AFTER some really dubious decisions involving salmon netting and the closure of the Cronulla fisheries centre, it's good to see that NSW Fisheries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson has listened to anglers over the grey nurse shark issue.
There was never any reason to completely ban fishing around known shark aggregation sites. The more extremist wings of the environment movement have long lobbied for these bans - unfortunately the previous Labor government seemed to be leaning their way. Thankfully, that all changed at the last state poll.
The fact is that the measures today introduced by the Government should go a long way towards ensuring grey nurse sharks enjoy a positive future. Current science indicates there are between 1300-1800 sharks swimming around out there. That's a lot more than the 500 or so that hysterical greenies claim is all that's left.
Image: NSW DPI
Top-level fisheries scientists told Fisho this morning they were happy with the new management plans and that they were confident shark populations would increase, albeit slowly. That's great news. No one wants to see these graceful sharks become extinct in NSW waters.
Anglers should feel justifiably proud that the submissions we made to the grey nurse shark review have resulted in a largely positive outcome. The sharks will be protected from the main problem caused by rec fishing – ie, large baits on the bottom – while we can continue to enjoy jigging, casting or trolling lures and artificial baits around popular locations such as Fish and Black Rocks near South West Rocks and the Solitary Islands at Coffs.
While Fisho largely welcomes and supports today's announcements, we have some reservations about the blanket bait ban that's set to be imposed. We understand and accept that a big slab bait intended for a jewie would likely be appealing to a grey nurse prowling around the gutters on a deep reef. All the data indicates that that sort of bait poses an unacceptable risk to these harmless sharks. Such fishing activity should, in our view, rightly be banned in known grey nurse habitat.
But to ban all bait fishing seems a bit excessive. It's highly dubious, for instance, that a grey nurse will rise through the water column to eat a livie being slow trolled on the surface for a mackerel or kingfish. It's also ridiculous to think that one of these docile fish-eating sharks would snaffle a peeled prawn, crab or piece of cunje being tossed into a wash for a bream or drummer.
As it stands now, those forms of bait fishing will be banned in grey nurse areas. We understand that the blanket bait ban is more about compliance issues than actually protecting the sharks. That's fair enough but if Ms Hodgkinson is fair dinkum in her desire to protect grey nurse sharks while also wanting to give NSW's 1 million anglers the opportunity to enjoy wetting a line, she should instigate an immediate review of the no bait policy so it can be refined to only exclude baits that can cause problems to sharks.
Other bait fishing methods not likely to result in interaction with grey nurses – like a bream bait, for example – should be allowed as per normal. What's needed here, in our opinion, is immediate and further research to clarify the risks, if any, of these other bait fishing methods. If the research indicates there's no problem, well and good. If there is a problem, then as responsible and conservation-minded anglers we would obviously have no issue complying with any necessary bans or restrictions.
NSW Shooters & Fishers MP Robert Brown is right, in our opinion, when he says he "supports the thrust of the review (yet) cannot understand why surface fishing with artificial baits is allowed and ... a prohibition on the use of trolled natural baits (including livebaits) is proposed".
Brown has promised to seek clarification from the minister on what he justifiably calls a "curious recommendation".
As we understand it, there is provision for these new grey nurse shark regulations to be fine-tuned over the next few months. Hopefully, this bait issue will be discussed and rectified, following the necessary research. In the meantime, it's good to see some commonsense come into play over this grey nurse saga – fisheries issues in NSW have for far too long been bereft of anything even closely resembling rational decision making ...
Jim Harnwell is the editor & publisher of Fishing World.
POSTSCRIPT: Fisho has just learnt from Environment Editor John Newbery that the new measures announced today will bizarrely affect Sydney-based luderick anglers who fish a popular rock platform near to a GNS aggregation site off Coogee. As weed is classified as a "bait" its use will be banned at this site, despite the fact a grey nurse shark is extremely unlikely to ever eat a bit of weed drifted under a pencil float! Fisho now calls upon Minister Hodgkinson to modify the restrictions to remedy this ridiculous situation as soon as possible!