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Something on offer for the dedicated
  |  First Published: August 2012



There’s not a lot of game fishing activity to report on around Coffs Harbour at this time of year, apart from the Lake Macquarie boat Ningaloo that passed through on its way north in early June and tagged five yellowfin tuna and a striped marlin. Clearly there are still some bluewater fish here for the truly dedicated, but for the rest of us, winter means a spot of snapper fishing in close, and some long overdue tackle and boat upkeep.

We might revisit winter maintenance once again next issue, but in the meantime the Solitary Islands Game Fishing Club’s tag and release statistics for the 20011/2012 season make interesting reading.

The club conducted two competitions, one was an ‘in-hours’ section on the second and fourth Saturday of the month, and the other was an ‘out-of-hours’ competition, which could be fished any old time from September until the end of May.

All up, there were 72 billfish tagged, including 52 blue marlin, 15 striped, one black and four spearfish. This really underlines what a fantastic blue marlin season we had here last summer. Of course there were a lot more fish raised than this that either struck but didn’t connect, or fell off during the fight.

In other gamefish catches, there were eight sharks including two makos, two whalers and four hammerheads, seven yellowfin tuna, six mahi mahi and even a Spaniard tagged.

Despite the Solitary Islands Club having a fabulous weigh station facility right in the marina, there was just a single marlin weighed, which wasa blue of 152kg that came in tail-wrapped, two yellowfin tuna of 61.5kg and 78kg, and sundry yellowfin and mahi mahi that didn’t make line class and ended up on ice.

Most of the sharks were caught later in the season as the billfish retreated once the water cooled off.

HAMMERHEADS BANNNED

Ask any mackerel fisho on the mid north coast of New South Wales if there’s a shortage of hammerhead sharks and you’ll get an emphatic no. In fact, they can become a real pest at times.

With their brown colour, high dorsal and surface cruising habits, they’re a highly noticeable shark and most people choose to pull hard-won live baits away from them. In saying that though, they become a seafood staple around here when the mackerel are off the bite.

In saying this you can imagine everyone’s surprise when the State Government announced the keeping and even tagging of great and scalloped hammerhead sharks in state waters was now illegal. This decision was based on overseas studies in locations where both species aggregate to spawn, which make them susceptible to commercial overfishing.

There was no consultation with key stakeholders like the various game fishing associations, it was just announced via a press release. What a joke.

Perversely, you can still target smooth hammerheads, which are the most common species in our waters. With their cartoon-like dorsal, great hammerheads are pretty easy to identify, but scalloped and smooth hammers are difficult to tell apart, especially in the water. I suspect there will be a dramatic increase in the tagging of ‘smooth’ hammerheads in seasons to come.

But to not even be able to tag them, well that’s plain dumb. If the other two are endangered, surely some hands-on free research through the tagging program can only be good thing?

Given that it’s one of the Fisheries minister’s own departments running the tagging program, you wonder where she gets her advice from.

This all sounds very much like the Peter Garrett mako shark fiasco of last year – a ban based on dwindling shark numbers in non Australian waters, which was overturned through people pressure. Hopefully, common sense will prevail here also.

Being a highly migratory species, the hammerhead ban might look good on paper and endear the government to a few green voters, but once the sharks leave state waters, it’s pretty much open slather.

It’s just another loss to recreational fishing and game fishing in particular.

USER PAYS AT THE COFFS RAMP?

The latest bit of lunacy from another level of government is that Coffs Harbour City Council plans for fishos to pay for the privilege of using the harbour boat ramp.

Councillors, here’s a news flash for you. This is about the worst ramp on the New South Wales coast for its size, and it’s costing the town a fortune in lost tourism dollars – money it can ill-afford to lose. Lots of boat anglers visit Coffs Harbour once, get messed up on the ramp, and vow never again until it is fixed.

It is surge affected on all but the calmest of days, it’s slippery, there’s no room to manoeuvre in the duck pond when there’s heavy boat traffic, and the mouth constantly silts up.

The carnage at the Dave Irvine Snapper Classic a couple of years back was painful to watch and this year was just as bad. Locals wear the lumps and bumps because they know what to expect, but the out-of-towners are shocked. They just spend their tourist dollars elsewhere next time they go for a fish.

The only way anything will change is if someone is seriously injured or even killed. There have been enough near misses over the years to suggest that this is a case of not if, but when.

If the council wants the recreational anglers of Coffs Harbour and visitors to pay, provide something worth paying for, not an additional tax for using a harbour precinct that is as ugly, neglected and run-down as the ramp.

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