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Billfish go off
  |  First Published: March 2011



There’s certainly been no shortage of fish or political controversy down here at the moment. Let’s start with the fishing and then we’ll discuss marine parks, sanctuary zones and fish kills in Jervis Bay.

After several poor seasons, the marlin finally showed up over Christmas with a good scattering of stripes out wide and blacks in closer.

The past three or four seasons have been pretty poor with very few fish showing at The Banks and only sporadic showings of striped marlin out over the canyons and the continental shelf.

But The Banks has had one of its best seasons in a decade, with most crews who knew what they were doing raising fish and getting tags in.

As you would expect, it was a bit crowded at times on a good day but by lunchtime a lot of boats had gone home and the afternoon sessions were just as good, anyway.

We fished The Mud inside The Banks a few times to avoid the crowds and the fish were there on bait also. Out a bit wider, The Block produced fish and up to the north the guys from Kiama and Shellharbour caught blacks and stripes over Mt Fuji.

The seals posed a bit of a problem some days but most anglers agreed that there weren’t as many of these pesky mammals as there has been in previous seasons.

A mate who fishes the Port Kembla Islands reported a big influx of seals so maybe they all headed north for the Summer.

The Banks also had a good population of bronze whalers ready to grab a bait that got too close to the main hump or down a bit deep. The odd one would also grab a bait off the top as well, so no one was immune from having a trace or bait chewed up and being sharked.

Some of The Banks blacks were solid fish. My mate Chris Pender took a couple of golf mates, neither of whom had done a lot of fishing, so the plan was to have a bottom bash and catch a feed.

As they drifted around The Banks, Chris put out a slimy mackerel on 24kg tackle just in case and within 15 minutes it went off slowly. They hooked the fish and the two golfers took turns on the rod for over three hours before the line parted.

Chris called the fish for all of 180kg and he’s caught a 200kg blue marlin so that would be a valid estimation.

BAD KINGS

That’s the second big black that Magic has hooked at The Banks that couldn’t be stopped with 24kg tackle. They hooked one three years ago that caned them for six hours before it got away and the rod broke.

The guys on Dad’s Boat tagged one in late January that they called for 140kg.

For those who didn’t want to wear themselves out battling marlin, The Banks and the Shallows also produced some nice kings.

Quite a few fish to 15kg were taken with the odd one up to 20kg. Bigger fish blew away anglers on 37kg stand-up tackle and 80lb braid.

The Currarong cliffs also produced some big kings on deep-rigged live baits and squid.

Out wide some big mahi mahi were taken by boats trolling lures for marlin. Several fish to 20kg were taken, the first big dollies taken here in several seasons.

My kids got one about 12kg on a marlin lure that was the biggest they’d ever seen. It tasted pretty good, too.

The guys on Frigate got one of 23kg out from Batemans Bay on a marlin lure.

PARKS MESS

Over the Christmas break and into mid-January Jervis Bay suffered one of the biggest and most devastating fish kills in living memory.

Tens of thousands of bream, flathead, drummer, blackfish, mullet, whiting, stingrays and baitfish died from causes which still remain a mystery.

The most popular theory at present is the heavy rains of November and December may have sparked a red algae bloom on the northern and eastern shores of the bay. The algae strips saltwater of dissolved oxygen, causing fish to suffocate.

Those that witnessed the shores of Hare Bay, Long Beach and Honeymoon Bay lined with dead fish also reporting seeing many fish still alive and apparently gasping for oxygen, so this theory may be accurate.

However, testing has not revealed the extremely low oxygen levels that you would expect with such a substantial kill. There have been no signs that sea birds or mammals have been affected so lack of oxygen may be the cause.

The worst affected area was Hare Bay, between Callala Bay and Cabbage Tree Creek, with thousands of big bream and flathead dead. Many of the flathead were over 80cm and some 100cm, so they were all the breeders that were locked away by the Jervis Bay Marine Park when they made Hare Bay and Cabbage Tree Creek off limits to anglers five years ago.

QUESTIONS

Many people are questioning just how effective sanctuary zones are at actually protecting fish stocks when something like this can happen at any time.

The JBMPA response and handling of this issue has also left a lot to be desired. It seems to me that they put a lot more time and effort into locking anglers out of Jervis Bay and appeasing greenies five years ago than they have put into investigating why all of these fish died.

I may be wrong but I’ve got the distinct impression that the marine park managers aren’t too worried about all of these fish dying in their sanctuary zones. As long as fishos are locked out and the greenies are happy, everything will be OK.

The purpose of sanctuary zones has always been promoted as protecting fish stocks from human intervention and fishing but when something like this happens, a lot of people are questioning that wisdom.

Footage of the dead fish is on YouTube; do a search on Jervis Bay, dead fish.

Images

1

Josh Wall with a 14kg kingfish from the Shallows. This fish and several others around the same size were taken on deep-rigged slimy mackerel.

2

The Double D crew of Josh Wall, Andrew Finney and Matt Wall with a decent catch of kings from the South West Hump on live bait.

3

The author tight to a solid inshore red.

4

The inshore black marlin run was a pearler this Summer with a heap of fish hooked and tagged at The Banks and Mt Fuji.

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