Mick says recreational and commercial fishos should work together for the good of the resource

Rec and commercial fishos have had a George and Mildred kind of relationship — like a constantly-sparring married couple. There’s been friction on and off the water, with plenty of sinkers and punches thrown. During the kingie season a few years ago, I saw some commercial operators drag lead lines through a school of fish — with no regard for the recreational fishermen jigging the same school. The retaliation from the rec fishermen was just as abhorrent.



But if you peel back the turf wars and philosophical disagreements you’ll see we have a lot in common — and a common interest to protect. Most notable is the right to fish our waterways and oceans, as long as it’s done sustainably. Take South Australia. The government has mandated there’ll be no snapper fishing for the next three years. Right decision? Probably. But how did it get to this point? You can only assume the recs and commercial crews couldn’t agree on what a sustainable resource looked like, so Big Brother stepped in and now no-one can play.




Rec fisherman should be alarmed at the declining rate of commercial fishing boats. The NSW commercial fleet has shrunk from 3000 boats to 700 in 15 years. If you’re sitting in your Quintrex tinnie with a pilchard tied to the end of an Ugly Stik rod, why should you care? Because when the licence fees from commercial fishing dry up the bureaucrats will be chasing your pay-cheque to finance their hefty wages.



“Surely we pay enough for the right to fish?” I hear you cry. But what have you seen from your licence fees lately? A better-managed fishery? More FADs or rivers seeded with fish? Nope, not much of that around here. So, who will keep the bastards honest? I can tell you one thing, a united recreational and commercial fishing front will have a far bigger say in policymaking. It’s the very thing Fisheries fear most. Here’s a point in case…



Remember the stoush between recreational fishos and commercial operators over the Geelong Star? Here’s the story in a nutshell. The Geelong Star had plans to turn jack mackerel and sardine into quality bait, using state-of-the-art refrigeration. They said it was CSIRO-approved, world-class sustainable fishing. The opposing side claimed it was a vacuum cleaner in the ocean, sucking up everything in its path. It caused a mighty stink, with rec fishos and the general community blockading harbours. The public concern led to the forming of a political party specifically opposed to super trawler operations in Australian waters — the Australian Recreational Fishers Party.



Ultimately, the Geelong Star was sent back to the Netherlands. But what if I told you the winner wasn’t the recs, or even the fish stocks? It can’t be the fish stocks — given that the same quota of fish earmarked for the Geelong Star is still being caught by smaller, less efficient boats, and then being processed as fertiliser. The real winner was the government. In creating division between recs and commercial fishermen they empower their own cause, which, among other things, is locking down marine parks. Now have I got your attention?




A better relationship between rec and commercial fishos can help us fight another common enemy — poachers. Unconfirmed reports suggest poachers take more abalone from NSW waters than licensed commercial operators. But the authorities don’t want to touch this slippery issue because it’s a cultural and political hot potato that would shock the public. The losers are the recreational divers stuck with a pathetic bag limit of two; as well as the commercial operators, whose bag limits have been culled from 10 tonne to 2.6 tonne per licence. The winners are the poachers, the illegal drug trade — and the well-paid bureaucrats.



A better relationship between rec fishos and commercial operators can help in more practical ways. Most of my good tuna have come from a solid tip-off from a long-liner. And who hasn’t snuck in behind a trawler on the way home from the shelf during a rip-snorting sou’wester? Next time you’re in port or at the ramp, get to know your salty comrades. The fishing at your favourite waterhole just may depend on it.