Merimbula Lake netting plan has anglers reeling

A controversial proposal to reduce restrictions on commercial fishing in several south coast lakes and estuaries including Merimbula Lake has been labelled insane and a threat to fish stocks and the coast's economy.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries released documentation supporting its reform program for NSW commercial fishing, on Friday, April 11.

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.

The proposal for Merimbula Lake affects the waterway south of the causeway. The changes would mean that meshing net could be used between sunset and sunrise from March to November with restrictions on weekends, public holidays and the NSW school holidays.

However there have been concerns over the way the proposals have surfaced with accusations that the NSW Government has tried to fly under the radar.

President of Merimbula Big Game and Lakes Angling Club, John Whittaker said that he had only just discovered that the proposals have been put forward despite doing frequent volunteer work with fisheries.

“This is absolute lunacy; we found out Friday (April 11) via a local angler and started to investigate. It affects the area from the causeway going in to the lake heading south. It will take out the sea grass and disrupt hatchery areas. Whoever came up with this has rocks in his head,” Mr Whittaker said.

The club has sent out an email to members and has also posted information on Facebook concerning the proposal. Submissions to the NSW Government have to be in by May 19 and Mr Whittaker said that there are three options, either to submit a response individually, download the DPI pdf, fill it in and return it or take part in the electronic petition.

Mr Whittaker said that it’s ironic that he works as a volunteer with fisheries teaching about the ecological importance of sea grasses “and here we are about to rip it up”, he said. “This doesn’t sit well with me. Allowing netting will kill off the stocks, damage the sea grass which is a nursery for small fry and could affect oyster growth by stirring up sediment.”

Sapphire Coast Tourism manager, Anthony Osbourne said: “I couldn't imagine, with tourism dollars so dominant and critical to our economy and with protected waterways so crucial to the visitor experience, that there could be a rational economic argument for hauling in a few fish from Merimbula Lake. The thing the bureaucrats need to take into account, and you hope they would, is that the negative perceptions will do significant damage to the destination brand long before we know the reality of the effect on fish stocks.”

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.

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.

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.

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