Fishing Classic sparks controversy

Chris Walter from Woodburn with the largest snapper caught during the Evans Head Fishing Classic. Commercial fishermen in the town say the Classic needs to be scaled back.

Professional line-fishers in Evans Head will not catch a feed for at least a month as a result of the Evans Head Fishing Classic, chairman of the Evans Head Fishermens Co-Op, Kevin Aleckson, has warned.

With more than 1000 entrants, Mr Aleckson said a phenomenal amount of fish were taken from local waters during the seven-day fishing competition, which ended last Friday, and it was a big concern for commercial fishers.

Its not sustainable, he said. There are 10 professional line fishermen in Evans Head and theyre saying they wont catch a feed for up to eight weeks now that the Classic is over. And thats been the case for the last four years, he said. Weve had upwards of 300 boats going out to sea, catching fish for the catch and release [promoted by the Classic] and then catching fish to take home getting their bag limits.

Mr Aleckson said he was also worried about boats seen unloading their bag limits and then heading back out to sea.

He said one competitor pulled up 80 mature snapper from a depth of 144 metres, only to release them again because he had already reached his bag limit for snapper and was targeting the largest pearl perch for the contest.

Apparently they were swimming away alright, but when youre pulling them up from that deep, how many of them would survive? They were all large snapper eight or nine-years-old. And thats just one boat.

Mr Aleckson said he didnt want the Classic to end, he just wanted it scaled back.

This time of year is usually quiet and theres quite a few businesses in town that do really well out of the Classic so thats a windfall for them, he said.

He said another option would be to move the location of the Classic each year, so the same area wasnt targeted every time.

However, president of the Fishing Classic, Ray Collins, said critics could be counted on one hand and the town was right behind the fishing competition.

He said this year the Classic had been visited by two State Fisheries officers who were excited by the new live snapper competition a first in NSW.

Anglers were given a camera and a measuring board so snapper could be photographed for the competition and immediately released. Boats were checked on their return to make sure no snapper were brought to shore and, if any were found, all occupants were disqualified from the competition for that day.

The live snapper competition ran for one day only and snapper was one of the seven dead fish categories for the rest of the contest.

Fisheries were very pleased with the way we ran our competition, Mr Collins said. Criticism is coming from people who havent been to the Classic and dont know what theyre talking about.

While there were 1040 entries this year, Mr Collins said it was hard to determine the exact number of people out fishing because many treated the competition as a raffle, paying their $100 entry fee to be in the major prize draw on Friday night.

The number of people that actually go out in a boat would be less than half the entrants, he said. Most people are fishing from the shore.

Mr Collins said in future the number of entries would be capped at 1000 and advertising would be scaled back. He said reducing the number of days in the competition would not achieve anything because most Evans Head accommodation had a seven-day minimum booking policy.

Richmond River in critical condition says angler

Third generation fisherman John Gallagher said the Richmond River had still not recovered from the massive fish kill in 2001 caused by flooding, and it was copping a hiding as a direct result of the Evans Head Fishing Classic.

He said last Thursday he saw 20-odd cars and trailers at Wardell Bridge, 14 at Broadwater, 14 at Woodburn, five at Rileys Hill and four at Dungarubba.

It doesnt make sense to put pressure on a sick river system, Mr Gallagher said. Our river still hasnt fully recovered from 2001 and it got kicked in the guts again this year (with a smaller fish kill). If the fish have got eggs in them, then youre taking out fish that could potentially be reproducing.

Mr Gallagher is a habitat monitor for the Department of Primary Industries (Fisheries), and said there had been no fish surveys done in the Richmond River since September 2001. However, this year Ballina fishermen got only 10 tonnes of mullet out of the river a stark contrast to their usual haul of 100 tonnes.

Nearly every fish in the ocean spends some of its life cycle in the river system, he said. Its pointless to have marine parks or sanctuaries if you dont look after the fish habitat in the river systems and lakes.

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