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Surviving the wet!
  |  First Published: March 2006



Fishing in Gulf waters shuts down dramatically once the wind swings to the northwest and the scuds of the monsoon start pushing onshore. The normally calm beaches of the western Cape are pounded by swells, turning the shallow inshore waters into a muddy soup not at all conducive to catching fish.

Of course, it doesn’t blow from the west all the time during the wet season and the lulls in between can bring some very good fishing. But to get a decent wet, you need plenty of monsoon activity and those of us who want the fishing to be great later on in the year don’t mind sitting out the rough stuff when the wind is blowing.

When March comes around, the weather is still on the unpredictable side. It’s not uncommon for a twister to turn up in early March but the likelihood gets less as the month progresses.

Twisters have been known to turn up as late as April so it’s a good idea to have a contingency plan if one comes buzzing around. March is normally a month where calm mornings and afternoon storms are likely; this tends to be more likely to happen later in the month.

Barramundi activity will still be building to its peak, with freshwater in the rivers pushing the fish down towards the lower reaches. If the water along the beaches is dirty or there is a swell running, don’t bother looking for barra off the sand – it will be a waste of time.

The freshwater tends to run over the top of the salty stuff so the deeper holes in the rivers can provide some good action for fingermark, grunter and black jewfish. Just watch out for the hordes of catfish that seem to come out of the woodwork when a bit of freshwater is about. The secret is to have plenty of bait and persevere!

When the wind does abate, head offshore and target reef areas or look for schools of bait. March sometimes sees bait schools spread over large areas with the most likely hotspots being the end of the shipping channel and south of Pera Head.

If the wet has been good and the water settles, orange clouds of jelly prawns can make an appearance along the beaches and just offshore, attracting everything from pint-sized queenies to giant manta rays. Locate the jelly prawns and you will usually find plenty of action from barra, queenfish, tarpon, giant herring, blue salmon, golden trevally and snub-nosed dart (permit).

One of the benefits of fishing late March is that most of the areas you’re visiting have, at worst, only been lightly fished in the past 3-4 months. That means that the fish are usually very keen to grab whatever comes their way and aren’t yet conditioned to the heavier boat traffic that happens as the season progresses.

MAC RESIGNATION

After being personally involved in both the Tropical Finfish and Gulf of Carpentaria Management Advisory Committees (MACs) since 1996, I recently tendered my resignation to the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPI&F). Here are some excerpts from my letter to GulfMAC which may help readers to understand what I feel is an informed view of fisheries management in Queensland.

It is with enormous regret and frustration that I tender my resignation from GulfMAC. The cost to me in time, financial loss and enthusiasm has not resulted in even minor concessions by the DPI&F to recreational fishers.

My 10 years spent on two MACs taught me that DPI&F has a strong bias towards the commercial fishing industry (this has been confirmed to me personally by senior independent fisheries personnel outside of DPI&F) and has little comprehension of any fisheries stakeholders’ positions outside of the commercial sector.

The dynamic feeling that pervaded the early MAC process has been replaced with bureaucratic lethargy. The speed of management personnel’s response to issues is no longer apparent, interaction is now limited to well-planned, preordained outcomes. Procrastination prevails with the same issues being discussed time and time again with no practical resolution.

The policies of DPI&F are simple to explain – ‘maximum commercial exploitation’ for the commercial sector and ‘belligerent procrastination’ for recreational fishers and the charter industry.

On the commercial netting closure of Albatross Bay – one of the major reasons I have persisted with GulfMAC for so long – I noted, After 8 long years, another commercial fishing season will pass without the long awaited closure being in place, despite the realization by GulfMAC that the process cannot be stalled any longer. The rejection of the efforts of the entire Weipa community (2500 people, the major Gulf population centre) by a handful of commercial fishers based hundreds of kilometres away demonstrates the overwhelming nature of the commercial bias.

My arguments that the Gulf Of Capentaria Management Plan is an utter failure have persistently been ignored. It hasn’t achieved the majority of its aims, ignores recreational fishing concerns, and has failed to reduce commercial effort and increase commercial fisher viability.

As great as fishing in the Gulf still is, the reality is not all that rosy. I concluded my letter with the statement, The Gulf fishery has been ravaged by a series of poor wet seasons, a decade of incredible waste and poor product value caused by the DPI&F’s support of destructive offshore fishing practices, and the ‘invasion’ of Gulf waters by foreign fishers. Yet the people who live and work here are continually ignored and patronized by a public that would rather ignore the problems.

I’ve decided that my efforts to support recreational fishers and to work towards a better fishery would be more positively directed through my active involvement in The Fishing Party.

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