|article: craig mcgill - st georges basin fishing by craig mcgill
Dated: 7 June, 2011
St Georges Basin - Craig McGill, Fishabout
St George's basin, 10 minutes south of Jervis bay, was made a recreational fishing haven in 2002. The scheme that involved the purchasing of commercial fishing licences from 24 locations across nsw, using funds from the recreational fishing licence, has proved to be highly successful. The ‘basin' was one of the first in the historical buy-back scheme and the quality of fishing that I experienced there early this year will make my next rec licence purchase a pleasure. Knowing that your money is actually going towards improving fishing makes a huge difference.
Greg Reid of ‘Bay and Basin Sport fishing' picked us up from ‘Paperbark camp' and we were on the water by 7am.
Our first stop was a mid lake drop-off, only detectable by sounder and local knowledge. The conditions were postcard and within an hour we had half a dozen flathead , including one approaching 3kg , a couple of legal reddies , a few bream and a couple of Tailor. Given that this was all done on lures and that most of our crew were borderline non fishers requiring instruction time, this was a very impressive result.
From here we moved over to the eastern side of the lake to have a shot at a big flattie. As we arrived Greg recognized a couple of old regulars so we went over for a chat and the obligatory ‘catchin any'. Old mates had a bulging keeper net over both sides of the boat and it was at this point that I realized both the true potential of rec havens and the looming need to re-asses bag or boat limits. Their keepers were crammed with a mix of flatties, bream, flounder, reddies and trevally the likes of which have not been achievable inside of the last 40 years. While I'm not suggesting for one minute that they had broken any laws , and Greg assured me that the fish would not go to waste , I couldn't help wondering if this was best practice utilization of our newly replenished resource. Should the focus for rec havens be on sport or food? In defence of recreational food harvesting, there is no doubt that a feed taken in this manner has considerably less environmental impact (in this case, by-catch) than the same fish taken with commercial methods. I should add at this point that have no objection to rec fishos taking home a couple of feeds. In the past no one has been overly concerned by the fact that many of our bag limits are set too high , mainly because they have been largely unachievable. This situation is rapidly changing Maybe we are due for revised bag limits exclusive to rec havens? It's been done in the NT!
We worked the eastern bank for numerous flatties before deciding to have a shot at whiting over the flats. This was something new to me and I was surprised at the speed of the retrieve. We used poppers and worked them with a retrieve normally reserved for the likes of Tailor. Either way it worked and we nailed a couple of nice whiting and a big bream.
Greg wanted to show us the bream fishing in the estuary so with time running out we bolted to some of the feeders on the western side. In line with the rest of the day the fishing here was nothing short of spectacular and we took numerous bream on divers, plastics and poppers before heading back to the ramp.
All up, the trip was a real eye opener and testimony to what can be achieved with some smart management. In addition to what we caught, Greg tells me that they get quality jewies, big Tailor and a few bass and EP's in one of the feeder creeks. Throw in a healthy population of Mud Crabs in the summer months, excellent service and facilities and the fact that its only 3 hours from Sydney and we have the beginnings of a genuine ‘fishermans heaven' . We could just be witnessing the birth of the future of recreational fishing in this country.
The trip inspired a plethora of thoughts about the implications on the future of fishing as a result of the creation of recreational havens. What are our responsibilities as the custodians of these new zones and how can we ensure that we don't lose them to politics or vocal minority groups.? What will be the economic impacts? What are reasonable expectations on the quality of fishing from these areas into the future?
One of the greatest obstacles to fisheries management worldwide is the lack of baseline studies. In other words, it's very hard to assess the state of a fish stock without knowing the original biomass. Unfortunately there was very little interest in fisheries research until such point that we became aware of serious decline, at which time the opportunity to conduct a baseline study had passed. While some effort is being made to establish baselines for selected species using historical log records , scant information on distribution , effort , technology and climatic conditions of the times , incur limitations that , at best , will only ever show us part of the picture.
Despite what some green extremists might have us believe , to expect fish stocks to return to levels experienced before human exploitation is both unrealistic and ignores the fact that us humans are mutually entitled to exist and are part of the ' system'.
