Fishing debate sparks divided opinions

FISHERMEN in Port Macquarie have been in the line of fire recently, as Chris Ward reports.

It all started last week when criticism was directed at a group of fishermen who accidentally hooked a grey nurse shark.

Despite showing they did their best to free the shark, it sparked online debate about the merits of the footage and the relationship between man and marine life.

Less than a week later, it has erupted again after our Monday page one photo of teenage Port Macquarie fisherman, Kurtis Nocelli, with an impressive blue marlin he caught in the Golden Lure fishing competition. Today the Port News investigates the merits of sport fishing at a time when our town is chock-full of avid anglers who are more than prepared to defend one of Australia’s most iconic pastimes.

THE CASE AGAINST:

GOLDEN Lure weigh-in photos have sparked debate about the credibility of the fishing tournament.

Some posted about their outrage on the Port News Facebook page and website at the sight of an almost 150 kilogram blue marlin being weighed in.

The North Coast Environment Council has joined the fiery discussion.

Honorary secretary for the council John Jeayes said the sport of game fishing was no longer sustainable.

“In this day and age you would think sports fisherman would be looking after their own interests by adopting more modern practices by running more competitions along the line of tag and release,” he said. “It would go a long way to ensure the future of this wonderful species and the same for their sport.”

He said people have come to prefer to admire the wild animals in their home habitat, alive, rather than being strung up in front of a crowd.

“It’s just no longer sustainable to kill a species just for the glory of a photo,” he said. “In this modern age people come to admire photos of live animals rather than something that seems so barbaric.

“And these large fish aren’t much good to eat either because of their high metal count so it’s a huge waste.”

The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) ensured all game fishing tournaments in NSW follow a strict set of rules which are governed by the NSW Game Fishing Association.

A DPI spokesman said they must abide by the code of conduct which states they will; “Cooperate and participate in research and development activities that will enhance the sustainability of the resource, offer free access to fish for recognised research programs and participate in biological sampling programs and in the collection of catch and effort statistics.”

He said biological samples have been taken from landed fish retained at the Port Macquarie tournament for genetic and other biological research.

“Without fish being retained by game fishers, research such as this would be prohibitively expensive,” he said.

“Tournament participants also provided their catch and effort statistics for a long term monitoring program run by DPI that is aimed at supporting the assessment and sustainable management of billfish, shark, tuna and other pelagic species.”

THE CASE FOR:

DEBATE about the killing of fish was sparked on Monday when Port News pictured young angler Kurtis Necelli on our front page with an impressive catch in the Golden Lure fishing competition.

The 15-year-old managed to reel in a 144 kilogram Blue Marlin and was pictured with it at the weigh station.

Several comments were made on the Port News website about the unnecessary killing of fish.

The tournament’s onshore coordinator, Michael Townsend, dismissed the negative comments as uneducated ramblings.

He refuted the comments and said fishermen’s actions in the Golden Lure tournament were actually helping many fish species.

“First of all we’ve had only three captured [or kept]  blue marlin and 20 others that were tagged and released,” he said.

“That ratio alone proves that we are not just out here killing fish. The fish that are kept are not wasted either – they are shared between families and eaten.”

It’s what happens before portions of fish are passed around that Mr Townsend believes is ultimately helping marine life.

He said a marine biologist is on hand each day to take samples of each and every fish that is caught.

“We are providing the marine biologists with vital information that assists their research of the animals and their environment,” he said. “No matter what it is, whether it’s a fish or shark, whatever.”

He said the tournament organisers had taken steps to encourage the eco-friendly tag and release option.

“There is equal prize money for tag and release as well as capture,” he said. “Those marlins that are tagged are tracked all over the world which helps for research too.”

He said it was up to boat skippers at the time as to which action they would take when they land a fish.

“It’s up to the skipper’s discretion, but as you can see from the numbers already that only three have been kept, the majority choose to release them anyway,” he said.

“It’s showing our young up and coming fisherman they don’t have to keep everything they catch. It’s teaching them to respect nature.

“And it’s important for young kids to have the privilege to go out there, catch fish and make an informed decision if they want to keep it or release it.”

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