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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

South coast recreational fishers strike back against doublespeak, self serving mediocrity and backro

The Beagle Editor, Before we begin, I promise next month’s article will return to its normal format, highlighting the positives of recreational fishing and current local events. However, there has been a good deal of events that have unfolded across the state and locally that you need to know as a rec fisher. If you want to catch up on the local results from our recent club event, follow the link provided.

So, grab a tea or coffee because it’s a longer article than usual but you need to know what we the rec fishers are up against.

A passion of mine is advocating for NSW’s Recreational Fishing Sector’s big picture issues. The past 10 months, many with the same passion including myself have noticed the tensions build between the 850000 recreational fishers and the NSW state and local governments. Tensions are escalating quickly especially the past few weeks, this is mainly due to individuals selling us out, promises not being honoured and governments not listening to us or taking us seriously.

While working this week my mind kept likening the whole situation to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Months of moves and counter moves from either side being taken, tensions rising to the point where most of us know the 13-day confrontation that nearly brought us all to a full scale nuclear war. The question needs to be asked “why has it got to this point?” One word comes to mind, Megalomaniac.

Most of us would agree that we had a level-headed upbringing no matter what culture we come from. Our parents instilled qualities in us that promoted the need to be good members of society. I remember clearly being taught to render aid and defend the vulnerable like the infirmed, elderly and young. The importance of making sure the needs of the many out-weigh the needs of the few greedy and powerful. Honesty is the best policy and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We were taught principles and ethics that gave us the integrity to be good citizens.

But, I must question the integrity of the very small group of people that have power over the recreational fishing community. These megalomaniacs wield their positions of power without any consideration for the needs of the hundreds of thousands of NSW recreational fishers only to ensure they maintain power at the expense of the rec community. Scuttlebutt on the rec fishing street is that the whole rec fishing community has LOST ALL FAITH in the Department of Primary Industries, its overseeing minister and many local government authorities. I have daily conversations with rec fishers on the south coast about their frustrations and complete distrust of government when it comes to their beloved recreational activity as many have stated, “If they take that away from me I have nothing else to live for.”

The pending state election I can foresee many rec fishing issues being forced into the limelight. I guarantee they will be made election issues. The rec fishing community has reached an apogee with their frustrations and they are pushing back, all 850000 of them. We will not let our frustrations go unanswered and will not allow poor decision making to continue. The needs of the 850000 rec fishers out-weigh the wants of a group of less than 100.

While battle plans are being finalised, the different rec fishing regiments dotted up and down the coast, in the city and out west are figuratively counting their artillery and sharpening their bayonets in preparation for all-out war against those failing us.

On the south coast, the Euro Fishing Association held several covert meetings with all the fishing clubs in the region and numerous other rec fishing representatives totalling over 25 different groups. We discussed marine parks, government’s poor decision making and failings. Lines have been drawn in the sand, strategies developed, campaigns devised, and timelines planned.

"So those reading who roam the hallways of Macquarie Street, public servants of various departments and those who ignore us in local governments pay very close attention. .....We are coming for you with unrelenting campaigns and at the ballot boxes. The time for talk is over, years upon years of trying to engage with minimal outcomes, continual cost shifting and insisting on maintain the status quo will be ended" Euro Fishing Association

Let’s look at some of the major state and local government issues that are affecting or potentially could affect OUR fishery and our beloved recreational activity and maybe, just maybe the politicians will develop election commitments they must follow through on.

Starting with State issues through to local governments;

  1. NSW Marine Parks, the Batemans Marine Park – will rec fishers be hoodwinked again?

  2. The Southern Fish Trawl – will this be the end of fishing along the south coast as we know it?

  3. The failed mandatory wearing of lifejackets while rock fishing and its authoritarian expansion.

  4. The covert manipulation of our fishery being turned into a catch and release only recreational activity.

  5. Recreational boating and fishing infrastructure – our continual disappointment, it’s time to do better.

NSW Marine Parks and the Batemans Marine Park – will rec fishers be hoodwinked again?

