No fish to catch in Nambucca River

AMATEUR FISHERS: Members of the Offshore Fishing Club say something needs to change to deal with the decline in fish numbers
AMATEUR FISHERS: Members of the Offshore Fishing Club say something needs to change to deal with the decline in fish numbers

On Thursday members of the Nambucca Heads Offshore Fishing Club gathered in a show of strength to add weight to their calls for the closure of commercial fishing on the Nambucca River.

Club president, Bill Watts, said the problem of declining fish numbers had plagued the area for many years and it was one that affected a huge number of people in the community.

"We have the commercial fishers, the recreational fishers and the tourists who come here but it is also about the environmental issues of sustainability and river health," Bill said.

"This is no witch hunt against the commercial blokes, it is question of sustaining this river system for the benefit of everyone."

Peter Hudson has been wetting his line in the Nambucca River for 49 years and he summed it up simply as:

This is about a whole ecosystem (socially and economically) that hangs off one fish

Peter Hudson

"As a kid I remember when the mullet was running there would be solid fish in the river mouth - it's not like that anymore," Peter said.

"Back then it was wooden boats and cotton nets and they were hauling in a thousand tons. Now there are speed boats and nylon monofilament nets - and it is the breeders that are being caught.

He said the DPI made a serious mistake 18 years ago when it closed Urunga, Kalang and Bellinger Rivers to commercial harvesting, thus forcing professional fishers into the Nambucca and the Macleay systems.

"You can't hunt a resource intensively without expecting some damage."

Another veteran is John Gooch, who admits catching a fish does take some skill but previously anyone could catch a feed because there were enough fish.

"And that's where the problem lies - if any fisher could catch a fish here, the economic flow would be fantastic," John said.

He believes responsibility for the problem should be shared.

"We amateurs take a lot too, bag limits are way too high … we're all to blame, it's human greed."

Club secretary/treasurer Rhett Smyth tells of being approached by three men in a boat at the Stuart Island boat ramp, who wanted to know where they should fish to find something they could keep.

"They had been fishing for three days without a legal fish. I told them about the commercial harvesting system in place and that many locals were angry that the river had been stripped bare," Rhett said.

"They asked if there were any rivers nearby not subject to netting and I told them the Bellinger, Kalang and Deep Creek were free of harvesters … they headed to Urunga for the remaining 10 days of their holidays."

He said the local economy had lost hundreds if not thousands of dollars by these fishers moving to another town, "not to mention a reputation that this is not a place to come if you expect to catch fish".

"The money spent by recreational fishers annually in NSW is staggering … I don't think our shire is getting our share of this."

The club is calling for a meeting of all parties - commercial and recreational fishers, as well as DPI and Nambucca Shire Council - to discuss the matter.

"We need to put everything on the table and see how the river can be better managed," Bill said.

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