Ken Smith, president of the Byron Bay Deep Sea Fishing Club.
Ken Smith, president of the Byron Bay Deep Sea Fishing Club.

Angry fishers rock the boat


SOAKING up the sunshine while casting a line from their modest tinnies is already a rare enough pleasure for many members of Byron Bay's Deep Sea Fishing Club.

President Ken Smith, of Ewingsdale, said the majority of the club's 50 anglers could not fish too far offshore because their boats were under 4.5 metres long.

He said rough seas and strong currents also limited their full fishing days to just a handful every year.

Mr Smith accepts the limits of unpredictable weather, but he is not prepared to take the NSW Government's zoning plans for the Cape Byron Marine Park.

The plans completely prohibit recreational fishing around Julian Rocks, except for a small area on the western side four months of the year.

"We always fish around Julian Rocks, we need the reef. What they've given us access to is bare sand. It's like telling snow skiers at Mount Kosciusko to go and ski at Ayres Rock," Mr Smith said.

"The next closest reef is more than 6.5km out to sea. Small boats won't find it safe to go out that far."

Mr Smith feared the club may not survive under the new zoning rules.

"It could be our demise," he said.

"It would be a very sad loss for Byron Bay. A lot of our members have been here all their lives and all of a sudden they're being told they can't fish in the spots they've called their own forever."

Mr Smith admits when he first joined the club in 1977, anglers' attitudes to the environment were different.

However, he said the club had since taken an active role in helping to conserve the area's marine life.

"We have looked after the environment. We actually instigated the Fish Aggregation Device to take pressure off Julian Rocks," he said.

"We don't overkill and we've introduced a fish constitution which says we can only take larger fish. That's why we don't understand this."

State Minister for the Environment Bob Debus said the zoning plan was necessary to protect marine diversity. "The zoning plan protects examples of the range of marine biodiversity in the marine park and outlines where activities such as fishing or bait collection can occur," he said.

"Sanctuary zones provide protection to habitat, animals, plants and areas of cultural significance by prohibiting fishing, collecting and anchoring on reefs."

New Brighton resident Robert Crossley supported the marine park plans, despite the fact they would prohibit him from fishing in his backyard.

Mr Crossley, whose property backs on to Marshalls Creek, said he fished occasionally, but was unfazed by the new rules.

"It is a very valuable breeding habitat out there," he said. "I snorkel quite a lot and see a lot of schools of small fry. I understand the need to protect them."

However, he questioned why fishing needed to be banned from all of Marshalls Creek.

"We didn't move here for the fishing, we moved here for the river," he said.

"But it is a residential area so there should be some access on a stretch. The kids need a place to fish."

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