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Coffs’ harbour of shame
  |  First Published: June 2015



In late April, the Coffs Harbour Deep Sea Fishing Club shut its doors for the last time. An institution on the Coffs’ coast for over 50 years, its demise has, sadly, been a long time coming. Myriad financial and administrative reasons have been slated for its closure, but at the end of the day, something as simple as really poor food meant the locals (who were its backbone outside of tourist season), simply stopped coming. If there’s no money in the till, even a million dollar view won’t save you from the creditors.

One thing it did have though, was a first class filleting facility, which of course is now locked up. On a calm weekend and when the snapper/mackerel/kingies/trag or whatever were biting, it was like a fish processing plant, with hundreds of fishos utilising it. With big bins to take the fish frames and guts, a boat washing area (and even beer close by!), it was an awesome setup.

Now the inadequate but horrendously expensive filleting table near the ramp (disparagingly known by the locals as the Wishing Well), and another third world concrete slab at Sawtell Headland are going to carry a lot of traffic. Most people won’t bother, which means stinky bins at home, fish being cleaned and filleted on the foreshore rocks, or the boat ramp pontoon.

The disgraceful boat ramp, work on which was supposed to commence in August 2014 (“substantial commencement!” were the very words the RMS representative used at a meeting in July that year), may be finally getting under way. Better late than never I suppose, but what are we getting for our $1 million?

As the money has been frittered away on the usual ‘consultants fees’ and ‘administration’, we won’t be seeing the extended groyne it so desperately needs to break the swell pattern. It will just be an expanded bay that is going to limit the surge — but only by a third apparently. Anyone with half a brain could see a mil’ was never going to be enough to fix it properly, but this may make the ramp even more inhospitable.

Local boat owners are watching developments with resigned interest, and nobody is super confident of it being any kind of real solution to the problem.

While we’re in the area, let’s look at the eastern breakwall, the reinforcing of which should never have been given priority over the crumbling north wall. At a cost of around $19 million, the money could have been way better spent. Meanwhile, waves overtopping the northern breakwall that actually protects infrastructure, continue to chew up and spit out bits of the decrepit marina every time a big sea rolls down the coast. It’s hanging in there, but only by its fingernails.

And now the NSW Government is going to spend half a million bucks unnecessarily extending the timber boardwalk out to Muttonbird Island. Spare me! Anyone who has a boat in the harbour could point in any number of directions where that wad of cash could be much better spent…

Yachties, recreational fishos and the commercial fishing fleet are still being held to ransom by the Lands Department’s refusal to allow the slip to be used, even in a limited capacity, on the flimsy premise that the soil is contaminated. Well every other slip in the state that’s been operating since the 1980s is in exactly the same position, so why is Coffs being singled out for special treatment? Maybe that land is just too valuable to be wasted on something as mundane as a slipway…

Meanwhile the facility remains firmly closed, despite the then Lands minister Kevin Humphries and local member Andrew Fraser issuing a press release in December last year (pre-election, funnily enough) stating it would remain open.

As it’s approaching a year since the slip ceased operating, most boats in the marina will need to come out for hull cleaning and maintenance over the next couple of months, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen locally. This means Port Macquarie or Yamba, both of which throw up the issue of dangerous bar crossings.

It’s bad enough that private and commercial boat owners get jerked around by bureaucrats in this way, but the sight of the brand new Marine Rescue boat having to be craned out onto a makeshift timber trestle for an engine service and maintenance demonstrates just how pathetic Coffs Harbour’s harbour really is.

It’s all a pretty sad picture, isn’t it? Unfortunately, the public servants, councillors, and state and federal politicians who are charged with infrastructure projects in Coffs’ woebegone harbour have their priorities arse about. Whatever is done is piecemeal, ill-considered, lacks communication with key stakeholders, and there’s no overall strategic plan — or if there is, nobody’s telling the rest of us about it.

BUT HOW’S THE GAME FISHING?

Well, it’s actually pretty good for the time of year! Since the Solitary Islands Game Fishing Club’s incredibly successful Heavy Tackle Challenge, the marlin fishing has slowed down somewhat, but not really due to a lack of fish in the area. As you’ll read elsewhere in these pages this month, practically everyone is struggling with the onset of winter and finding the necessary motivation to go fishing when the bed’s warm and there’s frost on the ground. Morning sou’ westers can make life on the shelf pretty uncomfortable too, but they usually dissipate by mid morning, so it’s really just a case of hanging tough or planning a slightly later start.

Those that have made the effort have been rewarded with blues, a few stripes, and the occasional mahimahi. Unfortunately, the blues remain somewhat timid in their approach to lures, but it’s good to be seeing numbers of them this late in the season.

It’s fair to expect some yellowfin to start to appear too, as winter is the traditional peak time for them along this part of the coastline.

In mid May, the water was still 26 degrees on the shelf and a decent colour for near winter. The current was a bit all over the shop though, running up to three knots one day and then nearly nothing the next. The second east coast low to visit northern NSW in the space of a few weeks really lined Coffs up, bringing torrential rain and subsequent flooding. This put paid to the mackerel fishing for a while and fired out a heap of logs and other rubbish, making offshore navigation tricky. Still, they do make prime real estate for any mahimahi in the area.

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