ACT News


Whales are up, fishing down

''BATEMANS Marine Park: a good day's fishing with plenty for tomorrow'' reads the sign on the breakwater at Corrigans Beach.

As the first light hits the water, a procession of power boats heads out on the silver waves, while anglers with handlines, bait and spinner rigs cast their lines into the wash left in the wake of countless bouncing craft.

For the amateur anglers, the marine park's popularity can be seen in the large numbers of boat trailers and four-wheel-drives congregating near the three-bay launch ramp.

But commercial fisherman Warren Brandes, who works off the coast from Batemans Bay, to Moruya and up to Durras, and sells his catch at the Canberra farmers markets, says the marine park has been a disaster. He uses hooks and traps, capturing leatherjacket, snapper, flathead, gummy and bronze whaler sharks.

''There's still plenty of fish out there, it's just the marine park has mucked things up; that's the main trouble. You haven't got anywhere to go hardly to fish. They closed a lot of areas down. It makes it a lot harder to get the fish.''

Sanctuaries and habitat protection areas have restricted him to specific areas.


''You can't hammer general purpose areas day after day and expect to catch fish. You've got to give it a rest and go somewhere else,'' Mr Brandes said.

He has sold his trawler, which once provided plentiful fresh prawns to ACT and coast consumers. Now Crystal Bay prawns are on sale at Batemans Bay for $32 a kilo.

''I used to catch all the big school prawns at Long Beach. We used to get hundreds of kilos over there until the marine park closed it all down. So there is no shortage of prawns there. You are just not allowed to catch them. It hasn't done anyone any favours.''

He has not caught prawns at Long Beach for six years.

''It's only five minutes to get out there, and straight in the prawn cooker, put the sign out and they are all gone there that day.

''Now, if you go in the shop, it's all farmed or frozen or imported.''

A healthy resurgence of humpback whales along the east coast has helped charter boat operator Darryl Stuart reshape his business after setbacks from the National Park and Wildlife Service and marine park.

Until recent years his charter service to Montague Island had little competition. Now six operators share the tourist bounty.

Fishing, whale watching and diving are making up the shortfall for Mr Stuart, who has been operating out of Narooma since 1983. ''I have built up the other side of the business to be maybe ahead of where I was.''

Whale numbers had been ''absolutely sensational''. ''We have just finished our third season and we have not missed a single trip of seeing a whale. There's so many whales, we just see them every single day.

"Twenty years ago - when I used to go fishing a lot - you'd be lucky to see one or two whales in the season.''

Mr Stuart attributes the higher numbers to a cessation of whaling. In Antarctica the Japanese had not been taking the humpback whales, choosing other species instead.

The marine park's impact had changed his business.

''Instead of getting the really serious fishermen now, they tend to go elsewhere, so we have built up with family groups and people who just want to go and have a good time.

''The marine parks did tend to stop a lot of the very serious fishermen. The whole town got affected by that, because we used to have huge numbers of fishermen come here to stay. Now they go elsewhere, where there are no marine parks.''