Nambucca River is full of fish

CHRIS DAVIS: Fourth generation commercial fisherman on the Nambucca River
CHRIS DAVIS: Fourth generation commercial fisherman on the Nambucca River

Chris Davis has been fishing commercially on the Nambucca River for 35 years, seven days a week … and his family have also been doing so for at least the three generations preceding.

He says while there are normally four or five full-time commercial fishermen on the river, currently there are only two, himself included.

"We use nets every time plus we are allowed 10 crab pots each … we catch enough daily to keep our shop stocked," Chris said.

"This last summer season has been terrific. Last winter was very ordinary, due to water temperatures and winds. Fish travel north to breed but last year the water was so warm they didn't come up past Forster."

This river is chokkas with fish - I haven't seen it this good in years

Nambucca Heads fisherman, Chris Davis

Chris said commercial fishers are always the brunt of recreational fishers complaints.

"We always get blamed but fish move … you have to have the right bait, the right hook, line and sinker and you have to be in the right place and the right time, plus the fish need to be hungry.

"And it is us who are putting the bait into the system, every day - we are feeding the fish for the amateurs."

He said the drop in commercial quantities as per the DPI figures were absolutely due to the drop on commercial fishers in NSW.

"There's not less fish, there's less fishermen, so of course the amount of effort recorded by DPI has decreased.

"Thirty five years ago there were 6000 fishers in NSW, now there are 600. 

"Plus the effort depends on the price - for example not so long ago you got top dollar for eels, because they were exported live overseas. But that's dropped right off now."

Chris said the real culprit in declining fish stocks was the ongoing destruction of wetlands.

"Wetlands are where the fish breed, lay their eggs and the young hatch  - 80 per cent of wetlands along the NSW coast have been destroyed. Without wetlands there is not protection for the eggs or the young fish."

He finished with this mind-boggling statistic:

"One hectare of wetlands yields US $18,000 of seafood per year … I don't think you get that off a hectare of land with cattle!"

Other commercial voices:

Cody Smart: "My father was fishing here in the 1980s, there was a decline in stocks in the '90s but there has been a slow increase since and things are good now.

"Public perception is that we harvest heavily but in fact we are only allowed to fish here 90 days a year and we are heavily regulated.

"We have been under a lot of pressure - we had to buy our own licences back last December."

Jody and Reala Brislane: "We've been fishing here for 30 years and there are more fish now than ever. What has really changed are the prices of different fish - snapper and bream haven't changed much but there are other species that ethnic groups in Sydney buy and they sell for really good money. We target them now.

"We've been reformed, we've got catch allocations, we've been capped. The bigger problem is how the river is managed. Trees have been removed and replaced with rock walls installed, which are terrible for fish habitat because there is nowhere to hide."