Fishing with David LockwoodDavid Lockwood 

Marine Park Audit

The long-awaited report from the Independent Scientific Audit of Marine Parks in NSW has been released. Chaired by environmental expert, Associate Professor Bob Beeton AM, the audit panel set out to determine if our marine parks strike the right balance between sustainable fishing and conservation.
While the network of marine parks in NSW were declared hastily, without proper scientific research, and due consideration for socio-economic impacts, the audit panel said they should stay.
The NSW Government reinstated its commitment to the existing network of marine parks but, in the long term, will likely take the audit panel’s advice and establish a new management strategy.
The audit panel determined that the NSW Marine Estate – all marine waterways east to three nautical miles – be governed by one legislative and administrative structure closely aligned with the five catchment management authorities covering the NSW coastal drainage systems.
This holistic approach to marine management acknowledges that there is more to good conservation than simply locking humans out of certain areas. Preserving water quality is key.
In a joint statement, Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson and Minister for the Environment, Robyn Parker, said the audit highlighted that the “method in which marine park zoning was carried out by the former Labor Government was flawed and should have been done in a more sustainable and consultative fashion.”
Radical dive and conservation groups in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, who have been pushing for a new marine park around Bondi, have been marginalised by the audit panel’s findings that good science needs to preface the creation of marine parks. Emotive arguments don’t hold water.
The Government will now invite public submissions on the Audit Report and will formally respond to the report in due course. Public submissions close June 30. Drop a line to Full audit report at

Harbour Shark Alert

Oh, yeh, that time of the year again, another shark story. But long-time harbour guide Craig McGill says his recent encounters might make you think twice before diving in.
Under overcast skies that have typified this quasi-summer, McGill stumbled on abnormally big school of frigate mackerel in lower Middle Harbour. The little tuna were chasing sprats in 24°C bath-warm, murky green water hard up against popular Clontarf Beach.
Then the sharks arrived. McGill spotted three whaler or bull sharks to 1.5 metres, while a colleague reported hooking others in the deep hole off Dobroyd Point around the corner.
“I feel the combination of fresh water, warm currents and the incredible numbers of small tuna will attract many more sharks,” McGill said, before adding that there’s a lot of surface-fish action off most popular harbour beaches.
At the same time, scientists from Cronulla Fisheries undertook more shark tagging at night on the harbour this week in an effort to better understand their movements. Soon after Navy diver Paul de Gelder was attacked in Port Jackson in 2009, 16 bull sharks to 2.96 metres were tagged and tracked in Sydney Harbour.
The sharks from the first round of tagging ranged from the Parramatta River to Middle Harbour, but one shark holidayed in Yamba (a popular stamping ground of female bull sharks) before performing a u-turn and returning to the harbour, while another was tracked sunning itself up at Townsville.
Meantime, oodles of small hammerhead sharks are calling Broken Bay home. Like bull sharks, hammerheads pup close to shore. Hammerheads are the most common shark captured in the beach meshing program.

Factory Ships Plunder Baitfish

The marine food chain goes something like this: sun, phytoplankton, zooplankton, shrimps, sprats, forage and demersal fish, pelagics and apex predators. Remove any one link and the whole web collapses.
It’s against this premise that we can thank our lucky stars that the foreign-owned factory ships which eyed off our blue mackerel fisheries a few years back were sent packing. Consider, on the other hand, the jack mackerel fishery in the southern Pacific.
A very similar fish to our small mackerel species, the jack mackerel has been plundered to the point of collapse. Where stocks were estimated at 30-million metric tons two decades ago, they have been reduced to three million tons today.
University of British Columbia oceanographer, Daniel Pauly likened the overfishing to the last of the buffaloes.
“When they’re gone, everything will be gone ... This is the closing of the frontier,” he said.
Factory ships from around the world have for years descended on the waters off Chile and Peru and unleashed their massive nets. While a staple of some cultures, jack mackerel mainly ends up as fishmeal to sate the aquaculture industry.
The largest of the factory ships, the Russian-flagged Lafayette, a rebuilt 50,000-ton oil tanker, is longer than two football fields. The mothership sucks fish from its fleet of super trawlers using giant hoses. The mackerel, as many as 1,500 metric tons a day, are frozen on blocks.
When the ship set sail for the Southern Pacific at the end of November, its target was to catch 300,00 tonnes of fish. That’s twice what Hong Kong consumes in a year.
Meantime, delegates from 20 countries have gathered to try and stop the plunder. Australia and New Zealand have initiated a South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation to apply unilateral leverage on the renegade factory ships.
Thankfully, our fisheries managers had the good sense to prevent factory fishing of our blue or slimy mackerel stocks after a trial some year ago.

