Terns Turn Tide
  |  First Published: October 2010

A lengthy fishing excursion to the north of Weipa at the Pennefather River has kept me some distance from my keyboard and from Teewah Beach recently. And I was happy not to think about computers, mobile phones or television and was just lapped up every moment of my stay at this fantastic and special location.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and it was a long and sad drive back to Teewah where I anticipated finding a barren ocean. I was in a premeditated state of depression and was fully expecting the first vehicle I'd see on the beach to be towing a jet boat with yellow lettering.

To my surprise however, I drove on to the beach from Freshwater Road and the first thing of note was the large flock of terns sitting on the beach. Terns on the beach in winter means that tailor aren't too far away and my spirits were immediately lifted.

Over the next few days, I spoke to a few people who told of a few hauls of mullet that the pros had early in the season, but very little since then. At that stage there hadn't been a net shot for weeks and ‘coincidentally’ anglers were catching fish.

Bream, which have been a rarity off the beach in recent years, were being caught along with tarwhine, whiting, dart and flathead. Consistent catches of tailor by bait and lure anglers were being reported. Beautiful clear and mostly calm surf added to the fun being had with silver flashes from the sides of the hooked fish providing a brilliant visual aspect.

This unexpected novelty of catching fish in winter continued near unabated for another couple of weeks before the inevitable happened. I had been told that the netters were about to change to tailor nets and within days of receiving that information, I saw them heading up the beach.

Sure enough, we later see them coming down the beach fully loaded with tailor extracted from their northern spawning migration. As expected, the fish went off the chew at about the same time as the net was shot. That was the Friday afternoon before a busy weekend of tourists on the beach and few, if any, fish were caught.

A week or so later and in perfectly calm conditions, schools of fish could be seen feeding just offshore. Terns were hitting the water where the schools were, indicating that predator fish such as tailor, mackerel, tuna or dart must be present. Small dart were visible again in waves breaking at the gutter edges and it was obvious that the fish were returning following the previous netting.

Unfortunately, the next day had the pros on the beach again and with a haul of permit (snub-nosed dart) this time. Each of the fish in the net were large specimens of 7-8kg or bigger and would make a good year for any angler who happened to beach one of these with rod and reel. It has been reported that the pros sold the catch for $2 a kilo.

All went quiet again with no sign of life in the surf or immediate offshore waters and a distinct absence of terns until several days later.

I began seeing the odd splash from tuna and decided to spin a few lures over coffee rock in the channel south of Teewah to see if there were any tailor about. Only a couple of tiny choppers hit the lure, but a school of mac tuna swam into range just as I was about to call it quits.

I knew that the fish weren't tailor as they came into view, but I didn't know what they were until I'd nearly beached the fish. It’s been a long time since I’d seen a school of macks in the surf like that: disturbing the water surface with their movement but not feeding. The next day I saw a lot more tuna the same size, but this time they were in the back of a ute.

And that brings us up to date with the surf once again: a few large shoals of pilchards and us once again waiting for the return of predator fish to feed on them.

The mullet netting season has now finished, so hopefully we will get a chance to fish for some before the algal blooms discolours the surf for the summer.

There are lessons to be learned from events of the last few months of both a positive and negative nature. It was very pleasing to see fish returning to the surf here when there was little netting occurring. We now know that a cessation of netting should it ever occur, will deliver more fish to the gutters.

But the reason for less netting is that there are less fish to net and I can't imagine that situation changing for the better any time soon. The pros are also demonstrating that any fish that they can wrap their nets around is fair game even if it's worth next to nothing and is consumed by cats. From their point of view it is better to get $2 a kilo for snub-nosed dart that rec anglers would pay thousands to chase, let alone catch and recover the cost of fuel they've used for the day unsuccessfully chasing higher valued fish.

Green Zones

I recently received an email about the Peter Garret proposed Green Zones for waters inshore and offshore of Double Island Point and Fraser Island. It was a submission to the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts by the Tin Can Bay Chamber of Commerce.

Representing several interest groups, including Sunfish Fraser Coast, Tin Can Bay Fishing Club, Queensland Seafood Industry Association, Rainbow Beach Commerce and Business Association and Marine Queensland, the submission is opposed to any introduction of Green Zones to the area, which is the general consensus of recreational fishing groups around the country.

As a rec fisher, I obviously support the campaign, however, there is one aspect that I don’t quite understand: Do rec fishers really want to amalgamate with the netters?

In my experience, recreational fishers’ attitude towards beach netters is not a friendly one, and I’m sure the feeling is mutual. So why would we want to jump into bed with this group when they stand to benefit at our expense? If the Tin Can Bay Chamber of Commerce, and all of the other groups and individuals opposed to these Green Zones, are successful in preventing the proposal then we would still have netters on the beach! As rec fishers we would be no better off and may as well allow them to Green Zone sections of beach.

Reef closures to rec, pro and charter fishers is an entirely different entity to beach closures. Very little if any netting occurs around the reefs and nets are the demon that the rec community should be trying to shake.

By all means battle alongside the offshore pros and charter operators, but I believe to allow the perpetuation of inshore netting as a result would be a disaster of monumental proportions for fish stocks.

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