In 2017 an initiative developed by NSW anglers aimed to protect breeding size dusky flathead while providing enhanced opportunities for the state’s 850,000 recreational fishers.
Bega MP Andrew Constance said at the time that the introduction of a trial Code of Practice for the release of “trophy sized flathead” in two South Coast estuary systems was a great example of modern recreational fisheries management.
Local anglers at Tuross Head and St Georges Basin approached the Department of Primary Industries last year to develop management strategies to enhance flathead fishing in their local fisheries by promoting catch and release of these popular estuary sportfish. The underlying fact of the matter was that the estuaries were being hammered by recreational fishers, primarily drawn to the region with the prospect of getting themselves a Trophy Flathead and possibly seeing themselves on the next front cover of the countries fishing magazines.
The result of the collaboration between the recreational fishing community and DPI was the development of a trial ‘trophy fishery’ concept where anglers were be encouraged to release big female flathead more than 70cm in length.
The trial was also include surveys, tagging and research to provide more information on dusky flathead populations in these locations saying at the time that the trophy fishery concept was to protect mature fish while allowing anglers to experience the thrill of catch and release fishing.
The Code of Practice developed for the trophy fisheries was intended to provide detailed information on best practice catch and release techniques.
But the message didn't get through to many of the anglers who continued to arrive on the South Coast in search of a selfie with their 90cm "crocs" Highly regarded as being one of NSW’s most popular and accessible sport and table fish, duskies are a key target for local and visiting anglers to our Recreational Fishing Havens. According to DPI: "Tuross Lake is a Recreational Fishing Haven and trophy flathead fishery located on the South Coast between Moruya and Narooma, about 2.5 hours’ drive from Canberra and four hours’ drive from Sydney. Tuross Lake, which is part of the Batemans Marine Park, is probably best known by anglers due to the diversity in fish habitats that it offers. Tuross can turn on some monster flathead in very shallow water, often on surface lures intended for whiting. " The DPI even went out of their way to promote the fact that Tuross Lake had Monster Flathead in their widely distributed Go Fishing magazine. And, as expected, the fishers came, the stocks were decimated and as a result they then reacted to what they had created by issuing an educational video that promotes catch and release.
Above: The Department of Primary industry video advising the most effective methods of catch and release for Dusky Flatheads to ensure the survival of these breeding females. DPI has recently announced that "After being hard hit by bush fires and COVID, the NSW South Coast is set to benefit from a huge boost to recreational fishing opportunities following the stocking of almost 40,000 juvenile dusky flathead into the Lake Conjola and St Georges Basin Recreational Fishing Havens." Last month they restocked Burrill Lake that they also recognise as a Recreational Fishing Haven.
The stocked duskies should reach legal of 36cm within 2-3 years and have the potential to attain “trophy” sizes of 1m+. The juvenile flatties were bred by Narooma Aquaculture from wild stock caught on the South Coast with the assistance of volunteer recreational fishers.
DPI said at the time of release "We’re hoping to stock more estuaries along the NSW coast with dusky flathead as our production of these highly popular sportfish expands.
"This project is a great example of anglers, the aquaculture industry and DPI Fisheries working together to increase opportunities for NSW’s $3.4bn recreational fishing sector and the local tackle, charter and tourism businesses which it supports.
"This exciting stocking achievement is a fantastic example of your fishing fees at work! Contributing funding was also provided under the NSW Marine Estate Management Strategy." BUT WHAT OF TUROSS LAKE? A NSW Department of Primary Industries spokesperson has advised The Beagle that Under the current guidelines, fish stocking is prohibited within NSW Marine Parks. Tuross Lake is within the Batemans Marine Park so it currently cannot be stocked. The NSW Department of Primary Industries spokesperson has advised that more information can be found at www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fishing/recreational/resources/stocking This page however, provides no information that elaborates on why fish stocking is prohibited within NSW Marine Parks and why Tuross Lake cannot be stocked. What the webpage offers is the following: Fish stocking can provide many benefits such as creating new fisheries or augmenting existing ones and is recognised for its importance to the community in terms of quality recreational fishing, conservation outcomes, employment and subsequent economic benefits that have grown in response to the activity over many years.
Fish stocking must be conducted responsibly to conserve and protect our unique biodiversity. So if DPI and Marine Parks think that fish stocking "must be conducted responsibly to conserve and protect our unique biodiversity" how can they then "responsibly" promote Tuross Lake as a location to find a Trophy Dusky knowing that the waterway is the location of an annual Flathead and Bream competition with 250 entrants, a site for multiple interclub fishing tournaments and the a favoured and widely publicised (even by DPI) location for family recreational fishing that brings thousands of anglers to Tuross Lake every year looking for their "Trophy" with far too few of these "croc's" released after being measured and selfied.