Fishing for Bills
More than 1,000 anglers on 175-plus boats put to sea in pursuit of game fish and glory during the two-weekend long Interclub Tournament in Port Stephens last month. In its 49th year, the Interclub bares testimony to the power of recreational fishing, its sustainability and its value to local economies. Those championing more marine parks please take note.
According to a report from Earnst and Young on the Economic Impact of Recreational Fishing in Port Stephens, each angler spent $291 per day on their fishing trip. Back when the report was released in 2005, this amounted to $80 million in angling dollars annually in the local economy.
The Interclub game fishing tournament, the largest game fishing event of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, is said to generate $10 million alone each year. More than 90 per cent of all fish including marlin are tagged. So it’s a win-win fishery.
A report commissioned for the State Government found recreational fishing for striped marlin generated $112 million for the NSW economy, while commercial fishing for the same species put just $4.6 million into NSW.
As marlin are worth more alive than dead, the big longline catches in the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery makes no dollars or sense. Total allowable catch limits were released last month (see www.afma.gov.au) and longliners actively target striped marlin.
But what we should be hearing are protection measures for all marlin to underpin the valuable recreational fishery. Besides, the fish are high in mercury and safer seafood options exist.
Fish Habitat Funding
For all the revenue raised by our fishing licences, very little goes back into saltwater fisheries enhancement schemes. Oh, there are plans. It’s just that in meantime we might all hang up our rods.
As access to traditional fishing grounds is reeled back, and tried-and-trusted fishing methods are curtailed, the focus should turn to creating alternative fishing hot spots as compensation.
What I’m talking about are manmade reefs, scuttled ships, and other amenities like wharves and piers. Take a lead from the movie Field of Dreams – build it and they will come – and create new fishing spots to take the heat of other supposedly more sensitive areas.
The NSW fish-aggregating device or FAD program is a case in point. The series of 25 buoys anchored in the ocean between Tweed Heads and Eden attracts oodles of pelagic fish that would otherwise swim past.
But it’s the loss of reef, island, headland and estuarine grounds due to fishing bans that needs addressing. Besides, the FADs are located from 10-25km offshore and not everyone can access them.
With competition so fierce at many established fishing spots, an artificial reef or two would help. Build it off Quarantine or Chinamen’s beach in hard-fished Sydney Harbour, Portuguese Beach in Pittwater, or West Head in Broken Bay.
Of course, artificial reefs are proven fish attractors and those in Botany Bay, Lake Macquarie, St Georges Basin and Merimbula are becoming fishier all the time. But these are all recreational fishing havens in any case.
There is an offshore reef program, funded by the Recreational Fishing Trust, but it’s slow getting off the ground. For the land-based, how about a Melbourne-like pier jutting out into Botany Bay.
Meanwhile, iconic Fish Rock and Green Island are now lure trolling-only waters due to claims bait fishing threatens the grey nurse shark population. It’s a loss of another fishing hot spot and locals deserve a great big artificial reef in Trial Bay.
Jervis Bay fish kill
The seagrass meadows wave like the lush green hills around Bega, the water is as clear as rarefied air, as a kaleidoscope of fish gather in terrific shoals and swim nonchalantly under your boat. But that was Jervis Bay before the big fish kills.
Anglers were dealt a blow over summer when thousands of dead or dying fish unexpectedly floated to the surface in the seemingly pristine south coast waterway. It follows recent mysterious fish and bird kills in other parts of the world and questions the usefulness of marine parks.
While environmentalists insist marine parks are the best way to preserve fish stocks, with Ian Kiernan recently weighing into the debate, clean water is the key to healthy fisheries.
Robert Brown MLC of the Shooters and Fishers Party, who initiated and chaired the NSW Legislative Council Select Committee Inquiry on Recreational Fishing late last year, believes the fish kills are evidence of the ineffectiveness of marine parks in protecting fish.
“The massive fish kills in the Jervis Bay Marine Park confirm that the main threats to our marine environment are pollution, inappropriate development and exotic species – not recreational fishing,” Brown says.
“But the NSW Labor Government would rather keep declaring parks for political rather than ecological gain,” he added
Thousands of dead fish, kangaroos and farm stock washed up on the shores around Moreton Bay following the Brisbane floods. NSW anglers should also brace themselves for more fish kills on the North Coast where acid-sulphate soils are a huge issue.
Test results have so far revealed that a micro-algal bloom in the Carama Creek area is the most likely cause of death for thousands of fish which washed up in Jervis Bay.
Harmful algae species do occur naturally in estuarine and marine environments and can bloom if environmental conditions are right from time to time. Fish species affected by the kill varied in size and included flathead, whiting, mullet, luderick and catfish.
