The Department of Primary Industries will reopen an investigation into the dumping of hundreds of unwanted fish at Jimmys Beach after a photo emerged of fishermen clearing nets in the area.
The photo was taken by a camper who witnessed the mid-January incident.
“I saw the pelicans getting excited and went to have a look,” he said.
There were approximately five crews, some of which appeared to be clearing their nets of unwanted fish.
“You could tell the guys weren’t too happy they were being watched.”
The man said he reported the incident to the NSW Fisheries hotline.
The Newcastle Herald has seen the photo and forwarded it to the Department of Primary Industries.
The Herald has chosen not to publish the photo at this stage.
It is believed those responsible for dumping the fish were commercial fishing operators who used two boats to haul for whiting.
Among the hundreds of dumped fish were rays and a shovel-nosed shark.
The incident comes at that the same time as the Fisheries Compliance Unit seeks to protect fish stocks through a crackdown on illegal recreational fishing inside marine parks sanctuary zones.
Fisheries officers have raised concerns about the enforcement-focused Operation Aurora, which is presently underway, because they believe it unfairly punishes recreational anglers who are not aware they are inside a sanctuary zone.
“Instead of promoting knowledge of sanctuary zones the operation takes a zero tolerance approach with a book and run focus rather than educating,” one officer told the Herald.
Footage of the dead bycatch floating in the shallows at Jimmys Beach sparked an outrage when it appeared on social media, with some locals accusing the department of applying a double standard between the enforcement approach taken towards recreational fishers and commercial operators.
“Just like the inland rivers, the government and authorities do nothing about it and they blame the recreational fishers for low fish numbers,” one local said.
NSW commercial fishing regulations require fishing operators to immediately remove any protected or non-target fish on completion of a hauling shot or on removal of the net from the water.
An initial investigation into the Jimmys Beach incident failed to find sufficient evidence to pursue those responsible.
A department spokeswoman said the new photo would be investigated.
“DPI will investigate the details behind photo including the time and date it was taken, and depending on the evidence surrounding it, the issue may be investigated further,” she said.
The incident has also reopened debate about the impact of commercial fishing in Port Stephens and Myall Lakes. Some believe local fish stocks are in decline because the area is regularly targeted by rogue fishers from as far away as Port Macquarie.
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 by fishing operations.