Ban dive nets from river
By ADRIAN MILLER
BANNING commercial mesh-net fishing to ensure the survival of the Clarence Valley may sound extreme, but tackle shop owner John Williams believes that's exactly what needs to happen for the Valley to prosper.
Mr Williams, owner of Gone Fish'n Grafton, said by banning commercial fishing in the Clarence, fish stocks would rise dramatically, encouraging tourists from all over Australia to the area.
"If you take away the race week and Jacaranda there's not much to bring them to Grafton," he said.
"We're sitting on the biggest river on the eastern seaboard, but there's not one fishing charter operator that operates on the Clarence River.
"If it were known that tourists could park alongside the river, throw in a prawn on a hook and catch their dinner -- that would cement the future of this joint."
But he isn't the only one who thinks so -- he has nearly 400 signatories to a petition backing him in his quest.
Mr Williams also believes professional fishing competitions would also be drawn to the area -- if fish stocks were replenished.
The Clarence Valley Council will vote next week whether to investigate the issue after Mr Williams made a deputation to a council committee meeting on Tuesday.
The Clarence River is the only NSW river to allow commercial fishing and according to NSW Fisheries statistics, there were 45 active mesh-net fishers in the Clarence River in 2005.
Mr Williams said the problem lied with diver nets -- not pocket nets or prawn fishermen. "Diver nets are 12 feet deep and are weighted on the bottom by chains," he said.
"The top of the net has small floats attached which sees the net suspended from the bottom of the river upwards, catching everything that swims into it."
Mr Williams said the netting was taking the most valuable breeding fish out of the river -- right at the time they were trying to breed.
"Two years ago there was one solitary catch of jewfish that was six tonnes -- in one shot," he said.
"These were 20-30 kilo, mature, jewfish, full of roe.
"So they've taken six billion eggs out of the breeding cycle in one night."
Fishing regulations state mesh netting is legal as long as nets are retrieved no more than 45 minutes after being set in position.
But Mr Williams said that is not happening, and anecdotal evidence suggests some fishers have left their nets in for up to 12 hours.
"I've got no argument with 45 net fishermen shooting a net, but not in the river -- the river's the breeding ground," he said.