Annual Fish Kill, Sorry, ‘Fishing Competition’ at Evans Head

Part of the amusement program at the 'competition

Part of the amusement program at the ‘competition’

The Annual ‘Fish Kill’ is on  again with hundreds of competitors descending on Evans Head to try their luck from the 5th to the 12th of July at the local ‘Fishing Classic’.

More than 200 boats went to sea in perfect conditions to open the killing season.

More than 200 boats went to sea in perfect conditions to open the ‘killing season’ on Saturday.  This picture was taken in one of the parking lots near the northern boat ramp.  It was standing room only with competitors having to park considerable distances from the boat ramp while they put to sea

While many competitors logged in with Marine Rescue as they crossed the treacherous Evans Head bar, many didn’t. Perhaps those organising the kill need to make it a condition of registration that boats must log in before they cross the bar or they risk disqualification.

The Evans Head Bar can be treacherous and has claimed quite a few boats even amongst experienced fishermen

The Evans Head Bar can be treacherous and has claimed quite a few boats even amongst experienced fishermen

There is no doubt that boats get into trouble as witnessed by a boat being towed in on the first day of the competition.

Boat being towed into Evans Head.

Boat being towed into Evans Head

The Water Police and Maritime Officers were on hand to keep an eye on proceedings in the Evans River.

Water Police were on hand to check out competitors and lend a hand to those in trouble with their boats.  In this shot the Water Police assist a boat with starting problems to get back to the boat ramp.

Water Police were on hand to check out competitors and lend a hand to those in trouble with their boats. In this shot the Water Police assist a boat with starting problems to get back to the boat ramp.

Maritime Personnel were on hand to inspect boats and have a friendly chat with competitors.

Maritime personnel were on hand to inspect boats and have a friendly chat with competitors.  Anything to declare!  So what’s in the hession bag under t the pointy end of the boat?

There’s little doubt Evans Head is a great place for fishing but you have to wonder what the impact of such intensive fishing has on local fish stocks particularly breeding fish.  Local professional fishermen have complained for years about the big catches of snapper full of fish roe (fish eggs).   Primary Industry studies have shown that the snapper (Pagrus auratus) is “growth overfished” with three times as many lost to fishing as happens in nature.  The average snapper is less than five years of age when it is caught whereas they usually live to 25 years of age.  In human terms that’s equivalent to knocking off humans at around 14 to 15 years of age.  Not good from a reproductive point of view.

Another snapper bites the dust during the annual fish kill

Another snapper bites the dust during the annual fish kill

Tonnage of commercial catches of snapper  have also declined significantly as has happened for other fish stocks around the world.  While studies show that fish move around there is still the question of how long does it take an area to recover when it is ‘superfished’ as happens during fishing competitions.  Has NSW Primary Industries done a proper scientific study of the impact of the annual fish kill at Evans Head on local stocks and their recovery?  Probably not.  It is certainly a question worth asking.

Some of the catch taken off Evans Head

Some of the catch taken off Evans Head

It  is clear that Primary Industries (Fisheries) is concerned about overfishing.  On display at present is a review of recreational fishing rules on which the public can comment until the end of July 2013.

The review includes recommendations about reduction in the total number of fish caught per day (bag limit) and restrictions on the number of each species caught.  Bait fish are included.  This is a good move by Fisheries as fish stocks decline but this review does not deal with the effects of intensive fishing competitions.  Perhaps the Evans Head fish kill organisers need to look at restricting the competition to a weekend only rather than a week long in order to reduce the impact.

The Evans River is  like Pitt Street Sydney with many boats out to make the winning catch.

There were lots of boats on the Evans River which is currently very muddy from all the silt washed down from the Richmond River in the recent minor flood.

There were lots of boats on the Evans River which is currently very muddy from all the silt washed down from the Richmond River in the recent minor flood.  The river ecosystems are being killed off by the fine mud which is smothering the sea grasses which are critical habitat for fish stocks.   The government needs to get off its backside and block off the Tuckombil Canal, the source of much of the problem instead of pandering to a few upstream with useful political connections.

Footprint on Evans River riverbank shows collected silt in the form of smothering mud which comes from the Richmond River.

Footprint on Evans River riverbank shows collected silt in the form of smothering mud which comes from the Richmond River.

At least some benefit from the fish kill, for example the local Pelicans, although some might question the impact of feast and famine on the bird’s ecology.  A solid week of heavy feeding on  fish frames and guts followed by 51 weeks of the usual diet has the potential to create a number of problems not to speak of the risk of getting an unintentionally-disguised fishhook in the mouth.

Pelicans are on hand to catch the scraps as the fishers clean their fish, a highly competitive business

Pelicans are on hand to catch the scraps as the fishers scale, gut and fillet their catch at the cleaning tables near the boat ramps, a highly competitive business for the assembled bird

More satisfied customers:

More please!

More please!

However if Fisheries is already concerned about what is happening to fish stocks and has evidence showing decline why not impose some stringent rules on the current competition rather than wait until there is a problem and chances of recovery become slim as has happened with other fish populations.

There are other issues associated with the Annual fish kill including impact on local fishers and their livelihood, free access to water which is used not only to clean fish at ratepayer expense but wash the boats and trailers without regulation.  VWD has witnessed on many occasions fresh water taps being left on for hours.

There are no restrictions on the use of freshwater by fishers.  Boats line up to be washed and engines flushed without restriction.  So how much water is used at ratepayer expense?

There are no restrictions on the use of freshwater by fishers. Boats line up to be washed and engines flushed without restriction. So how much water is used at ratepayer expense?

Cleaning table at the upriver boat ramp.  Sometimes all the taps will be left running.

Cleaning table at the upriver boat ramp. So how much water is used without charge?

Tap left to run.  Don't do this at home folks.  It costs.  The local commercial fishers have to pay for their freshwater for cleaning.  Why not the competitors for the fish kill.  Perhaps the organisers of the kill need to make a substantial donation for water use to local council.

Tap left to run. Don’t do this at home folks. It costs. The local commercial fishers have to pay for their freshwater for cleaning. Why not the competitors for the fish kill. Perhaps the organisers of the kill need to make a substantial donation for water use to local council.

Time for an objective review of the Annual Fish Kill at Evans Head where the full impact is assessed from a longer term perspective.  There’s no doubt economic benefit to some local businesses but at what cost in the long run?

The big finale.  Someone is business must have done well!

The big finale. A fabulous night right out of Bageant’s Deer Hunting With Jesus. Someone in business must have done well!  Lots of prizes to be had and lots of entertainment. And everyone enjoying themselves. Followed by the next morning.  Yes, Evans Head is definitely on the map!

The big question is – ‘is the Fishing Classic an ecologically sustainable activity and where is the evidence to support a claim that it is?’

And the little question:  ‘Has ET found a home yet?!  Definitely there on the final night.’

Didn't see Elvis at the competition but ET was there!

Didn’t see Elvis at the competition but ET was there!

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