Commercial fishers on Lake Illawarra have a vested interest in acting responsibly to ensure fishing is sustainable, a long-time professional said yesterday.
Juan Jewell, 47, holds one of the 34 professional licences to fish Lake Illawarra and surrounds, and has made a living from fishing there for 12 years. He said he had not seen fish numbers decline.
"We're not the bad guys in the equation," he said.
"If we can't sustain fishing we will have no future. We want fishing to be forever.
"There's plenty of fish in the lake. I'm out there all the time."
Mr Jewell, of Kanahooka, said he did not have a quota of fish or weight on his licence. But he and fellow operators used their judgment and did not overfish - because their families' livelihoods were linked to the fishing being sustainable.
"This is my livelihood," he said.
"I've grown up on this lake. I know this place like the back of my hand. It's my home."
Mr Jewell was responding to a petition started by Lake Illawarra recreational anglers calling for the number of commercial licences to be cut there. The petition has attracted 700 signatures on the change.org website.
The petitioners believe the lake cannot sustain that many licences, and there is more upside in the tourism dollars attracted by recreational fishing.
Mr Jewell said only about eight licences were regularly used seasonally on the lake.
And while he and his professional colleagues were strictly regulated, having to fill in catch returns listing species, weight and location, he said those who fished recreationally didn't have to list their catch - so authorities didn't know what they took.
"We go out and we catch what is a fair and equitable amount. Everything we catch we have to document and send to Fisheries."
Numbers of amateurs have been boosted by local bait shops' $10,000 fish competition, where a fish is tagged and whoever catches it wins.
"Drive over Windang bridge any night of the week and you will see amateur fishermen competing shoulder to shoulder for a shot at the elusive $10,000 fish," Mr Jewel said.
"This encourages every man and his dog to throw a line in. Is this a responsible way to encourage fishing if the amateurs believe fish stocks are declining?"
The commercial operators who fish Lake Illawarra are often from families that have been doing it for generations.
Mr Jewell said while he hoped his children would one day take over the family business, they were not sure.
He said it was hard work, with good years and bad years, and fish weren't caught all year round.