A couple of weekends ago, I was lucky enough to fly to Darwin and attend the National Recreational Fishing Conference. This is an event held every two years with the purpose of sharing information and talking about the future direction of recreational fishing in Australia. I wore ‘two hats’ at the conference, one for Nature Glenelg Trust and another for Oz Fish South West Chapter. When I attended the same conference two years ago on the Gold Coast, I was first introduced to the idea of Oz Fish and was amazed by how far this organisation has developed since then. Oz Fish Unlimited is a national organisation that allows recreational anglers the chance to become environmental stewards by actively undertaking habitat protection and restoration works in order to help protect our fishing future. Oz Fish South West is one of the newest chapters to form across the country, but is already kicking goals along the Merri River with a re-snagging event due to occur on Saturday 9th December. Anyone can join Oz Fish by going to ozfish.org.au.
On the Friday, I attended the Fish Habitat Forum which was used as an opportunity for representatives from each Oz Fish chapter to talk about their local projects. In South Australia, Oz Fish have been restoring and enhancing habitat in Lake Bonney (using fish hotels), the Murray-Darling Basin (re-snagging) and West Lakes. At Ceduna, they’ve been using oyster shells for fish habitat enhancement in offshore waters and in the Onkaparinga, limestone slabs have been introduced to enhance fish habitat. Further afield in Western Australia, Oz Fish have partnered with RecFish West and FRDC to undertake a number of projects, including artificial reef introductions and angler monitoring, ‘Fish Friendly Farms’ Project , Oyster Reef restoration, and re-snagging work on the Swan-Canning rivers. The other focus of the Forum on Friday was to discuss the National Fish Habitat Strategy and address feedback from the community survey.
During the conference, I heard some great talks covering a range of topics but there were a few highlights for me. Martin Salter was the key note speaker for the conference, a politician from the UK who has spent most of his life being the interface between the recreational fishers and the government. In his talk, he highlighted the importance of Australia following the lead of England to set up a unified peak body for recreational fishing and help eliminate dependency on government funding to achieve on-ground actions. He also emphasised the need for both habitat restoration and political action to ensure our fish stocks are managed appropriately. Martin pointed out an alarming fact that fishers in the UK or America are three times more likely to get involved in habitat issues than here in Australia. With the help of Oz Fish I’m sure this will change in the future.
In other talks, Michael Tropiano from Oz Fish/Rec Fish West spoke about how anglers are monitoring fish on artificial reefs in WA through underwater baited camera drops. Matt Tripet talked about his FLY program – a unique venture that encourages participation in the natural world as a way of combating depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide among Australia’s male community. Finally, Craig Copeland and Matt Hansen from Oz Fish showcased some of the amazing fish habitat projects being undertaken by passionate anglers across the country.
The need to encourage more young people and females to fish was a common theme throughout the conference, and one in which I support. Fishing may seem like a simple activity, but in a world where kids spend far too much time in front of screens and people are experiencing increased stress and anxiety, the more time we can connect with the natural world the better. It’s not just about catching fish, but more about the physical, mental and social benefits you receive when wetting a line.
While I didn’t catch a Million Dollar Barra, I did see one of the biggest at Croc Coves and couldn’t leave without holding a small crocodile!