An important regional industry producing world-class fresh seafood, oyster farms are also used by recreational fishers in boats and kayaks targeting a range of estuary sportfish including yellowfin bream, dusky flathead and luderick.
The reason oyster farms can be popular and productive places to fish is because of the shelter and food offered by the posts, oyster trays, baskets and shade cloth used on the farms. This infrastructure also attracts bait which in turn attracts and holds the target species.
In many ways, an oyster farm acts like artificial reef in providing habitat, food and shelter for fish. There are currently 2254 oyster farms covering almost 3000 hectares across various NSW estuary systems, including many Recreational Fishing Havens.
While oyster farms are well known as being productive locations to wet a line, recreational fishers need to understand and appreciate that these areas form the backbone of a key aquaculture industry worth about $40m to the NSW economy and employing hundreds of professional workers.
Oyster farms in NSW operate under a non-exclusive lease, meaning other users – such as recreational fishers – can share access to our waterways. However, it is an offence to damage or interfere with lease infrastructure or the oysters growing on it as these belong to the oyster farmer.
In order to ensure recreational fishers and the oyster industry continue to share and benefit from our waterways, it is important you follow a few simple rules if you are planning to cast a bait or lure around your local oyster farm.
To avoid damage to fragile oyster farm infrastructure, always remember to:
- Avoid contact with farming infrastructure, being aware that some infrastructure may be underwater.
- Never tie up or “park” on oyster farm infrastructure.
- Make sure you slow down and reduce wash when travelling past oyster farms.
- Obey Maritime regulations.
- Use weedless lure and barbless hooks to avoid snags.
Organised large scale theft of oysters, coupled with smaller scale thievery, can hit the oyster industry hard and is a food safety risk. Support your local oyster farmers by only buying oysters from reputable sellers. Oyster theft is a crime and significant penalties apply for anyone involved with stealing, selling or buying black market oysters. If you see any suspicious activity while fishing around oyster farms, call the Fishers Watch Phoneline on 1800 043 536.
One of the biggest concerns affecting the oyster industry involves water quality. Boaters and fishers in and adjacent to oyster farms can pose a serious food safety threat if they defecate, regurgitate or discharge effluent overboard. When out on the water, always remember to:
- Never discharge anything overboard.
- Know the location of vessel pump-out facilities.
- Know the location of public toilets accessible from the shoreline.
- Report any pollution to Roads and Maritime on 13 12 36.
Take the time to get to know your local oyster farmers so you ensure your fishing activities don’t interrupt their work on the leases. The farmers will be able to give you some great tips on where the fish are!
Oyster farms can pose navigation and safety risks. Here are a few tips to help maximise your safety – as well as that of the oyster farmers – when fishing round oyster farms:
- Always treat oyster farmers with respect and consideration.
- Do not allow tackle or vessels to contact farm infrastructure.
- Slow down and reduce wash when travelling past oyster farms.
- Use weedless lures and barbless hooks to avoid snags.
- Obey Maritime regulations including safe distance and speed restrictions.
Doing the right thing by fishing responsibly around oyster farms is a “win-win” for recreational fishers and the NSW oyster industry. Working together will ensure oyster farmers and recreational fishers will continue to share and benefit from the great resources offered by our estuaries, rivers and coastal lakes.
Story from NSW Departement of Primary Industries
Images by Shane Chalker Photography.