Byron History: The Byron Mullet Crew in Action
MULLET CREW LEGENDS: Terry Bertoli, Authur Boggis, Ron Boggis, Tony “Bigfoot” Reese, Harold Malin, Peter Reese, Ian Berry, Barry Baxter, Brian Campbell, Harry Storey, Cec Perantis, Guy Maxwell, Terry Charles, Benny McClyment, Ronnie Francis, Donny Robson, Wayne “Jungle” Jones, members of the Tweed mullet crew, Gordon “Sparra” Barton, Noel “Fred” Barton, Ted “Jetty Jack” McGrath, Ted “Slacky” Withers – and how many more can we add?
What Happened to the Mullet?
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
TV PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT
Fish drying up in Australia
Reporter: Michael Troy
MICHAEL TROY: Every year around June, fishing crews all along the East Coast gather on the beaches searching for signs of the mullet run.
BRIAN CAMPBELL, COMMERCIAL FISH SPOTTER: The mullet leave the river in the winter seasons usually here around May to the end of June. They come out to spawn.
MICHAEL TROY: The mullet, heavy with roe, are worth about $6 $8 a kilogram. This year, however, the commercial fishermen are facing a harsh reality.
MICHAEL TROY: How’s it been so far this year?
BRIAN CAMPBELL: Awful, worst year we’ve ever had. Only because of the closures that were put on after the flood in the Richmond River and we weren’t allowed into those areas where we traditionally catch our fish. So it’s the worst year I’ve ever been in 30 years.
BARRY BAXTER, COMMERCIAL FISHERMAN: We’ve been doing it all our lives and our fathers were doing it before we done it, you know, and just about dying, just about finished for the population beacher all the rest of the greenies, all the rest, so it’s another dying industry.
MICHAEL TROY: 48-year-old Barry Baxter has worked these waters of northern NSW for most of his life but now feels he and many other commercial fishermen are about to be forced out of business, effectively made scapegoats for a problem not of their making.
BARRY BAXTER: Until they do something about their water conservation and fix up all their polluted rivers, the fish are only going to get less and less.
MICHAEL TROY: It’s a story being played out in many areas of the coast — as development increases, the nurseries of the seas suffer. Earlier this year, floods in the Richmond-McLeay River system set off a complex chemical chain reaction which starved fish of oxygen, wrecking many of the most important estuarine breeding grounds. The NSW Government reacted by closing the rivers to allow stocks to recover.
EDDIE O’BEID, NSW FISHERIES MINISTER: This is a disaster — the worst of its kind in 50 years.MICHAEL TROY: The question remains, though, whether Australia’s fisheries are in serious trouble. Should the alarm bells be ringing?
MICHAEL TROY: The question remains, though, whether Australia’s fisheries are in serious trouble. Should the alarm bells be ringing?
LEIF LEMKE, FRIENDS OF SOLITARY ISLAND MARINE PARK: Well, if this was my business, I would probably be calling in the liquidator now.
MICHAEL TROY: Leif Lemke, from the Friends of Solitary Island Marine Park, claims NSW Fisheries own statistics, reveal a huge drop in fish being caught.
LEIF LEMKE: The fishery is in major decline and that’s about all our fisheries. Across NSW, for the last four years, there’s been a 25 per cent drop.
PAUL O’CONNOR, ACTING DIRECTOR, NSW FISHERIES: In a sense that’s a misunderstanding and it really results from the way we reported our data over the years. The fact is, that some of our fisheries, which traditionally NSW Fisheries has managed, are now being managed by the Commonwealth, and so the decline in catches is largely a reflection of the fact that those catches are now being recorded under Commonwealth legislation.
MICHAEL TROY: While the official line may be that there is no crisis, there is growing anecdotal evidence that many popular fish species are becoming scarcer.
DOUG JOINER, AUSTRALIAN FISHING TACKLE ASSOCIATION: It’s not a matter of counting the stumps like you can see in the forests. But there is concern because recreational anglers are no longer catching fish. They can spend a whole day out there and catch nothing.
MICHAEL TROY: Anglers believe pollution is a major culprit, but maintain their commercial counterparts are also partly to blame.
In many States they are now paying licence fees to help fund a buy-out of some of the professionals.DOUG JOINER: It’s about change. Recreational fishing practices have had to change. Commercial fishing practices have to change.
DOUG JOINER: It’s about change. Recreational fishing practices have had to change. Commercial fishing practices have to change.
MICHAEL TROY: While the two fishing groups argue over a solution, Aboriginal communities have also witnessed fish stocks decline.
OSSIE CRUISE, NSW ABORIGINAL LAND COUNCIL: Now we can only get undersized fish and undersized fish carry a very strong penalty. And if you take undersized fish, you’ve got to get more than 10, which is a bag limit, to make a feed of it. So, we’re pressed for our own sustenance, to break the law.
MICHAEL TROY: The NSW Aboriginal Land Council views fishing rights as a crucial issue and warns, as authorities tighten regulations to preserve dwindling stocks, Aboriginal people are getting caught in the net and jailed over outstanding fishing fines.
OSSIE CRUISE: Our bush tucker is what comes out of that ocean — it’s the oysters, it’s the lobsters, it’s the abalone, it’s all that sea fish.
That’s our major source of bush tucker and we can’t access that because of the laws.
PAUL O’CONNOR: The traditional cultural activities for indigenous people are an issue.It’s an issue which we’ve recognised and which we’re trying to work with the community to develop solutions for.
It’s an issue which we’ve recognised and which we’re trying to work with the community to develop solutions for.
MICHAEL TROY: While all parties agree there’s fewer fish around, the solutions will involve some tough decisions that will impact on communities all along the coast.
JEFF BLACKBURN, COFFS HARBOUR FISHERMAN: Most of us feel we have no future and we’ve wasted our working lives.
MICHAEL TROY: Small-scale local fishermen like Jeff Blackburn believe they’ll be the ones squeezed out.
He warns the public will only notice they’ve gone when supplies of locally caught seafood dry up and get more expensive.
JEFF BLACKBURN: We’re only agents for the general community who want their access to fish and don’t have the opportunity to catch it. We are representatives of the non-angling public.
MICHAEL TROY: For the mullet fishermen of Byron Bay, it could be the end of an era, in an industry few are encouraging their children to get into.
BARRY BAXTER: No, I don’t think he’ll be a fisherman.
MICHAEL TROY: Won’t he?
BARRY BAXTER: No, there’s no future in the fishing around here any more, I don’t think, no.