Pittwater anglers lament dwindling fish stocks
You can’t see the dozens of fish traps lying in ambush on the estuary floor. Nor do you witness the thousands of baby jewfish hauled to surface in nets. Then come the mullet fishers who score plenty of other species by sheer cunning, and the oyster farmers growing an alien species.
Yet anglers know from their increasingly lean catches that Pittwater and the Hawkesbury are suffering. You’ll catch more fish in Sydney Harbour or Botany Bay – where commercial fishing is banned – than these once stellar waterways guarded largely by national park. They look good, but just don’t produce.
Ask local anglers and you’ll hear a familiar lament: the fish are getting harder to find, the seagrass beds are being overrun by noxious caulerpa weed, while water quality is dubious at best after rains.
Adding to the pressure is the tireless commercial fishing fleet that comprises gill netters, mullet netters, trappers and trawlers all working around the clock.
Even the local oyster farmers have had to switch to growing alien Japanese oysters instead of the native Sydney Rocks due to a virus. Another virus was responsible for a ban on taking abalone from the local headlands.
Meantime, frustration is growing among the luckless anglers who have paid for fishing licences, paid to launch their boats at the ramps, and invested in tackle, bait and fuel. But for what? A few catfish and a lone keeper bream if you’re lucky?
Now the Member for Pittwater, Rob Stokes, has told Parliament about the serious community concerns surrounding the long-term sustainability of fish stocks within the Pittwater.
Stokes said that to ignore the concerns surrounding dwindling fish stocks would be a tragedy for the community, and that it’s important that the simple pleasure of catching a decent size fish in local waterways doesn’t become a rarity or a thing of the past.
“Recreational fishing is a hugely popular pastime for residents in our community and we must ensure this can continue,” Stokes told parliament.
“The increase in commercial fishing and the spread of noxious aquatic weed is casting doubt over the future of this renowned waterway,” he said.
“Along with many in our community – I believe measures such as tighter commercial restrictions or a commercial fishing closure must now be explored,” Stokes said, inviting debate and community input to explore options that could help ensure the long term sustainability of the waterways.
You should also know that culling the commercial fishing fleet won’t impact on seafood sales. The fantastic fish and chips at Patonga is more often hoki these days, the prawns sold around the waterway are usually farmed from afar, while the Brooklyn oysters herald from Japan.
Hawkesbury prawns remain a popular bait, but anglers would be willing to switch to something else if it meant more fish in the long run.
It’s about now, in the ides of winter, as the temperatures wallow, and the days are morbidly grey, that thoughts turn to a far-flung fishing holiday. Maybe that’s why I’ve received more than my fair share of brag-mails from fellow anglers in recent weeks.
Take the manager of the Royal Hotel in Orange. Tony McClure took it upon himself to send pics of him cradling thumping big barra and threadfin salmon from a memorable Broome fishing trip under blazing blue skies.
This payback follows a previous incident when I walked in the door of his terrific pub with a 1.5kg rainbow trout I’d just taken from the Molong River. “Cook this,” I demanded. And they did, along with a big breakfast the following morning.
But even fishing guides have found local conditions tough and are getting away from it all. Scott Thorrington from the Central Coast headed to Seisia on the tip of Cape York and reckons there were so many fish you had to hide behind a tree to bait up!
He scored barra, fingermark, mangrove jacks, threadfin salmon, and Queenfish, in the rivers, while the whole spectrum of pelagic fish, including some massive mackerel and giant trevally, were jumping on lures offshore.
The forecast is for a bonza barra season due to the record wet last summer. Think about a trip away from the winter blues.
I’m yet to find a sea creature that can read and, thus, recognise marine park boundaries. Fish, turtles, dolphins and suchlike swim in the wide blue yonder, so we ought to think more about water quality than anything else.
Take the recent death of a green turtle at South Ballina. The 40cm critter had 317 pieces of plastic in its gut. Turtles mistaking plastic for jellyfish is nothing new. A study revealed 40 per cent of leatherback turtles in the ocean today have plastic in their guts.
A few years back, researchers in the Northern Pacific discovered 35 per cent of the fish they sampled had plastic in their stomachs. A recent study found that one in 10 fish sampled in the Great Pacific Garbage patch, where currents swirl and eddy, had ingested plastic.
Meanwhile, itinerant Aussie adventurer Don McIntyre recently wrote to me from a motorboat in the mid-Pacific. “One day, I started counting thongs and by sundown I reached 96, but not one matching pair! And these were only the ones that were within about 25m of the boat. Makes you wonder where the other ones are,” he quipped.
Forget marine parks. There’s a lot more we can right now to save marine life. It begins with better storm-water filtering, tougher littering laws, greater accountability among retailers, and consumers.
Ban plastic bait bags, get rid of all plastic and foam packaging from waterfront food outlets, introduce a carbon tax on plastic lures and nylon line. Hey, I jest, but there are biodegradable fishing lines and lures out there.
