Port Stephens locals are determined to track down those responsible for dumping hundreds of dead under-sized fish on Jimmys Beach.
It is believed a commercial fishing operator caught the fish as bycatch during a beach haul at Jimmy’s Beach last weekend.
Given the number of dumped fish it is thought those responsible used a net that was dragged between two boats.
The fish were dumped in the shark infested shallows at the eastern end of the beach.
Commercial fishing has become a contentious issue in Port Stephens and Myall Lakes in recent years with some locals pointing to evidence that the area is regularly targeted by rogue fishers from as far away as Port Macquarie.
“It’s an absolute disgrace and the state government is fully aware of what is happening,” Myall River Action Group spokesman Gordon Grainger said.
“There needs to be a moratorium on commercial fishing in Port Stephens because the system we have isn’t working.”
A Department of Primary industries spokeswoman said fisheries officers were investigating the incident.
She said commercial fishers were required to immediately remove any fish on completion of a hauling shot or on removal of the net from the water.
“This way any unwanted, non-target, prohibited size or protected fish can be immediately returned to the water with the least possible harm,” she said.
Failing to do so carried a maximum penalty of $22,000 and/or 6 months imprisonment.
Those who commented on social media argued that the waterway needed more effective management and enforcement.
“Under environmental laws they are not permitted to leave dead fish on the beach so they throw the small and unwanted species back and hope the public doesn’t notice,” one local wrote.
“Just like the inland rivers the government and authorities do nothing about it and they blame the recreational fishers for low fish numbers.”
Port Stephens MP Kate Washington said she had spoken to several commercial fishermen about the incident.
“They are just as mortified as the rest of the community is about this,” she said.
“It’s an appalling situation, particularly at this time of year. Someone needs to be held accountable.”
A 2106 bycatch report released by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority revealed the deadly toll of commercial fishing on delicate species.
More than 1600 individual protected birds or marine life were recorded as dead as a result of being netted, hooked or entangled in commercial fishing operations.