A heated fishing debate that has been taking place behind the scenes went public last week when both Julia Christensen’s ABC morning radio show and ABC’s Tales From The Tinny dived head first into the issue.
That issue involves the controversial rule changes for the NT Barra Classic proposed by the Committee of the Darwin Game Fishing Club.
Just as a background, the Barra Classic was first held in 1982 at Corroboree Billabong.
At the time, AFANT and NT Fisheries were jointly running an Amateur barramundi tagging program and the Barra Classic was incorporated into this program right from the start.
In fact, it was the first game fishing tournament in Australia where all fish were measured and released, and it was also the first tournament in Australia where fish were tagged for biological research.
In the late ‘80s, the game club introduced another first on the Australian fishing tournament scene with the requirement for anglers to use only lures with barbless hooks – in other words, the barbs had to be crushed with pliers.
The reason for the introduction of barbless hooks was plainly and simply to maximise the survival chances of released fish.
Anyone who has fished for and caught plenty of barra, and who has used both barbed and barbless hooks, would know that fish cannot be released as quickly with barbed hooks as they can be with barbless hooks.
Furthermore, many lures carry three treble hooks and sometimes one or more trebles ends up with all three points entwined in the delicate jaw/hinge tissue of a fish, and can be very difficult to remove if the hooks are barbed.
Add to this the number of times that hooks also get entwined with nets, and the situation can only be exacerbated.
With barbless hooks, even the most complicated multiple-point hook-ups can be removed without damage to fish…and of course much faster too.
The proposed new rules for the 2012 Barra Classic introduce barbed hooks back into the equation; ie competitors will no longer need to crush their hook barbs in.
Other rule changes basically reflect a deregulation of the equipment that can be used in the Classic, considerably reducing its status as a game fishing tournament.
Though this has upset many of the game fishing traditionalists in the club, and has caused quite a bit of debate in itself, it is the abandoning of the barbless hooks rule that has really stoked the fire amongst club members, tournament competitors and others who have had an involvement with the Barra Classic.
For example, AFANT President and a past winner of the Barra Classic, Warren De With, had this to say: “I can’t understand how they can possibly go back to barbed hooks when this is a tag-and-release tournament.”
“The Barra Classic is on a pedestal in Australia because of its strong conservation image.
“The perception of the public has always been that the Classic has always held the stocks in higher regard than the anglers’ need to catch more fish.
“First and foremost, it is the health of the fish that should be paramount.
“It was always called the ‘Tournament With A Difference’ because it required higher angling skills to land barra with barbless hooks and with special line and leader requirements,” Warren said.
“What’s really important is that anglers understood that the fish were to be released as healthy as possible, and the competitors felt they were part of something good; that they were contributing to the preservation of the stocks.
“The thing here is that there is a definite line in the sand…first and foremost must be the welfare of the fish. If we’re going to start tearing and ripping them apart with barbs, and having more barra getting sharked, then we’re not worrying about the welfare of the fish as much as catching more of them.
“If that’s the case, we may as well start stacking them up on the river bank,” the AFANT President said.
It seems that Warren’s views are shared by many, including most of the teams fishing in the Classic.
A survey undertaken of 43 team captains asked whether they felt the tournament should be barbed or barbless.
A total of 30 teams responded and every single one of them opted for barbless, some with very strong views.
At the end of the day, even if the impact of retaining barbs on hooks is not that significant after all, it seems these rules changes are at odds with what the vast majority of interested persons want.
Darwin Game Fishing Club Life Member, Chris Makepeace, wrote to the Committee stating: “The move to allow barbed hooks has the potential to damage the reputation of the Barra Classic by sending an unintended message that fish welfare is not a significant consideration for the club…The question I would ask is this — is the need for this change and any perceived benefits it might bring enough to outweigh the possible negatives I have outlined here? I doubt it.”
I understand that some of the more-concerned Darwin Game Fishing Club members will be attending the next meeting at 7.00pm Tuesday February 7th at the Darwin Ski Club, and urge others to do likewise.
With the wet season pouring away and promising some great run-off fishing, here’s a preview of what we’d all like to experience: a big metre-plus barra thrashing away on the end of the line.