The NSW government plans to reduce restrictions on commercial fishing in several south coast lakes and estuaries. Photo: Kitty Hall
A controversial proposal to reduce restrictions on commercial fishing in several south coast lakes and estuaries and to lift a ban on ocean haul netting for some popular recreational fish species has been labelled insane and a threat to fish stocks and the coast's economy.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries on Friday released a mass of documentation supporting its reform program for NSW commercial fishing.
It includes options to allow mesh netting in parts of Merimbula Lake and a reduction in restrictions on commercial fishing in other popular south coast waterways, such as Coila Lake and the Moruya and Shoalhaven Rivers. The ban on haul netting would be lifted in a section of Wallaga Lake at Bermagui and the use of 400-metre mesh nets would be permitted on weekdays in parts of Wapengo Lake, if the proposals are adopted.
One of the reform options proposes removing restrictions that apply to haul netting Australian salmon and tailor, and the inclusion of kingfish as a ''conditional target species'' for commercial netting.
In a document explaining the need for reform, the DPI claims fish stocks that had been subject to commercial harvesting for more than 50 years were generally in good shape, but the economic viability of the commercial fishing industry wasn't.
It said the industry had been squeezed by many factors, including the loss of some significant fishing grounds through the introduction of recreational fishing havens and marine parks, and a build-up over many decades of regulations that restrict the way [commercial] fishers operate.
The Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, said the Commercial Fisheries Reform Program was developed in response to an independent review of NSW
commercial fisheries policy, management and administration in 2012.
"The reform program aims to remove unnecessary fishing controls and improve the general management of commercial fisheries in NSW,'' Ms Hodgkinson said.
The president of the Canberra Fisherman's Club, Glen Malam, said the proposal to lift bans on netting was a step in the wrong direction.
''Nets can be very destructive to the age profile of the fish we get down the coast,'' he said.
''The gauge of the nets is such that under-size fish are allowed to swim free. What that means is that just about everything in those creeks and rivers above the legal [take] size will be wiped out.
''It pretty much closes it down for amateur fishing totally. Places like Batemans Bay, Narooma, Tuross they rely heavily on the little bloke in his tinny going out for a fish. It makes very poor economic sense to be doing this.''
Mr Malam wasn't necessarily against commercial fishing, but was concerned about the wisdom of some of the decisions being made.
''We've got more and more Commonwealth marine parks appearing out to sea. Obviously professional fishermen have had that closed off to them, so they come in closer - which I think is absolute madness.
''It's a backward step because it's putting more pressure on areas that are already under pressure.''
He described the proposal to allow beach haulers to net kingfish as insane. Kingfish stocks had made an incredible comeback since traps were banned.
The NSW opposition primary industries spokesman, Steve Whan, said he did not see any need to wind back measures the Labor Government had put in place to enhance recreational fishing opportunities.
An independent survey commissioned by the DPI found last year that each year recreational fishing was worth $360 million to the south coast and about $3.5 billion to the NSW economy.
Documents relating to the commercial fishing reform program can be found at www.dpi.gov.au. The closing date for submissions is May 19.