Unless you were living under a rock, you would remember the authoritarian marine park plan released for the Hawkesbury Shelf Bioregion. The released plan had 25 lockout zones banning recreational fishers from key fishing areas, coincidentally these same 25 zones were adjacent to existing locked out areas such as commonwealth-controlled no go zones and national parks or no go terrestrial zones. Much strategic planning was at play to undermine rec fishing access. There were other draft plans that had 40 or more lock out zones but were not released, this clearly indicates the disdain the director of MEMA has for recreational fishing.

Then came the Stop The Lockout movement. The momentum and support from rec fishers grew at an astounding rate. Petitions were signed with thousands of signatures, word got out to hundreds of thousands of rec fishers, heat was applied to every local member of parliament affected by the proposal and thousands of angry rec fishers marched in a peaceful rally right to NSW parliament house doorstep. I can say with confidence speaking to some at the rally, lucky there was a tall steel fence between them and the politicians. Their blood was boiling with anger.

MP Niall Blair quickly back peddled before the consultation period had ended stating there would be no lock outs introduced and we have it on good authority the director of MEMA copped a mouthful of wrath for advising such an ill-conceived plan. But rec fishers didn’t believe a word of the back peddling.

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party tabled the petition mentioned earlier to parliament with the following message “stop the creation of unnecessary marine parks banning recreational fishing across Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong and immediately reverse the declaration of existing NSW marine parks to allow recreational fishing.”

While this was unfolding the Euro Fishing Association was asked by the state government through back door channels to select 8 to 10 Sanctuary Zones with the intent to be converted to Habitat Protection Zones in time for the summer holiday tourism trading season. Part of the covert meetings the EFA conducted with all the fishing clubs and other rec fishing representatives was to find consensus on the chosen Sanctuary Zones and agree on a strategy for all the remaining Sanctuary Zones to be converted to Habitat Protection Zones. This information was passed on directly to MP Niall Blair and yet it has been weeks and all we are hearing is silence.

The NSW parliament discussed the petition with the allotted 20 minutes which consisted of mud-slinging across the bench and getting nowhere. Minister Blair, his policy advisor and the department had weeks to prepare for a response to the petition but was nowhere to be seen. Time is running out meeting the deadline to respond to the petition and one must wonder why the delay? What about the information the rec fishers provided for the Batemans Marine Park? Why have we heard nothing? For a minister that recently publicly went on record stating he is the advocate for recreational fishers in parliament, why has there only been silence on this front?

Clearly, DPI has failed to deliver, and the minister is deciding whether to do something about it or pass the buck come the third weekend of March 2019. One thing is for sure, we will not stand for a repeat of the way the Batemans Marine Park was originally introduced, we will fight to the bitter end taking anyone down imposing their will on our beloved activity.

The Southern Fish Trawl – will this be the end of fishing along the south coast as we know it?

VIDEO: How Seafood is Caught: Bottom Trawling (Seafood Watch)

The NSW Government had been in closed-door negotiations with the Commonwealth for a number of years on handing over management of the NSW south coast commercial trawl fishery from Barren Joey to the Victorian boarder and inside 3 nautical miles to the Commonwealth.

This infuriated recreational fishing representatives as we simply did not know what was being discussed that would directly impact the fishery, recreational fishing and small commercial fishing operators that are run by local families.

For years the Recreational Fishing Alliance of NSW (RFA of NSW) tried every way they could think of to be part of the discussions and closed-door dealings but were continually fobbed off by DPI Fisheries.

March/April 2018 the Euro Fishing Association stuck its neck out to help its volunteered operated peak body the RFA of NSW that represents all rec fishers in NSW by launching a full scale social media campaign on the south coast to make the public aware of the potential catastrophe if the Southern Fish Trawl (SFT) was to be handed to the Commonwealth.

The EFA paid a price for this outburst against Minister Blair and got in a bit of hot water but the ends justified the means. The closed-door meetings were put on hold and the RFA of NSW was invited to the following meetings. But the rec fishers didn’t believe the sincerity of those sitting in the earlier meetings.

