A group of poachers intercepted at Emerald Beach recently.
A group of poachers intercepted at Emerald Beach recently.

Caught in a catch-22 battle against illegal poaching

THE fight to protect our rocky shores is proving to be a frustrating catch-22 for a local surfrider association.

The Coffs Coast Surfrider Foundation is calling for a moratorium on mollusc harvesting from Nambucca Heads to Red Rock to combat illegal poaching which they say is posing a serious risk to our marine environment.

Elisabeth Nicolson from the foundation says that while the Department of Primary Industry (DPI) is "pretty supportive" they need evidence of the seriousness of the situation.

"But we are saying we can't afford to wait. We need to get in early with this. Near Melbourne this was a problem a decade ago and from their experience there are species that just just haven't recovered. Molluscs are a key species in the entire food chain."

In recent weeks people have taken to social media to express their anger at seeing large groups of people collecting various species from rockpools around the region.

'I've seen the rocks at Wenonah getting a comprehensive cleaning up. When I made it clear to the people who were doing it that I was watching them, they went round and put all the stuff back,' posted Sean Maigh on the surfrider foundation's Facebook page.

Others have noticed an alarming decline in diversity.

'For the last few weekends I've been trying to find some marine life for my two-year-old son to have a look at. Unfortunately there is significantly less life in the rock pools. I haven't been able to find any star fish, sea urchins or sea cucumbers which used to be pretty common,' posted Nik Ann.

Many believe visitors and itinerant workers are some of the main culprits.

'To the Asian people raiding the coastlines of molluscs. I have caught at least 50 over the last week and it's bullshit. They know they're doing the wrong thing as they try to pack up ASAP and hide it all when you sneak up on them,' Johno Jones wrote in a recent Advocate 'thumbs down' submission.

The photo accompanying this article was taken when a member of the surfrider foundation intercepted a group of collectors at Emerald Beach.

"They had no fishing licence and said they were working on the blueberry farms and did not know they needed a licence or that there were bag limits to mollusc harvesting. It was a classic example of what we are trying to stop. The bucket is clearly a bucket used in blueberry harvesting," explained Ms Nicolson.

The DPI has recognised this with a representative stating "fisheries officers have reported a trend of visitors to the area and itinerant workers being unaware of existing regulations.

"The department is working with local itinerant worker industries, including the Australian Blueberry Growers Association, to communicate fishing regulations and will release a new guide, signage and posters focusing on intertidal collection within the marine park over the coming weeks."

A recreational fishing licence is required to fish or collect anywhere in NSW and specific size and bag limits apply to many species. There are only three allowed species that are likely to be found on rock platforms - oysters, turban snails and periwinkles. Bag limits apply to all these species and turban snails also have a size limit.

In addition to recreational fishing regulations, a number of additional restrictions apply to the Solitary Islands Marine Park. This includes a number of areas totally protected from collecting, including Arrawarra Headland and Flat Top Point near Woolgoolga.

The surfrider association has launched a petition to back their call for a moratorium. If you see poaching you can report it to DPI via Fishers Watch on 1800 043 536 or go to the compliance section on the DPI website here.