Three times in the last two years I and my fishing mates have had our NSW fishing licences (“fishing fee receipts”) checked and our fish measured and counted. What’s so unusual about that? Two things really. Firstly, each time we were fishing rock platforms around Sydney Harbour and a three-person crew of fishing inspectors motored up to the rocks. Two jumped ashore to undertake their checks while the third held the boat off and returned to pick the other two up when they’d finished. Secondly, I’ve been fishing around Sydney for nearly 60 years and these were the first occasions that I’ve been checked for compliance.
I’ve seen boats being checked on the Harbour over the years but until recently the inspectors seemed to lack the drive or perhaps authorisation to land in fairly hazardous spots to perform their duties. Or maybe there just weren’t enough of them. My dad fished until he was 85, at least a couple of times a week for the last 30 years, and only had his catch inspected twice in his whole fishing career, both times at easily accessed estuary locations.
The young, fit, uniformed inspectors (male and female) who checked us were friendly and polite, and reminded us that in two of the spots that we weren’t allowed to pick bait weed for the luderick and rock blackfish we were chasing. A crazy rule that only applies in a few marine protected areas, but we did have our own supplies sitting happily in a couple of ice cream containers. We all had our licences, our retained fish were all of legal length, and we were under the relevant bag limits. So no issues. One inspector mentioned that an angler fishing about 100 metres away had 16 silver sweep in his keeper net and told him that he was only four short of his bag limit. I must admit that I’d forgotten that fish like sweep which don’t have a specific size or bag limit are still subject to an overall 20 bag limit.
It was a wakeup call and reminded us that if you’re keen on keeping fish for a feed you must be up to date on size and bag limit changes. I now release all blue groper I catch, but when I started rock fishing in NSW in the 1960s their numbers had been so reduced by a combination of line, spear and commercial fishing that there was a zero-bag limit anyhow. As their numbers rebuilt, Fisheries introduced a two-fish-by-line-only limit without a size limit. The last round of changes retained the bag limit but put in a minimum size of 30 cm with only one to be over 60cm. Mulloway have, in the last few years, had the bag limit reduced from five to two to one, with the minimum size limit going out to 70cm. Similarly, the rock blackfish size limit has moved from 20 cm to 30 cm during my fishing career, and luderick from 25 cm to 27 cm. Both now have bag limits of 10, although until not too long-ago luderick was 20.
At the end of the day, I like to think that anglers obey these rules because they respect the fish and hope that numbers will be sustained through these sorts of management efforts. We might get frustrated that the rules for commercial operators can be different but shouldn’t use that as an excuse to cheat on our sport’s rules. And as the last couple of years has demonstrated to me, compliance checking in NSW is now a lot more serious.