ENVIRONMENT: Thoughtfulness...

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The Eastern blue groper is NSW’s state fish. Image: Nathan Debono

EVERY year about now there’s an article or letter in the local media about fishing at Sydney’s Clovelly Beach. Clovelly sits in the middle of an inter-tidal protected area so no bait gathering’s permitted, but you can legally line fish… for anything but blue groper. That’s because Clovelly is home to "bluey" (or several generations of blueys), who’s been admired, and hand fed by snorkellers for many years. The Eastern blue groper also happens to be NSW’s state fish.

Clovelly is an odd layout. The beach itself sits at the end of a long reasonably narrow cove. Up until the 1930’s each side of the cove was basically just broken rocks and boulders, but as part of a Great Depression-era job creation program both sides were concreted over and turned into flat sunbaking/access areas, with sets of steps leading into the water.

At times in recent years blue groper have been illegally speared in the area, much to the outrage of locals, so now there’s also a local ban on line fishing for them as well, there and in the adjacent Gordon’s Bay. But you can legally fish for other fish. It’s not often you see someone doing this other when there’s a big sea running, and folks aren’t swimming. Every now and then, though, someone decides to cast a line from the concrete apron into the swimming area on a fine flat day when swimmers are about. Sometimes they do so because it’s a safe area for kids to fish, sometimes because they’re being bloody minded about their “right to fish.” Either way it gives the anti-fishing brigade a free kick.

There’s already a fairly strong anti-fishing element in Sydney’s east. Part of it comes from the animal welfare people, part from scuba divers who want fish to be undisturbed, part from swimmers who worry about being hooked or the mess and risk from discarded terminal tackle some fishers leave behind. The large exclusion zones proposed in the now defunct proposals for a Sydney Marine Park appeared to reflect both their views and their capacity to effectively lobby for lock outs.

Now this piece is not intended to be an argument for further regulations and bans on recreational access, but it does want to put the case for common sense.

We rec fishers would like to retain our social licence to fish. Why choose to fish in an area where numbers of competing users are going to get upset about what they perceive, rightly or wrongly, to be a threat to their favourite fish or a danger to themselves? This isn’t a conservation or a legal argument. It’s a bit akin to the case we’ve put against supertrawlers over the years. Despite fisheries managers and scientists assuring us there were enough small pelagics to support these large scale extractions, we contended that the public at large didn’t like the idea of supertrawlers working in Australian waters, that it was socially rather than scientifically unacceptable.

So, how about choosing not to fish in the Clovelly swimming area…. before some agency is pressured and decides to pass regulations and put up more signs banning fishing in the area and its surrounds altogether.

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