fishDavid Lockwood’s Guide to Fishing – March

As I write this an armada of big game fishing boats and smaller sportsfishers are putting to sea at Port Stephens for the annual Luhrs Billfish Shootout. Oliver Bergin sent this picture of a 72cm kingfish that he caught while fishing in Sydney Harbour on Saturday 4 February at 7.30am … “Just after high tide with my dad. Pulled like a steam train!”More than 100 boats and 400 anglers will do battle, with the angler catching the heaviest marlin over 150kgs, and the crew tagging and releasing the most marlin, each collecting a $10,000 winner’s cheque.
But that’s small fry compared with the near-200 boats and 1,000 anglers sharpening their hooks for the Interclub Game Fishing Tournament concluding March 4. After which, at the end of March, the Trailerboat Tournament attracts 450-odd boats and 1,100-plus anglers chasing an impressive prize pool.
What’s the attraction of fishing off Port Stephens? For most, it’s all about catching marlin. Such is the passion, millions is spent in fuel, marina fees and accommodation. But in an exceptional season like this, the odds of success are stacked firmly in your favour.
The marlin fishing at Port Stephens has surpassed expectations, with boats regularly catching a half dozen fish a day at the aptly named Carpark. During a lead-up tournament held out of Lake Macquarie, the winning boat had tagged 17 marlin in a weekend.
Such has been the stellar fishing that at least three previously tagged and released fish were re-caught and tagged in just one week. This augurs well for the future of the sport. Since the implementation of circle hooks that catch in the fish’s jaw, survival rates of tagged fish have clearly risen.
Even the small fry are getting into the action. Ethan Henderson (10) caught his first black and striped marlin from his dad’s Viking 55 called Everwilling. Many more kids will be wetting a line this month at Port Stephens. We wish them well and trust they catch a whopper. Expect more marlin in March.
Elsewhere, offshore fishers have had mixed blessings. Some days they have been battling a strong currents and milky green water. But other days have been fishy. The crew on the runabout Beekseeker scored dolphin fish, small yellowfin tuna and a blue marlin in some beautiful water in 45 fathoms off Terrigal late last month.
From my experience, the offshore fishing for game fish, especially the exotic species, only improves in March when the water temperature hits its straps. The dolphin fish will be bigger, there might be rainbow runners among them, along with small yellowfin tuna and more marlin. Big blue marlin will be out in the deep.
The current and wind should ease off in March making the bottom fishing easier. Try the reefs in 60 fathoms for mixed reef fish while you jig for kingfish. Snapper will be snapping as we near Easter, while the coastal fishing also steps up a gear.
Blue swimmer and mud crabs are crawling about Brisbane Water and the Hawkesbury, where flathead will be more active this month. Small jewfish are around the bridges, but I would expect some bigger fish near the estuary mouths and along our beaches, where the whiting and bream have arrived.
March and early-Autumn herald the start of some serious fish aggregations and then migrations. Bream will be schooling around the rock shores and deep holes, luderick will replace them after Easter, while sea mullet start to gather. Expect big jewfish and sharks to follow.
As revealed opposite, the sharks are most definitely about. Harbour guide Craig McGill saw a bull shark actively chasing frigate mackerel off Manly Point after he heard of another take a hooked salmon mid-air.
And this from my fishing column in Afloat March 2009: Two serious shark attacks in the space of 36 hours. The NSW Minister for Primary Industries makes a public statement advising swimmers not to venture in Sydney Harbour. And experts predict more attacks on the way … take heed.
March is also prime time for a mix of surface fish including tailor, Aussie salmon, bonito and the small tunas like mackerel tuna and frigate mackerel. As if to prove as much McGill says those species have become more frenzied in recent weeks. And it’s been better for the kingfish, with specimens to 80cm among the abundant rats.
Summer might be behind us but the fish basking in the warm water don’t yet know it. March is a great fishing month. Daylight saving ends April 1, so get cracking and enjoy your March mid-week, après-work or after–school sorties.