The RFA of NSW was asked to explore 4 different options for the Southern Fish Trawl, with the buying out of the fishery being the preferred option.

The RFA of NSW was then approached by a Southern Fish Trawl representative speaking on behalf of close to 100% of the permit holders and had positive and ground-breaking discussions with overall outcomes that both the affected commercial and recreational anglers AGREED that the need to remove the trawling impacts and offer a fair and dignified exit for the commercial operators was needed.

The benefit to the fish, the environment, the community, the commercial fishers operating outside our state waters and those artisanal operators left in our state waters (ocean trap and line fishers) is worth a lot more that the exit grants being discussed. The future benefits are worth millions of dollars to NSW. The impacts to fresh local fish will be negligible rec fishers have been told.

Since these discussions the Southern Fish trawl representative spoke with all 23 trawler operators and obtained 22 signed documents out of the 23 stating they want to be bought out of the fishery. Rec fishers have struck a deal that is in writing to buy out the Southern Fish Trawl and pay back the loan over a period of time just like what has been done in the past.

There have been rumours among the commercial and recreational sectors that meetings have been conducted with the SFT permit holders and Minister Blair without the representative present and employed divide and conquer tactics. The rumours go on to indicate that after DPI Fisheries representatives spoke with the permit holders and only 6 permit holders wanted the buyout option while the other 17 left the meeting outraged wanting their pound of flesh from the representative. Fact is, it is just that – rumour.

Permit holders have been contacted and they are still honouring their original position of wanting to exit the fishery.

If the SFT was to be handed over to the Commonwealth it would be disastrous for rec fishers and small commercial operators. Some of the Commonwealth regulations that would come into effect would be things such as no size limits at all on any species aside from Flathead with a minimum size limit of 25cm, this would mean once the trawler goes through an area there would be no legal recreational sized fish to catch.

Another regulation or lack thereof is the use of oversized bobbin rollers. This will mean trawlers would be able to use oversize trawl bobbins over highly environmentally valuable low elevation reef, with a likely negative impact on fish habitat and fish stocks. Bobbin gear consists of rubber discs or wheels that are spaced along the bottom (lead line) of a trawl net. Bobbin gear allows trawl nets to be dragged over ground that would normally snag and/or rip the net by lifting the bottom of the net over obstacles. Under current state rules, bobbin size is limited to 100 mm diameter which in turn limits the ground trawlers can trawl on to sand and small rubble only. Under the Proposed Transition there would be no size limit for bobbin gear.

Other detrimental impacts would be:

• Species that had size limits which made them not worth targeting inside 3nm will now be exploited.

• Removal of trip limits in NSW waters

• Conflict between other commercial fisherman

• Conflict with recreational fisherman and all other commercial fisherman

• Smaller or no size limits for trawlers in NSW

• Increased in extraction of all species within 3nm

• Greater risk of harm to threatened and protected species

• Known Snapper spawning grounds occur inside 3nm

• Not in the spirit of sharing the resource. Damage to the Department's broader reputation

• No size limits on over-fished species

Again, the questions must be asked, why has the minister stalled on making a decision?

If all parties agree that the SFT needs to be shut down and the permit holders brought out while the recreational sector is prepared to buy them out why is the minister not supporting this agreed outcome?

The obvious benefits for the health of the fishery cannot be denied. What is Minister Blair’s position on ensuring that the fishery receives the best possible environmental and stock level protection?

Why were DPI Fisheries deliberately blocking the recreational sector from being part of the discussions? Is the minister getting all the facts? Are top level bureaucrats deliberately ill advising the minister? Is there another agenda at play where top level bureaucrats want to employ alternative compliance tactics against a few non-complying permit holders?

Clearly, DPI has failed to deliver, and the minister is deciding whether to do something about it or pass the buck come the third weekend of March 2019. One thing is for sure, rec fishers will not stand idly by and allow the fishery to be abused to the point of no return.

The failed mandatory wearing of lifejackets while rock fishing and its authoritarian expansion

The Recreational Fishing Alliance of NSW (RFA) has been a responsible recreational fishing representative organisation involved in rock fishing safety since its formation in 2000. During that time, it has worked tirelessly and constructively with NSW DPI Fisheries, the Department of Sport and Recreation, NSW Police and NSW Maritime.

