Alex's Column 16/9/21

One of my favourite barra rivers in the Top End is the Vic. The Victoria River is the longest river in the NT and its tidal reaches on a clear-water day can produce electrifying barra fishing. It was down the Vic way back in 1990 when I caught one of my biggest-ever barramundi at 124cm… what a silver slapper that was. When you head down the Vic from the Big Horse Creek boat ramp, one place you always give a go is Angalarri Creek which is a major tributary about an hour’s run downstream depending on how fast you go. Angalarri to the Vic River is like Nourlangie Creek is to the South Alligator, like Clear Creek is to the Daly and like any of the Wiltshire Creeks are to the Adelaide. Angalarri is an important waterway, with plenty of rock-bars, gravel and sand banks, feeder creeks and big old submerged snags. Can you imagine then how disappointed I and 100s of other Top End anglers were when this iconic waterway was closed to fishing by the Department of Defence earlier this year? The sudden change in management came without warning, or any kind of engagement from the Defence Department, and this was distressing to regular visitors of the river. Many individual fishers, fishing-related businesses and fishing clubs contacted the Amateur Fishermen’s Association NT (AFANT) after 30 new signs threatening prosecution were erected along the river by the Department. At the same time, security personnel began to routinely intercept and instruct fishers to leave the river immediately. The Angalarri River is contained within the Defence-owned Bradshaw Field Training Area and is used for training by the Australian Army as well as an Australia-US Joint Combined Training Centre. The vast 870,000-hectare former pastoral property is bordered by the Fitzmaurice River to the north and the Victoria River to the south, and it includes live-fire areas. Safety was the original reason stated for banning recreational fishing at the Angalarri this year, but this was in spite of Defence previously acknowledging the existing right of fishers accessing waters. Understanding that the pastoral lease had been converted to a crown lease many years ago, AFANT wrote to the NT Minister for Recreational Fishing, Paul Kirby, in July to find out if the public right to access the river had been maintained as a condition of the lease. In early September, AFANT was informed that the crown lease conditions did not stipulate that fishers must be allowed access, and at this time AFANT requested the Minister to assist by making representations to the Commonwealth Government. At the same time, AFANT’s President Warren de With reached out to Senator Sam McMahon and local Katherine MLA Jo Hersey for assistance, with each agreeing to take the matter up with the Federal Government. Late last week, Senator McMahon contacted AFANT’s President with the good news that, after seeking clarification with the office of the Minister for Defence, it was explained the new signs were not meant to limit boating access and the enforcement/evictions seemingly had occurred in error. The Senator assured AFANT that boating access to the Angalarri River could resume without the worry of being approached by security to leave, and that the signage relates to a requirement not to go ashore. AFANT President Warren de With praised the swift response from Senator McMahon and the Territory MLA for Katherine Jo Hersey, and also the support of the Recreational Fishing Minister, Paul Kirby. “On behalf of AFANT and all of the people who love fishing at the Angalarri River, I thank the Senator and the Member for their attention to this issue and for bringing about a great outcome,” Warren said. “Club events earlier in the year were already impacted by the decision to kick fishers out, and with the Alure Ladies Fishing Classic planned for the beginning of October, it was a pleasure to be able to inform them that access to the river was back on. “Of course, it is important that fishers recognise access to the Angalarri River is now a privilege, rather than a right, and that because it is no longer a pastoral lease you cannot get out of your boat or camp within 50m of the river. “Access to fishing waters is a top priority for AFANT, our staff and volunteers work tirelessly to open up and to keep open as many spots as we can, which is essential given how many NT waters are either privately owned or bordered by private land” said Mr de With. “Our commitment to working on behalf of recreational fishers is reflected not only in this case, but also in our ongoing engagement with the NTG and Land Councils on Blue Mud Bay, our support for connecting the Pt Stuart boat ramp to a public road, as well as our project to improve access to the Katherine River at Manbulloo Station. Additionally, at the 2020 election, AFANT secured commitments from the Northern Territory Government to improve access to fishing in national parks and across pastoral land. Congratulations to Warren and the AFANT Committee for achieving such an important result.

Sebastion Hibbert, 8, landed this ripper Shoal Bay threadfin salmon in a spirited solo effort.