Any further fish kills should be reported to I&I NSW’s 24 hour hot line 1800 043 536.
David Lockwood’s Guide to Fishing – March
Game fishers were wondering if their onboard temperature gauges had gone haywire when the water spiked to 29.3C. But the hot, blue current is also delivering sizzling fishing action within Cooee of the coast. And the fishing will remain red hot this month.
While a La Nina event – this is one of the strongest on record – is associated with cooler-than-normal ocean temperatures, there’s a hot current kissing the southern half of Australia. It shows up clearly on the CSIRO’s ocean-temperature maps at www.cmar.csiro.au/remotesensing/oceancurrents/sst_anom/latest.html.
The current has brought otherwise-oceanic yellowfin tuna and dolphin fish (aka mahi mahi) to Sydney Heads, cobia and loads of small whaler and hammerhead sharks to the estuaries, and many more blue marlin than in previous years out wide.
It’s possible mangrove jacks and giant herring are taking up station in our coastal lakes and lagoons. I was going to add that sub-tropical spotted and Spanish mackerel might make it to the Sydney coast – read on – and that sailfish and rainbow runner will turn up offshore.
Another hot-water indicator, the prized wahoo is giving game fishers a run for their money off Sydney and ports to the south. On the Central Coast reefs you can land pearl perch, amberjack and Samson fish, and sweetlip.
And the marlin are right in close. Central Coast skipper Scott Thorrington scored a 55kg black marlin in 20 fathoms, virtually within earshot of Terrigal Haven. Marlin have also been caught in close to Sydney and Jervis Bay. Snapper anglers have been hooking them on pilchard baits a few hundred metres offshore.
March is always a hot month for game fish. Troll small lures and don’t go outside three miles. Or troll big lures along the continental shelf for big blue marlin. This is likely to be the best year for them in decades off Sydney.
Interestingly, Spanish and spotted mackerel have made a once-in-a-decade return to Sydney, the southernmost end of their range. While a local landed a 17kg Spanish mackerel on a lure near Terrigal, it wasn’t a fluke – spearfishers have been getting mackerel off the Central Coast and there were whispers of big Spaniards at Long Reef.
A kissing cousin to the Spanish mackerel, spotted mackerel to 7kg are mixed in with the masses of bonito, mackerel tuna, salmon and tailor boiling around the headlands. Troll minnow lures at dawn for best results. March is great for trolling.
Gordon Baird took his son Connor on a trolling trip around The Heads. Within 20 minutes, in just 20 metres of water and less than 50 metres from South Head, Connor landed a 3.5kg yellowfin tuna. Normally, you would need to run 10 miles to sea at least.
Pittwater guide Peter Le Blang has been getting keeper kings around Broken Bay. The best fish measured 105cm, tipped the scales to 10.2kg, and fell for a downrigged trolled squid bait. Amberjack, Samson fish and small cobia are kicking about.
Hawkesbury guide Ron Osman has been targeting the jewfish around the river mouth. There are plenty of school-sized fish to 6kg, some similar sized kingfish, and flathead to 90cm or about 5kg. All this and more will be snapping this month.
Harbour guide Craig McGill is among the many anglers who have been kept busy by the swarms of small kingfish. The markers off Dobroyd Point have been firing and busy. Now, however, the bigger keeper kings are starting to move back into the harbour.
On the beaches, whiting are biting and there’s a good chance of a jewfish later in the month, during the evening high tide, especially now that the holiday crowds have petered out.
Back upstream, fat blue swimmer and mud crabs are about in good numbers. Add some squid to the mix and there really are rich seafood pickings in the hot water at present. And we’re in for months more of it.
The weather bureau says the La Nina pattern affecting Australia is the strongest since 1917. There’s an argument there that these record warmest ocean temperatures have at least contributed to increasing the intensity of both the flooding and the tropical cyclone activity.
The current weather cycle isn’t forecast to end until late April and beyond that the bureau is expecting a wetter-than-normal winter then a drier-than-normal spring.
Finally, our thoughts are with skipper Scott Thorrington. The Terrigal-based charter ace lost a couple of toes after a deck hatch on his boat slammed shut. Take heed fellow boaters.
Contact this writer at email@example.com
Fishing Key —
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.
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.
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.
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 you boat.
February is peak season for small black marlin that, in a good season with warm water, 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.
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.
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.
Tun Striped tuna and Bonito
School of small tuna can be found zipping across the surface at first light. Cast small metal slugs and retrieve fast, try saltwater flies, or troll minnow lures for the bonito, which are great eaten fresh on the barbie.
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.
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