Shellharbour MP Anna Watson, like many Illawarra residents, was “disgusted” when she saw footage of people who had collected hundreds of cockles from the lake.
Now she is standing with residents to demand action be taken to stop the pillaging of Lake Illawarra.
Vanessa Wright, who grew up in Oak Flats, is leading the charge to make penalties harsher for those who exceed bag limits.
The Department of Primary Industries states a person must have a fishing licence and can only collect 50 cockles and 20 welks each day. The fisher has to collect the creatures themselves.
Reprimands for excessive fishing can range from a formal warning, a $500 on the spot fine, $200 for not having a fishing licence or a notice to attend court.
“Penalties should be in the thousands of dollars to act as a deterrent for the greedy people who take too many cockles,” Ms Wright said.
“The large fines should also be plastered over the signs at the lake so that people get scared. Fishers are selling the cockles for a dollar on Facebook marketplace or to restaurants.”
Ms Watson said the Department of Primary Industries needed to be better resourced.
“Lake Illawarra needs more fisheries officers otherwise we will get to a point where there are no cockles left,” the Labor MP said.
“The 50 shell bag limit is generous. I am disappointed people think they can take what they like.
“The fines need to be increased and there possibly needs to be a three-strike life ban policy.”
Dom Paronetto started a petition calling on the Department of Primary Industries to ban all cockle and mussel fishing in Lake Illawarra. In one day, the petition had more than 1000 signatures.
Ms Wright, and other residents, support a total ban on cockle fishing until the population can replenish.
“A total ban is needed for the ecosystem to be restored,” she said. “There are a lot of people who support this view now.”
Ms Watson and Ms Wright are calling for the number of shells per person to be reduced and a limit to how many family members can collect shells at one time.
“People are rorting the system,” Ms Watson said.
“It is not okay or sustainable for 10 or 20 people to come down to the lake in droves to take 50 shells each,” Ms Wright said.
“No human can eat 50 cockles at one time. It would be like eating 50 oysters.”
Ms Wright would also like to see residents given the authority to police excessive fishing.
“If the government can not properly resource the fisheries department then let the community help,” she said.
Parliamentary secretary for the Illawarra Gareth Ward said bag limits and penalties were put in place for a reason and wanted to make sure those rules were followed.
“I want to see fish stocks flourish so everyone can share in the natural environment and so there is enough fish for everyone,” he said.
“I will need to have a conversation with fisheries officers, who do a great job, about their resources.”
Residents are encouraged to write to Mr Ward, Ms Watson and the Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair to raise their concerns.