Member for Shellharbour Anna Watson has called for a temporary ban on cockle collecting amid concerns overfishing is causing “irreparable damage” to Lake Illawarra.
The state Labor MP has written to NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair, saying the ban – while drastic – was needed “as a matter of urgency” following numerous reports of overfishing in recent weeks.
Ms Watson said she had seen footage of people collecting more than 300 cockles at once – well above the daily bag limit of 50 per person.
“This [temporary ban] might seem drastic but it’s the right thing to do,” she said.
“I’m incredibly concerned with the risk overfishing poses to our local environment.
“Lake Illawarra sits at the heart of our community. We need to do all that we can to protect and preserve this natural resource.”
Ms Watson said a temporary ban on cockle fishing would allow fishing stock levels to be monitored, and for the impacts of fishing patterns to be properly investigated.
In her letter to Mr Blair, the MP said her office had been contacted by a number of concerned residents.
“Fisheries NSW have been made aware of this serious issue but urgent action needs to be taken to prevent irreparable damage to the Lake Illawarra ecosystem,” Ms Watson wrote.
“Several residents have begun taking matters such as monitoring and enforcing these rules into their own hands, due to the local staffing shortages.”
Ten NSW DPI Fisheries officers undertake compliance patrols across the Illawarra and Shoalhaven.
Five of the officers are based at Port Kembla. However, two of them work as part of a mobile statewide operations and investigations squad, which focuses on detecting illegal fishing activity.
“On an operational basis, additional fisheries officers may be tasked to conduct patrols to respond to emerging compliance issues, including the illegal collection of intertidal invertebrates [such as cockles] in Lake Illawarra,” a NSW DPI spokesman said.
Members of the public have been warned against interacting with people they suspect are illegally fishing, and instead report their concerns to the Fishers Watch phoneline on 1800 043 536.