Key Messages

For better or worse, this ALF episode is about my perspectives on sustainable fishing and the catch and release movement. I’m certainly not always right nor do I have all of the answers. 

There are many things we’re doing well as recreational anglers and there are other areas we need to really pick up our game. 

First, Some Of The Good Stuff

The culture of fishing in Australia is changing for the better, though we still have a very long way and plenty of people who need to be brought on the journey of sustainability who aren’t there yet. 

There’s also been a massive groundswell among everyday, grassroots anglers.

  • More and more, fishing is being used more and more as an educational tool to get people engaged in looking after fisheries, fish habitat and the environment more generally.
  • Fisheries and angling groups have done stuff that’s  seen some recreationally significant species showing signs of recovery. We need to maintain the momentum and not be lulled into false security by “generational amnesia”.
  • Increasingly, fishers are involved in fish habitat restoration, water quality, riparian management and fishway projects. For example, OzFish Unlimited, Catchment Solutions, The Nature Conservancy Shellfish Reef Project 
  • See Episode 213 with Matt Moore for more information on fish passage and the bonus episode with Chris Gillies about shellfish reefs.
  • Individuals like Matt Hansen, who has raised amazing amounts of money for fish habitat works throughout the Murray darling Basin, including high tech, fandangle fish screens on irrigation pumps. 
  • The Jolley Rodgers Fishing Club remove tons and tons of plastic waste from our freshwater and marine environments and do a great job of educating and awareness raising around plastic pollution.

Nothing like this existed in Australia even as recently as 10 or 15 years ago.    

Anglers have also become more responsible in the way we self regulate. More and more of us are happy to take a feed but limit what we take. 

Increasingly, recreational anglers takes the health and survival rates of the fish we release very seriously. Once again, a decade ago few people would have known what a release weight or an environet was. These days lots and lots of anglers carry them. 

Fishing is directly or indirectly enhancing waterways, assisting individuals to manage stress and mental illness, boosting communities through fishing tourism, strengthening families by shared social interaction, and transferring wealth from metropolitan areas to regions, creating educational and creative opportunities. Andy Moore and the Australian tackle industry deserve recognition for their part in the National Recreational Fishing Survey.

The recreational angling contribution to Citizen Science is going ahead in leaps and bounds with anglers contributing to OzFish Unlimited, Mangrove Watch and great organisations like SCF Australia, Infofish Australia and Hallprint Fish Tags

I’ve barely scratched the surface of the great stuff that anglers are driving or at the very least supporting. 

A Bit Of The Not-So-Good Stuff

You’d think with all this great progress governments and natural resource management groups would be supportive of recreational fishers. So why do we seemingly constantly come up against proposals for increasing no-take zones, fisheries closures and so on?

In part, today’s proactive, conservation minded fishers  still bear the legacy of bygone eras when fishing was about catching plenty and sustainability wasn’t a consideration. And in part there’s a small element of rogue anglers that give us all a bad name and make it easy to justify closures. 

The push for sustainability overlooks the fact that if we get that perfect balance of taking just enough that the fish taken from a system to equal the fish recruited into the system then fish stocks cease to grow. And it forgets that while fish stocks in many instances are better now than 20 years ago, they’re nowhere close to what they were 100 years ago. 

Catch and release is great, but it’s one component of sustainability. And it cops criticism from some quarters where fishing is considered unnecessarily cruel. 

I support marine parks and no-take areas, size and bag limits, because they minimise the damage done by those who don’t care about the future and refuse to self regulate and fish responsibly. But they also unnecessarily impact on the rapidly growing numbers of responsible anglers, in my opinion.

There are two ways to improve fish stocks. One is to reduce the take. The other is to increase the recruitment. Reducing take is easily achieved by regulation and laws, while actually fixing the issues that impact on fish spawning, recruitment and survival is much harder. With some notable exceptions, Governments often go for the easy option of banning anglers. What would be better for all is if we put more time, energy and money into increasing fish stocks. 

Five Things I Reckon All Sport Fishers Need To Do

    1. Stop being victims and start taking responsibility. It’s pointless to blame commercial fishers, green groups or governments for declining fish stocks unless we own our stuff and clean up our own act. Rec fishing is light years ahead of where it was – and we’re heading in the right direction – but there is plenty more we can do. A victim mentality makes us feel weak and helpless, being proactive empowers us.
    2. Start seeing fishing as a privilege to be cherished, rather than a right that can’t be taken away. Fishing can definitely be taken away from us, and it should be if we don’t do the right thing. Being grateful for what we have means we look after it and don’t take our amazing fisheries for granted.
    3. Quit whingeing that theres not enough data.  Any time we say there is no data to support closing a fishery we allow government to default to the “precautionary principle” which is enshrined in Commonwealth and State legislation. In other words, governments don’t have to prove that recreational angling is having an impact. If there is no data or evidence to make a decision they are legally bound to protect fish stocks rather than rec anglers. I agree though, having good data is critical, that’s why the next point is so important…….
    4. Turn Fishing Into A Beneficial Activity that improves outcomes not just for fishers but for the whole community. Governments have been cutting funding to fisheries research for years, so there will never be enough data to make good decisions unless we start collecting it ourselves. If there is one thing we can all do to improve our fishing future it’s to get behind groups like SCF Australia, Infofish and various tagging programs. 
    5. Rethink how we use social media. Every day more and more pictures get posted of anglers who are mostly trying to do the right thing but are not handling fish as well as they could be for a safe and healthy return to the water. I have concerns that sustainability conscious anglers are unwittingly and publicly putting together a ton of evidence that could be used to argue against fishing in the future.
Greg "Doc Lures" Vinall

Greg "Doc Lures" Vinall

Podcast Host, Lure Maker, Scientist, Educator

Greg is host of the Australian Lure Fishing Podcast. He’s an Aquatic Scientist, Lure Maker, Speaker and Author in the recreational fishing space. Greg takes great delight in teasing out the science behind fishing and looking for opportunities to better understand our quarry and what makes them tick.

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