The Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair’s office has confirmed it is aware of reports of illegal cockle fishing at Lake Illawarra but has refused to say it will consider a total ban.
The minister’s office ignored questions asked by the Mercury about whether it would consider increasing on the spot fines for overfishing or allocating more fisheries officers to the patrol Lake Illawarra.
Vanessa Wright, who grew up in Oak Flats, has called on the state government to ban all cockle fishing at the lake until stocks replenish, increase penalties to $5000 for overfishing, allocate more fisheries officers, give residents the power to police cockle collection and crackdown on commercial fishing which is done under the guise of recreational fishing.
A spokeswoman from the minister’s office said there are ten NSW Department of Primary Industries fisheries officers who conduct compliance patrols across the Illawarra and Shoalhaven areas, including five officers who are based at Port Kembla.
“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 in Lake Illawarra,” she said.
The spokeswoman said “fisheries officers are actively targeting the region to ensure it is appropriately protected and maintained”.
The spokeswoman said recreational bag limits were reviewed and public consultation with recreational fishers and the community would conducted before any changers were considered.
The office has discouraged residents from interacting with people they suspect are illegally fishing and want them to report their concerns to the Fishers Watch Phoneline on 1800 043 536, online at the DPI website using the online report form, or through the FishSmart NSW app.
“We take all reports of suspected illegal activity seriously,” the spokeswoman said.
“If fisheries officers are available to respond immediately they will.”
The penalties for illegal collection of cockles and other shellfish are significant, including on the spot fines of $500, and up to $22,000 and/or six months in jail for a first offence.
Penalties increase to $44,000 and/or 12 months in jail for subsequent offences.
Fisheries officers can also seize fishing gear, vehicles and boats connected to fisheries offences.