Assisted by funding from NSW recreational fishing licence fees, it has developed, organised and distributed a vast range of rock fishing safety workshops, multilingual videos and printed materials, social media channels, electronic safety alerts and other communications. The RFA has provided expert advice on how to engage the rock fishing community, from beginners, to those with intermediate skills, through to others who have had years of rock fishing experience.

The RFA's Safe Fishing video series 'Don't Put Your Life on the Line!' and the website captures decades of safe fishing knowledge and experience, delivering the key messages about staying safe when fishing, with the aim of reducing fishing-related fatalities and rock-fishing-related accidents.

Since 2011 the NSW Government has placed all water safety responsibilities (except for boating) under the Minister for Police and Emergency Services and backed that initiative with support from the Office of Emergency Management, direct funding, an advisory committee and other resources. Finally, it seemed water safety across NSW had a home.

The first police minister the RFA worked with was Mike Gallacher. He embraced the concept and acknowledged rock fishing and improving fishers’ safety was a complex issue which would require proper planning, resourcing and funding to reduce the drowning statistics.

The RFA continued to provide the Office of Emergency Management, under Police Minister Troy Grant, with advice and support since February 2016. This has included practical advice and solutions relating to safety issues, research and surveys, education and awareness, rock fishing and water-safety apparel, compliance and enforcement, implementation, monitoring and reviewing of the RFSA. But during that period, calls from the RFA for better consultation, discussion and engagement have mostly fallen on deaf ears. Marine Area Command and the Office of Emergency Management seemed to think they had enough rock-fishing expertise and did not need the advice of the RFA. Evidence provided by the RFA of clear failures in the Randwick LGA trial area often showed otherwise.

The NSW Government’s focus in delivering the RFSA has mainly been about mandating an Australian-Standard-approved life jacket, without considering other pathways that can maximise uptake of the new law. These are:

1. Amend the RFSA to allow for alternative safety measures by adding in a definition of a ‘responsible safe rock fisher’ who is demonstrating alternative personal safety fishing initiatives in lieu of wearing an Australian-Standard-approved life jacket, e.g. wearing a wet suit. Consideration should also be given to rock fishers wearing suitable footwear, rock spikes, cleats or boots etc., this could be part of a discretionary clause which compliance and enforcement officers should/could use.

2. Remove the reference relating to any fine revenue only being directed to the NSW Recreational Fishing Trust or add to this preferred arrangement the NSW Justice/Office of Emergency Management Water Safety Grants programs directed at rock fishing safety.

3. Engagement of the life jacket manufacturing industry and retail markets, to ensure they are aware of the RFSA, especially to the wearing of an Australian Standard life jacket, and the issuing of an investment warning to the retail industry, to reduce the use of and retail market investment in non-compliant overseas-manufactured fishing buoyancy vests.

4. Research into Australian Standard AS 4758 (the Australian Standard for Lifejackets), and whether it is ‘fit for purpose’ for the conditions rock fishers might experience.

5. Encouragement and assistance of industry investment in an appropriate range of rock fishing life jackets.

6. Baseline assessment of the Randwick LGA Trial, with ongoing independent periodical period assessments. This could then be combined with other compliance and enforcement data or anecdotal information, providing a useful overview.

The RFA is now hoping that after two-and-half years of time and effort, the significant points above may finally be addressed by the current Primary Industries – Fisheries Minister Niall Blair, who now brings a refreshing enthusiasm to fix the past problems.

Niall Blair will be the fifth government minister to deal with rock fishing safety in seven years. He will have to contend with many past attempts and systematic failures experienced under Marine Area Command and the Office of Emergency Management, which have never delivered a completed NSW rock fishing safety strategy or communication plan.

At a recent meeting prior to the announcement that Police Minister Troy Grant was handing the management of the RFSA over to DPI Fisheries, Minister Blair reiterated that the concerns of the stakeholders would be listened to and addressed. He promised a new way of addressing the education of rock fishers with a view to greatly improve their personal safety.

