhile last
week announced trip limits on commercial offshore fishermen
would be wound back, drawing the ire of those concerned about
sustainability, recreational and commercial.
The South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association’s chief
executive Simon Boag who represented Commonwealth licensed fishers
explained, “It amazes us that NSW would allow their commercial
fishers to take unlimited catches of many species including
flathead. To this point Australian fisheries have been the best
managed in the world but doing this jeopardises their sustainability
in NSW particularly.”
A few days later citing “stakeholder concerns”,
the minister backed down saying the current restrictions will
And what of the review of recreational size and bag limits
currently out for review?
A possible reduction in kingfish size limits from five to two
is causing some consternation for some Narooma charter boat
operators saying it will impact on tourism.
Others argue a more sustainable approach from recreational
fishers is needed and the recommendation for bream bag limits
to be reduced by half to 10 seems to have wider support.
Back to the Corunna bream massacre, it was only last month
that Fisheries officers busted an illegal netter in the Tuross
system, confiscating a punt and nets.
Fisheries has been notified of this latest case and Mr Starling
has his own theories on the matter.
“While I accept that these mutilated bream may have been
taken by illegal, unlicensed netters, I would ask one obvious
question: if they'd already broken that many laws, why would
they even bother discarding these undersized fish?
“Why wouldn't they just process them with the rest of
their illicit haul?
“This reeks to me of a catch intended for sale through
Fisheries NSW has responded to questions from the Narooma News
about the Corunna incident.
A spokesperson said Fisheries NSW on Monday received reports
of a possible fish kill at Corunna Lake.
“Fisheries officers investigated the location of the
report but could not observe any dead fish in the area.
“We are also aware of reports of around 20 bream being
found cut in half and discarded in the area.
Fisheries officers have spoken with a number of local fishers
about the incident, however a reason for the incident is still
“We remind fishers of their responsibilities when it
comes to fishing, only catch fish for your immediate needs and
dispose of all litter and fish waste responsibly.
“People are urged to contact their local fisheries office
or the Fishers Watch Phone Line 1800 043 536 to report fish
kills, illegal fishing or any other concerns.”
For more information visit http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fisheries/recreational/info/responsible-fishing-guidelines
Here's the official response on the Coila bream meshing issue
from a spokesperson for the Department of Primary Industries:
•The NSW Government is committed to promoting viable
commercial fishing industries and quality recreational fishing
opportunities while ensuring that the fisheries resources of
NSW are appropriately shared.
•The fisheries resources of NSW, including those taken
in the fis...hery are closely monitored.
•Hauling is a sustainable commercial fishing method that
has been undertaken in south coast estuaries since at least
the 1930’s. Long term commercial landings data (see attached)
show that total catches in Coila Lake and surrounding estuaries
typically vary over time.
•Licensed commercial fishers, who hold the appropriate
endorsements in this region, are lawfully entitled to fish in
these lakes and catch fish for the wider community to consume.
It would be a shame for the community, residents and visitors
to have to rely on imported fish for their fish and chips.
•The Government is aware of the importance of recreational
fishing to coastal towns and understand the activity is a significant
part of coastal tourism.
•The Department of Primary Industries is gathering more
information to further examine this issue, in light of the concerns
The NSW Government is committed to conserving fish stocks while
promoting ecological sustainable development. Consistent with
this, the NSW Government is committed to promoting viable commercial
fishing industries and quality recreational fishing opportunities
while ensuring that the fisheries resources of NSW are appropriately
shared between the users of those resources.
The Estuary General fishery (the fishery) is a diverse multi-species
multi-method fishery that operates in some of NSW's estuarine
systems. It is the most diverse commercial fishery in NSW and
is a significant contributor to regional and state economies
providing high quality seafood and bait to the community (including
persons who do not fish recreationally). The most frequently
used fishing methodsused in this fishery are mesh and haul netting.
Other methods used include trapping, hand-lining and hand-gathering.
The fishery is a share management fishery and is divided geographically
into seven regions from the Far North Coast to the Far South
Coast of NSW. The fishery has under gone comprehensive environmental
impact assessment, meeting the requirements of NSW and Commonwealth
law, and these management arrangements have helped to ensure
that, overall, harvests are sustainable.
The primary management controls used to assist in the long
term sustainability of the fishery include a limit on the number
of fishers authorised to operate in the fishery, temporal and
spatial closures, gear restrictions (i.e. mesh sizes and net
lengths), by-catch survival devices (i.e. discard chutes to
release non-retained fish) and minimum size limits.
The fisheries resources of NSW, including those taken in the
fishery are closely monitored. This includes an annual assessment
of all available scientific studies, biological information,
and catch and effort data for the primary species. The scientific
assessments conclude that the vast majority of the key species
commercially harvested in the fishery, including bream, are
Hauling is a sustainable commercial fishing method that has
been undertaken in south coast estuaries since at least the
1930’s. Long term commercial landings data (see attached)
show that total catches in Coila Lake and surrounding estuaries
typically vary over time, likely to be associated with species
recruitment success, growth and abundance, environmental conditions,
and, more recently, significant changes to the number of operators
(e.g. buyouts) and management arrangements.
In comparison to the historical figures, the total reported
commercial catch from Coila Lake over the last three fiscal
years (2009/10, 2010/11 and 2011/12) has been 16.3 t, 22.2 t
and 19.2 t, respectively - with bream accounting for roughly
a third of this (see attached).
ICOLLS (intermittent closed and open lakes and lagoons) are
used on a seasonal basis by commercial fishers and during the
late autumn and early winter months it is common to see haul
crews working on Coila and Brou Lakes, amongst others on the
south coast, targeting species such as mullet, silver biddies,
bream and tarwhine.
Estuarine fish are adapted to the varying conditions experienced
in ICOLLs, such as changing water levels and salinity. They
can survive for many years in closed ICOLLs without the need
for the entrance to be open to maintain fish stocks. Not all
areas within estuary systems are suitable sites for hauling
The Batemans Marine Park, implemented in 2007, is made up of
multi-use zones. With the exception of the Coila Creek Sanctuary
Zone, the rest of Coila Lake is a general use zone where normal
recreational and commercial fishing rules apply. The same situation
occurs in Brou Lake where there are two sanctuary zones (Brou
creek and a small embayment on the north eastern shoreline)
with the main body of the lake being a general use zone.
Licensed commercial fishers, who hold the appropriate endorsements
in this region, are lawfully entitled to fish in these lakes
and catch fish for the wider community to consume.
There are no immediate plans to create additional recreational
fishing havens or change fishing arrangements in the existing
havens. However, any proposals where there is consensus between
local recreational and commercial fishers regarding adjustments
or the creation of additional fishing havens, will be considered
on a case-by-case basis.
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The Government is aware of the importance of recreational fishing
to coastal towns and understand the activity is a significant
part of coastal tourism. Various economic studies in NSW have
shown the economic benefits of recreational fishing, including
from anglers from the ACT and Victoria visiting towns on the