Contact the writer at


Sydney Fishing Key March 2012Fishing Key —

B    Bream
Berleying with chopped pilchard and floating lightly weighted pilchard fillets back into the berley using light tackle and fine line. Suitable method from both boat and shore. Hook size No 1 to 2/0. Or try using the latest soft-plastic lures jigged around the harbour wharves, jetties and rock walls on ultra-light flick sticks and 4kg braided line with a 4kg monofilament trace.
DF    Dolphin fish
Head to the fish aggregating devices (FADS) off Sydney – locations found at – at dawn or fish into the dusk to beat the crowds. Cast live baits at the FADs for the biggest dolphin fish. Smaller specimens fall for pilchard baits, lures and saltwater flies. Great sport and, when kept on ice, delicious eating.
F    Flathead
Drift with whitebait or frog-mouthed pilchards hooked through the eyes and bounced along the sandy bottom. Glue reflective tape to the sinker for added flash and appeal. Early morning before busy boat traffic is best. Or use rubber-tailed jigs flicked around the foreshore.
J    Jewfish
The prize of the estuaries, jewfish gather in the deep holes in our harbours and bays from November through to the end of summer. The fish is most active right on dusk, especially when that coincides with the last hour of a run-in tide. Use large cut baits of mullet, slimy mackerel or tuna, or fresh squid strips, set on the bottom. Berleying with cut fish pieces can help attract the fish to your bait. Ranging from 3-8kg, though specimens to 20kg aren’t unheard of, the general run of jewfish is easily subdued with 10kg tackle and a 4/0 hook.
K    Kingfish
Fish the deep, tidal shores or around the harbour channel markers with live or strips or heads from fresh-caught squid. Stagger the depth at which you fish the baits until the school is located. Berley helps keep the fish around your boat.
L    Leatherjackets
Found around kelp beds and foraging off wharf pylons, retaining walls and other submerged structures. Easy to catch with a long-shanked hook topped with peeled prawn or try using the flesh from mussels gathered at the fishing grounds.
MAR    Marlin
In a good season with warm water, marlin pass just a few hundred metres from shore. Troll a staggered spread of assorted small 15cm-long skirted lures at 7-8 knots from 40 metres to 120 metres of water, concentrating around the bait schools, birdlife and current lines. Striped marlin join in the party, along with dolphin fish and sometimes wahoo out wide. And the game fishing is even more fun when you can see the city clear as day.
S    Snapper
Fish the inshore reefs in 30-50 metre of water with 6kg-10kg tackle. Anchor up and berley with chopped pilchards and chicken pellets. Drift a half pilchard bait on a 4/0 chemically-sharpened hook back down the berley, with a pea-sized running sinker or just enough lead for the bait to waft down to the bottom. Dawn and dusk is best.  
T    Tailor
An aggressive schooling fish, named for its ability to slash baitfish to ribbons, the tailor is a snap to catch. Troll or cast and retrieve lures around the schools of fish hunting around headlands and estuaries in winter. Or cast a pilchard from the shore or boat during the flood tide and at night around Sow and Pigs or The Spit.
W    Whiting
Warm water heralds the whiting run along the beaches. The sweet-tasting fish are a cinch to catch, the only prerequisite being live worms for bait. Fish in the deep gutters and where there are rips and no surfers. Night sessions can be most rewarding from the harbour beaches.