Marine park forces more fishers to Pirie's waters

President of the Marine Scale Net Fishers Association Bart Butson, left, who is based at Gulf St Vincent, and professional fisherman Andrew Pisani, of Stansbury, have moved into Port Pirie waters.
President of the Marine Scale Net Fishers Association Bart Butson, left, who is based at Gulf St Vincent, and professional fisherman Andrew Pisani, of Stansbury, have moved into Port Pirie waters.

A new sanctuary zone off Port Wakefield has forced fishers to Port Pirie’s waters, but local anglers are worried it is unsustainable.

The 61-square-kilometre Marine Park Sanctuary Zone at the top of Gulf St Vincent was set up in October last year with four new net boats fishing Port Pirie as a result.

“The intention was to protect the area from over-fishing, but net fishers have instead been forced into other areas, concentrating effort on those spots,” Editor Les Pearson reported in The Plains Producer newspaper at Balaklava.

“They are moving around wherever they can go like locusts, they can’t sustain what they are doing.”

Local fisherman

One group of local recreational fishermen believes the Port Pirie region should become a net-free zone and only allow hooks in the water, at least for enough time to allow fish stocks to recover.

“I don’t deny they have to make money, but you can’t make money when the fish are gone. They are shooting themselves in the foot,” one recreational fisherman said. 

“They are moving around wherever they can go like locusts, they can’t sustain what they are doing.”

Regional Development Minister and Independent Member for Frome Geoff Brock said the fishermen had visited him in Port Pirie to raise their concerns about the influx of professionals in nearby waters.

He had asked them to bring back information “to progress it further”.

The Recorder told Mr Brock that some Gulf St Vincent fishermen had lost $100,000 a year and were dipping into superannuation benefits as a result of the sanctuary zone decision.

Mr Brock urged St Vincent Gulf professional fishermen who are adversely affected by the zone decision to submit evidence to the State Government’s regional impact assessment process. 

“If there are hardships, the fishermen should give details and if it is confidential information, it will not be divulged,” he said.

But the local fishermen are also worried of what the future holds if it continues much longer.

“The last two years have been atrocious,” another fisherman said. 

“This time of the year you should be getting whiting, but you are not. 

“You cannot catch them now, they are bloody hard to find this year.”

Professional fisherman Andrew Pisani says he had no choice but to move his boats to Port Pirie to remain financially viable since the creation of a sanctuary zone in Gulf St Vincent.

“Since the introduction of marine parks, I had to move on from Port Wakefield,” he said in Port Pirie during a break from fishing.

“I couldn’t make a living there. It is a family business and I have got to keep going so I moved on to Port Pirie. There is no other spot but Pirie.”

Fellow professional fisherman and president of the Marine Scale Net Fishers Association Bart Butson said while Mr Pisani’s situation was unfortunate, at least he had the ability to move.

“The older fishers who are less flexible to move have been dipping into their superannuation which is distressing to the industry to know that men and family businesses have needed to use their retirement savings to live,” Mr Butson said.

“For Andrew and men like him, it is a double negative. He had to leave his home community and then get persecuted in a community that he has had to travel to and doesn’t want to be in.

“We don’t want to be here any more than the people who don’t want us to be here.

“Andrew acts completely legitimately in his business. It is lawfully correct. There is just a social acceptance issue.”

Mr Butson denied professional fishers were depleting stocks.

“Net fishing is most definitely sustainable in Port Pirie and we are highly regulated by Primary Industries and Regions South Australia Fisheries,”  he said.

“This issue is not a sustainability issue – it is an issue of perception and resource sharing. 

“And as this area is proving to have good fish, it is likely more fishers will come here.” 

“We do desperately hope the zones can be changed when the data is provided”

Marine Scale Net Fishers Association president Bart Butson

Opposition environment spokeswoman Michelle Lensink said the series of events was foreseeable since the introduction of the marine park. 

“Unfortunately, this is what we predicted would happen when Mr Brock decided not to support the Liberal Party’s Marine Parks Bill last year. This would have allowed some commercial fishers to continue operating in the waters they were fishing in,” she said. 

Mr Butson said affected professionals were providing data about their financial losses to the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies and hoped the study’s results will help to reopen the sanctuary zones.

“We do desperately hope the zones can be changed when the data is provided,” he said. 

“The local member Geoff Brock had it within his power to stop this happening. He alone had the privileged position in parliament to stop Andrew and his colleagues fishing in this area.

“Mr Brock initiated the study to know what the losses would be and we would like to see the study acted on and the possibility of the zone being re-opened and the fishermen going back to their own communities and the trouble going away.”