Harbour goes ballistic
  |  First Published: March 2006

Things are going ballistic on all fronts in Sydney Harbour.

Kings are at the best I have seen them for three seasons with our best catch being 38 in one two-hour session (most released), but average catches are around 12 fish a day.

Squid is still the top bait and they, too, have been plentiful over the kelp beds. There have been lots of sharks in the Harbour, keeping the kings keep and on the move.

So while the kings are abundant you need to keep moving to locate them and there’s no guarantee that the wild action you find near a marker buoy one day will be there the next morning.

Middle Harbour has been quiet for kings but should pick up towards the season end, near April-May.

We are nearing an interesting situation in that the water temperature is about to top 25°. Past experience has shown that kings get sluggish at this temp.

The last time this happened was during the phenomenal spotted mackerel run of 1999, when temps topped 26°, spotties were abundant and kings all but disappeared. There’s a very warm current offshore now and a strong SE wind due to push it in. Let’s see what happens.

Flatties are on the chew in all the lower Harbour bays. Try the Blue Hole in Rose Bay and the moorings around North Harbour with 3” Storm shads in pink pearl. The flatties should continue like this right through to June.

Mango put me onto a good tip recently for flatties in deep water. He reckons if you rig a paternoster with a soft plastic trailing about a metre off the bottom you can drift water 10 to 20 metres deep in Middle Harbour with great success.

It’s passive fishing where the drift and rocking of the boat does the work but it’s highly successful on fish that would otherwise be difficult to reach with conventional lure methods.

Salmon have been big and abundant around North Head during the day and Washaway Beach early morning. They are taking live yakkas or trolled lures. They are not as obviously on the surface as they were earlier in the season so you will need to rely more on your sounder and thorough trolling patterns.

There’s been a decent run of above-average snapper in the Harbour recently. We caught our biggest ever the other day near North Head. It weighed close to 2kg.

The snapper runs seem to coincide with a bit of rough weather and the fish are in close and taking fresh squid cubes.


The hype surrounding the recent dioxin scare in Sydney Harbour was a classic example of a combination of bureaucratic bungling and media sensationalism..

Headlines like, ‘Fishing, both commercial and recreational, should be banned in Sydney harbour from today’ is what confronted readers of the morning tabloids, with the precarious placement of the word ‘should’ being the first hint of the totally misleading and inaccurate nature of the article that was to follow.

‘Recreational fishers will be told to throw back their catch’ and ‘It effectively makes the harbour a marine park’ were among the inaccuracies. A ban on taking fish from Sydney Harbour was the general theme of the various media reports over the next few days.

The facts are these: There is no ban on recreational fishing in the Harbour. Recreational fishers were not told to throw back their catch. Sydney Harbour has not effectively become a marine park.

Here is the only official advice given to harbour recreational fishos:

NSW Food Authority and NSW Health advise that the eating of any fish caught in Sydney Harbour should not exceed 150g per person per month. Eating of prawns caught in Sydney Harbour should not exceed 300g per person per month.

Even that advice in itself is misleading in that the only fish tested was bream. They don’t know whether kingfish, for example, have toxins or not but have issued this as a broad statement to, in its crudest term, cover their arses.

DPI Fisheries Minister Ian Macdonald said, “I would like to point out that water quality in Sydney Harbour is the cleanest it has been in decades. The issue is with sediments on the Harbour floor, which have been exposed to industrial pollution dating back over the past 100 years, and the migratory patterns of fish from polluted areas like Homebush Bay into the cleaner waters of Port Jackson.”

Here are some other things to consider:

• Of the 50 angling species caught in Sydney Harbour and over 500 species overall, only one, bream, has been found to have toxins. That represents only 2% and. 2% respectively of all fish.

• If DPI Fisheries had banned all angling, as the media intimated, then the ban would effectively have to be extended to all NSW waters because we all know that the kingfish that are in the Harbour this week could be in Pittwater next week and Coffs Harbour in weeks following. Many of the Harbour’s species are migratory.

• Toxin levels in the tested bream haven’t changed for 20 years. It was, in fact, the international standards on acceptable levels of dioxins that changed. We have been eating the same fish with the same levels for years.

Despite the obvious conflict of interests between rec and commercial fishos, my genuine condolences go out to the pros who have lost their livelihoods. I know what it feels like to think your job is threatened but I can’t imagine what it would be like to wake up one morning to find out that’s your means of supporting your family have been pulled from under you.

This dioxin problem is a community problem and the pros should be amply compensated. Having said that, I feel there will be some commercial fishos who would welcome a buy-out. Some weeks back there was an ad in a local paper for a Harbour trawler (including licence ) at $16,000. You don’t have to be Einstein to work out that the business is worth zip.

The removal of the pros from the Harbour, while devastating for them, is the obvious upside of the story for recreational fishos and I’m sure we will witness a vastly improved fishery in the future.

Testing is currently under way in the Harbour on other species and I’m sure we haven’t heard the end of this. I believe the worst we could face is a catch-and-release fishery on affected species but, more likely, we will see only more advisory warnings like that issued by the NSW Food Authority on bream.

After all, the precedent has already been set by governments as to their position on toxic substances like cigarettes and alcohol and the consumption of billfish and shark with high mercury content. They issue a warning and the rest is up to you.

International precedents like that of the US Great Lakes and of European farmed salmon are in line with this.

Other that that I think we have opened up a can of worms for rec and pro fishos throughout all of NSW.

Dioxins are found in rivers where pesticides and herbicides have been heavily used in their catchment. Can you think of any rivers in NSW that fit that description? Yes, almost all of them!

Advice on how to reduce dioxin intake in our diet (it’s present to varying degrees in nearly everything we eat) includes ‘do not eat any freshwater fish at all’. I think the only difference between Sydney Harbour and many of our other waterways is that they have done the tests. I hope I’m wrong.


There has been recent talk of letting the prawn trawlers back on the Harbour to take prawns only for the recreational bait market. This creates a very interesting situation in that we recreational anglers will become the sole market for their produce. This puts us in the box seat in deciding their future.

Here is the bottom line: If you buy Harbour prawns for bait you are a direct sponsor of the Harbour prawn-trawl industry. If you buy them you can never again complain about estuary trawling and you become partly responsible for the environmental damage that the trawlers do.

If you sell Harbour prawns you are a direct sponsor of the Harbour prawn-trawl fishery. I would like to see bait suppliers and tackle shops who sell Harbour prawns display a sign saying. ‘We support and condone estuary prawn trawling’. If we don’t buy them then they won’t catch them.

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