So what is a reasonable expectation for us to bestow on fisheries management. ? I think overall sustainability should be our key aim with a strong emphasis placed on accountability of by-catch. This ensures a steady , measured supply of seafood, indefinitely. Our current system of overexploiting stocks and then scrambling for radical and extreme solutions, is clearly not working. This system usually results in overexploited, endangered and, in worst case, extinction of species. It also ensures unreliable market supply, stressed fisheries management and redundant commercial fleets -- not to mention its negative impacts on the recreational sector.
What is reasonable for us to expect on a personal individual level as an angler? It's an interesting question and one that must take into consideration the fact, from a Darwinian perspective; all hunters were not created equal. I recall chatting to an old-timer about the 'good ol days' before overexploitation and was interested to hear , that despite abundant , uneducated fish stocks , there was nevertheless greatly varying success rates amongst anglers. Old mate did however point out that even the least competent among them could generally "always get a feed" and I feel that this should be the benchmark for minimum expectations from individuals.
While it's all very well to place our expectations on fisheries management, what responsibilities do we, as individuals, carry. From the boom and bust nature of resources throughout most of human existence , evolved an unpleasant condition known , contemporarily , as greed. It's only become a dirty word in the last few hundred years and its sanitised version, ‘make hay while the sun shines' was an entirely sensible and necessary tact to humanities survival. There's no question that commercial fishing has been responsible for all the major fisheries decline but the psyche of the commercial fishermen that lead to the carnage, is close to all our hearts. Vic McCrystal once wrote of rec anglers that ‘the only reason we want to see improvements in fish stocks is so that we can kill them again'. We have been guilty of a few piscatorial atrocities of our own and despite having had little bearing on overall stocks they were nevertheless unacceptable in principal. While Fisheries size and bag limits have been imposed upon us, I would like to think that they are only necessary as a control on those among our ranks with the least self control. As a show of goodwill and a good demonstration of our ability to self regulate, I think it would be a huge step forward to for us to set personal bag limits at somewhere below official regulations. Fisheries bag limit for 20 bream , is a 'maximum' --- not a ‘recommendation'. It's a sad fact that the only reason a percentage of our fraternity do not indulge the recreational bloodlusts of the past, is because there isn't enough fish left to do so. Due to some very good fisheries management in recent years, the time is fast looming where bag limits will be readily achievable
One of the issues shortly to cloud the horizon of fisheries management is the jumble of conservation/enhancement programmes currently in play. How will we determine which of the multitude of measures, or combinations of, were responsible for the improvement of the resource. Was it the ‘clean waterways program ‘rec bag limits, marine parks, commercial buy backs, stocking program, artificial reefs or habitat restoration? Already I've seen dangerous sentiment alluding to improvements in a commercial buy-back zone being attributed to nearby marine parks. We are going to have to be very careful to keep perspective on this issue or be prepared for a cry of green pseudo victory. We need to be vigilant in ensuring that everyone is aware that reason rec havens have shown such a remarkable comeback is the result of the removal of commercial fishing, first and foremost.
Considerable economic impact is just round the corner for the coastal towns as a result of the creation of recreational havens. Do you remember the road signs as you drove up the pacific highway declaring that the town you were just entering is a ‘FISHERMANS HEAVEN'? The goofy angler caricature holding up a nondescript cartoon fish that had more in common with a carp than anything likely to be found in the region, not to mention his tanned, yellow bikini wife playing with the kids on the beach in the background. They weren't put there by an enterprising local tackle shop owner but rather an educated tourism department who knew the major influences behind holiday maker's choice of destinations. The statistics showed that ‘fishing' was a major consideration for up to 70% of tourists surveyed. The outdated signs remained long after the fishing crashed.
With rec havens now starting to show their true potential the gap between the piscatorial haves and have nots will widen dramatically. Within the next decade we will see the re-emergence of some true ‘Fishermans Heavens' and the towns ‘geographically disadvantaged' by fishing wastelands will find themselves on the list of tourist 'cold spots'. With country Australia increasingly relying on tourism this could have serious economic impacts. Conversely, watch for the boom in the rec haven towns.
I personally feel that we are witnessing both a major turning point and a preview into the future fisheries management. Let's ensure that we don't mess it up.