OMG! Are you as gobsmacked as I am over the discordant cacophony of babble and bullying that surrounds the concept of guarding the health of our fish stocks? It’s like living in the fable of Babel — with the incessance of social media dumped on top! 

Jo Starling shows off a lovely Australian bass for the camera ©

Some folks are yelling that the science doesn’t exist. Some yell that the science exists but is wrong! Some couldn’t care whether the fish stocks are in decline or not — they’re gonna fish like their grand-pappy and his grand-pappy did, even if it means they take the last fish (I bet with that level of passion, they’re going to be depressed when they realised that they DID take the last one and the fishing is dead. No more. KAPUT). Others desperately scream that the research shows our fisheries in decline and that we need to act now… and that’s just SOME of the pillars of opinion that support this precinct of Babel.

 Me? I’m on the side of those who want to enjoy quality fishing forever. I’ve seen the research and I trust our recreational fishing scientists. I’m a fan-girl of the researchers who are passionate about rec’ fishing — they’ve got “Fisho” tattooed on their heart muscle! They are like me. They want to be able to fish for as long as they can hold their rod… and then they want to pass that rod on to their grandkids, knowing that there’s still plenty of fish in the water. (Isn’t it wonderful how we revere grandparenthood? Whether we gaze retrospectively into our loving memories for a benchmark of how life should be or cast our minds forward to what we want it to be like, our personal concept of “grand” status is often a gorgeous guiding beacon for us… but I digress.)

Lots of recreational fishers of all types, enjoying an estuary.

Quality Fishing Forever!

What is your definition of quality fishing? Seriously, stop for a minute and have a ponder… the answer will be different for everyone. There’s no right or wrong answer, just personal penchants. I can guarantee one constant, though — the likelihood of catching a good fish!

Around the country, we have innumerable threats to our fish stocks: pollution, climate changes, droughts, floods, habitat degradation and loss, blocked fish passage, fish thieving, unsustainable fishing practices… the list goes on.

One threat we rarely include on that list is plain old ignorance. This is probably the granddaddy of all threats! It’s insidious and highly infectious because it always offers the easiest position to adopt.

If only a third of recreational fishers adopt the position of ignorance (for example), that’s over a million anglers actively impacting the quality of our fishing experiences going forward! OUCH!!

This is the crux: Recreational fishing has a BIG problem.


Let me explain… Our pastime is essentially a solitary one. If you’re like me, you pride yourself on being a guardian of the waterways, doing everything you can to shore up the health of our fisheries and ensure a robust fishing future. Where we go wrong is that we project our ethos onto all fishers. Sadly, we’re not all the same. You just need to revisit our precinct in fabled Babel to know that!

Just like me, those with a different perspective project their particular ethos onto all fishers, believing that they are the ‘norm’. Just like me, this false projection justifies their behaviours and, in the echochamber of social media, they find their tribe.

So, whilst you and I may practice responsible fishing practices that proactively support the future of our fish stocks (and therefore our sport), we are foolish to suggest that all recreational fishers do the same.

BUT, even if we WERE all the same — if we WERE all responsible and committed to a quality fishing future — there’s still a lot of us! Even if we only took one fish home for dinner each time we went out, we are still extracting a lot of fish. Think about it.

This is the BIG problem. We don’t see ourselves as a big extractor. We see our own extraction only. We compare our singular capacity with that of a single commercial fisher and immediately blame the commercial sector for any depletion in fish stocks. Whilst they have their responsibility in it, so do we. There are millions of us and thousands of them. Like it or not, we are part of the problem and our ignorance is a big threat.

What can we do?

The solution lies in the way we manage our fisheries and that management must be guided by the science. We need to stop standing in the way if the stock data (which is collected across decades) shows that a species is in trouble.

Can you imagine the devastation across the country if we choose to ignore the data? I’m not just talking about how devastated I’d be if fishing wasn’t “worth it” anymore, or less selfishly about the unknown changes too ecosystems as the hierarchy shifts … I’m talking about the economic devastation of communities that boast fishing tourism as their lifeblood! The flow-on impact to the mental wellbeing of vast swathes of society could cost us a motsa!

So, regardless of whether you are a fish-kissing “conservangler” like me (yes, I just made that up… but I like it), a steely-minded businessperson, a politician or simply someone contemplating their “grand” vision, you really need to be doing everything you can to ensure our recreational fishing prospects are solid.

That boils down to supporting solid and sound fisheries management designed to ensure robust stock levels and recreational fishing quality.

Sadly, our decision makers often fail to act due to fear of voter backlash, so we need to give them a push at times. I’ve been truly buoyed by recent petitions coming through my mailbox demanding the safeguarding of fisheries, all started by everyday passionate fishos. That’s the go! I’m not suggesting that we sign up to every cause (there are hair-brain conspiracy theories out there that I wouldn’t let come anywhere near my name!) but I would encourage you to jump in and consider the value of them. If the intent and the background research is sound, then the only way to allay the fear of voter backlash is to demonstrate voter support.

    Here’s a few ways you can be part of the SOLUTION, rather than the problem:

    • Consider your grandkids. If you want them to enjoy fishing like your forebears did, fish responsibly today.
    • Give the scientists a break! If they’re working for recreational fishing, they’re most likely on our side… even if the findings aren’t what we want to hear.
    • Educate yourself. ‘Did You Know‘s make your fishing conversations even more interesting 😉
    • Actively stand up for fish stocks and habitat.
    • Limit your catch, don’t always catch your limit.
    • Learn how to handle fish for successful release.
    • Support sound fisheries management practices.
    • Support public calls for improved regulations.
    • Share the value recreational fishing brings to our communities with anyone who’ll listen.