RAAF to ban boaters off Evans Head

PLANS by the Department of Defence to ban recreational boaters from key fishing grounds south of Evans Head have caught the local angling community by surprise.

With the arrival on our shores of the F-18 Hornet jet, replacing outdated F-111s, it is understood airspace around the Evans Head Weapons Range will be increased well offshore, with no boating activity allowed under that airspace during training runs.

The Department of Defence has been tight-lipped on the proposal, but it is understood NSW Fisheries has been briefed about the move.

Rod Blake, chairman of the Evans Head Marine Management Committee and a local veterinarian, said the proposal had the potential to wreak economic havoc in the small town.

Formed last year in the wake of a marine park proposal for much the same area of ocean, the marine management committee is hyper aware of the concern local recreational and professional fishermen have for dwindling access to fishing grounds.

“I have extreme concern for our local economy,” Dr Blake said. “Fishing is the basis for that economy, there is no doubt about that.”

As a veterinarian, Dr Blake said he also had concerns for the critically-endangered ground parrot population, which is known to exist in the drop zone of the weapons range, part of Bundjalung National Park.

He feared increased military activity in the area could have an adverse impact on the rare parrot.

Dr Blake said he had spoken to a weapons range officer about the plan and was told there would be no live firing of ammunition and that lasers would be directed at the target, not at the ocean.

“Which begs the question, why close the area to recreational boaters?” Dr Blake asked.

The community’s professional trawlermen and line and trap fishermen would be also affected.

Evans Head Fishermen’s Co-op spokesman Kevin Aleckson said pro-fishers were eagerly waiting for clear direction from the Department of Defence, but were prepared to demand financial compensation if any change was made.

“If they tie up more ocean we will want compensation,” Mr Aleckson said.

“We’ve already lost so much with extensions to marine parks to our north and south that have put pressure on remaining fishing grounds, like those off Evans Head.”

Mr Aleckson said the area in the Department of Defence’ sights included the best mackerel grounds between Evans Head and Iluka.

“And the surfers don’t like it either,” he said.

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