Under Minister Troy Grant the entire process was cloaked in secrecy and “cabinet in confidence” excuses, and stakeholders have been ignored. It has been almost impossible to see any serious plan on paper. The “big stick” approach favoured by NSW Police failed dismally; education and engagement of stakeholders, life jacket manufacturers, and retail businesses was not delivered.

The RFA is hopeful that DPI Fisheries and Minister Blair can get this back on track and that the clarity of purpose, money and resources are made available now and well into the future, to reduce rock fishing related fatalities across NSW.

Now, December 2018 there has been no progress what’s so ever. Recreational fishers on the central coast have been enraged with the recent decision from a central coast council opting in and taking on the mandatory wearing of rock fishing life jackets without any consultation.

Again, rec fishers are being ignored, draconian decisions being imposed on one user group and yet not the other groups traversing the rock ledges along our coastline.

On the south coast many rec fishers have commented to us that they will fish as they have done for years and to hell with any future self-righteous local public servants overreaching decision to impose a rule on rec fishers that have not been consulted.

Remember, we number in the thousand and can make our position made very clear at the next local government election. Why not work with us than against us?

The covert manipulation of our fishery being turned into a catch and release only recreational activity

The last few years many rec fishers who are paying very close attention have noticed the stealthy and invasive manipulative tactics being used by some (not all) fisheries managers and high-profile rec fishing personalities associated with the department trying to curb the general rec fishing community from practicing any form of catch and eat fishing.

To be clear I/we are not anti-catch and release. I practice it myself regularly.

But when I personally have witnessed a Fisheries manager say to my face that he would like his legacy to be the entire NSW coastline be catch and release only that did not sit right with me. From that moment on I vowed to fight him and any other person of influence from stopping law abiding rec fishers from taking a legal bag of fish home for the family to enjoy.

Even within our own shire we have individuals of influence slowly working towards that goal. One personality comes to mind in a recent meeting making the grandiose statement that 93% of their fish are released and their positions on state recreational fishing matters continue to reflect a catch and release only state.

The point of fisheries management is to make certain that stock levels are healthy and sustainable extractions are achieved by bag limits and sizes limits is it not?

A recent poll undertaken by the EFA with 168 respondents, 85% of which were local respondents showed that 70% of people primarily practiced catch to eat fishing. This sample of local rec fishers clearly indicates the regional rec fishing community predominately goes fishing to eat what they catch.

Those who are reading and are guilty of the underhanded tactics you are on notice. Stick to your job of managing the fishery. If it is legal to catch and eat fish, you have no right to impose your personal preference on the general rec fishing community.

We will come for you, we will use political means to get you sacked or removed from your voluntary position. You have been warned.

Recreational boating and fishing infrastructure – our continual disappointment, it’s time to do better

​This issue is being experienced by many of those advocating for rec fishers in many shires in NSW. A renewed call for boating infrastructure to put into the hands of one authority is gaining momentum since the Labor government in Victoria winning their recent election and making the election promise of removing the control of rec boating infrastructure from local councils and into a newly formed singular authority. The EFA has been speaking with their counterparts in the Shoalhaven and Bega Valley shires and the same problems are being experienced. The unelected officials rather work against rec fishers and boaters than with them. Employment of the all too familiar secrecy and the well-practiced skill of long serving public servants fobbing off rate payers and residents of the shire whenever there is some kind of engagement.

"In our shire many have tried over the years and have given up simply because they just cannot get through the decades of entrenched mediocracy when it comes to rec boating infrastructure." EFA

Recently the president of the Malua Bay Fishing Club Andrew Turner contacted us and expressed his frustrations. He kept records of every time he called or emailed council to get any kind of update on a simple safety light at Mosquito Bay boat ramp. His frustration reached breaking point and asked for help.

Information has also come back to us that council has only just ordered the light in question and follow up quotes for elevated work platforms to install the light. Something you would have thought been done months ago.

The very same boat ramp had a grate missing which was cordoned off with orange bunting for 4 months. It was a clear OHS& R issue to many rec fishers with great potential for a member of the public to be exposed to an accident.