Carry out as much garbage as you can from each and every fishing trip. That’s a good start.
David Lockwood’s Guide to Fishing – August
August is the windy month. Take heed, stay safe, stick inshore or upriver when those woolly westerlies are blowing. Indeed, big seas and bitter cold kept most anglers at bay this past month. The way things are going it’s been a great winter for armchair fishing, with silverfish on the chew and small fry champing at the bit.
Those that have got out say the weather was so damn wild that the fish weren’t biting and then what fish they did hook were pilfered from their lines by seals. But as they say, every cloud has a silver lining and, when things settle down, the snapper fishing should be brilliant, the kingfish are beginning to gather on the deep reefs, while it’s that time of the year when the flathead drifts along the 50-metre contour never fail.
Aussie salmon schools have been parked off the headlands and there have been striped tuna dashing about. You might also find some tailor on the troll around the washes when the seas abate. Anchor and berley with bread around the washes and black drummer, bream and trevally will get in on the act.
Hawkesbury guide Ron Osman was fumbling about with frozen digits in Brisbane Water last month. The water temperature was registering just 11°C and the luderick were asleep. But he took plenty of luderick to 40cm in the Hawkesbury and found Aussie salmon off Box Head and in Pittwater.
Expect more salmon this month, more luderick and more leatherjackets. If the water is clear from weeks of relentless westerly winds then soak a live bait for John dory. Or do a jig over the kelp beds for squid. The colder it is, the bigger your calamari.
Another reliable source adds that the trevally are schooling at Scotland Island, while the hardy have been finding albeit small hairtail in Cowan Creek. Should you head further upstream then you’ll find flathead on the mud flats and bream around the oyster leases in places like Berowra, Mangrove and Mullet creeks.
Narrabeen Bait says there were tailor and salmon, bream and even some whiting on the beaches before the weeks of relentless swell. Despite the bitter winter weather, flathead have remained active in coastal lakes and lagoons like that at Narrabeen.
Harbour guide Craig McGill has been scoring plenty of luderick around the islands in Port Jackson, some whopping big tailor, oodles of trevally, and some squid for the frying. These species will stick around this month, along with many more salmon around The Heads.
Since the cessation of commercial fishing, fish numbers have just exploded in the harbour. I saw schools of big bream, luderick, surgeonfish, leatherjackets, red morwong and more under Manly Wharf one winter’s day in a scene that rivalled a tank in Oceanworld.
Down south, the sensational southern bluefin tuna bite has shutdown, sending tourists and their dollars scampering away from Bermagui, but there could still be some yellowfin and albacore off Sydney this month. Gemfish and blue eye will be on the bottom at Browns Mountain.
If that fails to excite them, make time to head away on a tropical fishing holiday. The latest edition of the North Australian Fish Finder that lobbed in my desk covers all the top spots in the north from Eden right around the top and back down to Perth. Grab a copy, a tinnie and a 4WD and you can guide yourself.
Of course, the other big hook this month is the Sydney International Boat Show. Savvy showgoers know it’s a great place to catch some bargain-priced fishing tackle, cut-price lures and braided lines, while also listening to the top rods pass-on the otherwise secret tips at the daily fishing clinic.
And with all those boats and boat-sales folk under the one big roof, something has to give. Usually, it’s the price. You can snap-up a discount tinnie package at the show. Take a tip and get a base boat and do the fit-out yourself in the backyard using bargain bits bought online and at eBay. By the time you’re finished it’ll be spring and the fish will be positively snapping.
Contact the writer at email@example.com.
Fishing Key —
AS Australian Salmon
Schooling fish that enjoys the cool winter waters. Troll minnow lures, cast small metal lures or saltwater flies, try soft-plastic lures and pitch live baits to the fish. Enjoy the sport of catching and Aussie salmon and keep one or two fish for a robust fish meal or the hot smoker. The fish doesn’t keep or freeze at all well.
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.
JD John Dory
A stealthy predator usually caught in ones and twos from the harbour’s deep holes and wharves where schools of yellowtail gather. Use a live bait suspended in mid-water under a bobby cork. Fights like a wet sock but taste incredibly good, though you get a small return in fillets. A real winter treat.
Herbivorous, with a taste for green weed, luderick are one of the most common fish in temperate estuaries. They inhabit deep rocky shores, sidle-up to pylons and piers and school over seagrass beds. Suspend some green weed bait (collected from the rocks or around ocean pools) about three metres below a perfectly weighted float. Berley with chopped weed and sand. First hour of the run-out tide is best. Bleed the fish, fillet and skin them, and cook and serve as you do veal schnitzel.
Fish the inshore reefs in 30-50 metres 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.
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.
A soft-mouthed schooling fish that generally lays low in the water column. Use plenty of berley, light line and soft baits such as peeled prawn, tuna cubes or pilchard fillets. Drift the bait to the bottom on a 1/0 light-gauge hook. Go slow when fighting the fish or you will tear the hook from its mouth. Bleed and eat fresh.
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