I know for a fact that Andrew felt sadden that extreme measures were taken to get some kind of reaction from council, but that sadness was soon replaced with anger and distrust when he received a phone call from a high ranking public servant the same day of the media coverage trying to belittle him. However, Andrew is not one to cower and roll over. He proceeded to retaliate with an appropriate counter response to the belittlement.

Like Andrew, many rec fishers and boaters have tried in the past to move forward and do the projects themselves but are met with extreme resistance and so resorting to rely on council to deliver instead.

Many of the local rec fishing representatives have all agreed the time for talk is over, we either are engaged as a group that is met half way or we boycott everything. It should not take a social media video and a local online newspaper to publish an article to get a response for a simple safety light to be installed months after it was supposed to be done. There have been more than enough occasions the past 5 years for the previous councillor and current councillor arrangement to meet us as a group and engage us regularly with the goal to deliver outcomes consistently.

Many have tried to get more rec fishing related infrastructure built without success. I have lost count the amount of times we have sent submissions to get roofs installed on our fish cleaning stations all of which will be 100% funded from the Rec Fishing Trust, no expense to council. The answer is always NO, that will not be supported.

A recent poll conducted by the EFA showed that over 90% of 176 respondents want roofs on the cleaning stations. That is a good sample from the local rec fishing community. The obvious health benefits derived from roofs over the tables cannot be denied and our contacts within the local hospitals have expressed their concern for years that the cleaning facilities are not up to minimum standards. Does council really want to risk potential multiple lawsuits against them for the simple inaction of one when it can be resolved with funding at no expense to them?

Did you know in the Eurobodalla that $3.8 million dollars is spent annually on recreational boating and fishing licenses, fees and registrations yet in the past 5 years only $288,000.00 of boating and rec fishing grants have been pursued for us in the shire. An unacceptable imbalance.

Rec fishers in the Eurobodalla have decided to take matters into their own hands and have begun with a full independent desktop audit of all the shires boat ramps and associated rec boating and fishing infrastructure to show every single item that needs attention. We will then proceed to campaign our case against those who refuse to meet us half way.

Recently, rec fishers have secured photos and project plans from dozens of recreational boating and fishing projects that have been recently completed in other shires in the state. Soon we will display this information on a dedicated social media campaign to educate the public that these projects can be delivered with either no cost or very little cost to council. If it can be done elsewhere than why not here?

Unfortunately, many of the local representatives have made their position clear, there is no point trying to engage the current Council management. Recently, the management was likened to mould that has infested a building, once it has taken hold, permeated its way into every wall and ceiling there is no point trying to clean it or paint over it. The problem will always be there. The only way to deal with chronic mould infestation is to strip the house bare and start again. We no longer accept the same standard reply of indifferent mediocracy. Why not work with us rather than against us? Your actions will determine the local rec fishing community’s response, it is that simple.

In conclusion

The questions we need to ask:

Why are we putting up with this? Why are some public servants not playing ball? Is it their character? Where is their integrity? Have they become too comfortable in their position and need moving on? Why is it so hard to be met half way and work together? Is the current minister in charge of our fishery really an advocate for us? Does the minister have the best interest of the fishery at heart? Why are rec fishers continually being ignored on so many fronts? Why so many delays? What if the ministers are receiving bad advice from their advisors coloured with ulterior motives?

How can rec fishers get a better deal? I suppose it comes down to better representation by people who genuinely have our interests at heart but that is a long story for another day in the not too distant future…………

It is understandable that the scuttlebutt of rec fishers having no faith in DPI is justified.

The south coast rec fishers are putting the local politicians on notice, we want a better deal NOW. We fish and we vote. It’s your call Adam Martin President|Euro Fishing Association

NOTE: Comments were TRIALED - in the end it failed as humans will be humans and it turned into a pile of merde; only contributed to by just a handful who did little to add to the conversation of the issue at hand. Anyone who would like to contribute an opinion are encouraged to send in a Letter to the Editor where it might be considered for publication

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