Image for The Old Man Of The Sea And The Humble Tassie Scallop

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Don’s on the phone about dredging. He’s been into town trying to get media attention to dredging, but has been fobbed off. Also wants dredging to be put on as a special agenda item at the next meeting of some representative fishing mob with a fancy acronym. Fisheries don’t want dredging…hang on a second Don. Paton that is, the man who was speaking for recreational fishers when I started out as a journo on the fisheries round. I’m retired, so why the bloody hell doesn’t Don? Anyway what’s dredging the Orford barway got to do with rec fishing? Yeah, I’ve photo-shot three failed barway dredging attempts…and quite frankly Don, not bloody interested…except who’s paid for it all. I’ve got a little runabout, don’t use the barway, thousands of dollars wasted…and it’s only for big-buck-boats anyway. But I’ve got Don wrong.

Not that dredging! Scallop dredging!
Rii-ii-ght! That dredging! But recreational fishers don’t use dredges any more.
“That’s what I’m on about.”
“Rii-ght!”
He has my attention.
“Expect more drownings.”
“Yep.”
“Totally discriminates against us old bastards who can’t dive any more!”
“Yep.”
“Went to the media. More interested in how many members RecFishTas has?”
“What’s that to do with dredging and drowning and discrimination?”
“Totally irrelevant. But we’ve got the numbers if we want to use them. Just a matter of firing the fishers up…”
Yep, I agree with that Don, but once upon a time State Governments gave healthy grants to rec fishing organisations, but not any more. They think as a fishing lobby, the recreational fishing industry has lost its voice and the funding has stopped. Yet more taxpayers fish and spend zillions on boats and gear and fuel and licences than any single lobby in the State. The economic value of recreational licence fees, and downstream spending to small economies as Orford, Triabunna and big and little towns across the entire Tasmanian seaboard is legend.

So too are devious ways of today’s activities, of getting around the regulations governing diving for scallops. 

“There are more ways of beating the rules than there are of cooking a scallop.”

Yep and I’ve heard that too. One boat, rec scallop licences for everybody on board. One diver, the rest just wet their hair and take 50 scallops. Take them ashore to a rendezvous point and go back out again. Two, maybe three trips. Darkness lasts longer in winter when the scallop season is open and its natural cover becomes a fiendish fishers friend. Out in the dark, back in the dark. One hundred fish per person on the boat more than their daily allowance and go home laughing all the way to the barbie.
But Don is making the point…as only Don Paton can do, after all he does have a Hemingway quality about him. The Old Man of the Sea. Just won’t let go of that big fella at the end of his line.
“It’s not bloody fair. The regulations do discriminate. They force people who shouldn’t dive to take risks in cold winter conditions, to get a feed of scallops.”

Don, the President of RecFishTas wants to see the reintroduction of small-boat scallop-dredging. He says it will reduce the drowning-risk of older divers battling winter cold and currents, eliminate discrimination against fishers too feeble to dive…but what about the proliferation of dredges and the environment, Don?
“Not as much impact as a four-metre commercial-scallop dredge.”
Good point. Don recalls at least five fatalities of older divers getting into trouble on scallop dives. Well why not as I have done, do it legally and go buy a bin of commercially-caught scallops, have a few beers and shuck them…?”

“Not the same. Chuck a small scallop-dredge over the back, catch a feed, have a good day out on the water. It’s our bloody right…and it’s been taken away from us.”
“I’ve done my best to get to statutory fishing bodies, including State departments, but nobody’s home on this issue…and the biggest issue of course, is fatalities at sea.”

Good point, Don Paton, who admits to being stressed by closed doors and closed ears…government utilities and the media who won’t give him a run. To this cause, Don can muster the potentially biggest lobby, thousands of Tasmanian recreational fishers who demand their right of access to the humble scallop.

In the meanwhile Don Paton has done some research and has pointed me to the web, where a pint-sized scallop dredge is being marketed to rec-fishers where dredging is still legal.

At a cost of about 400 bucks, it’s geared for easy use and configured for minimum impact on the sea-bed. Scallop divers could share the cost of the dredge. But to a money-hungry State always looking to rec-fishers for registration fees, licence-fees, it makes sense. Those fishers who the regulations discriminate against would happily pay a dredge-fee and a licence fee. Not to mention that perhaps Marine And Safety Tasmania, might just have a stake in this debate as well. Big revenue dollars here folks. Don’t let these agencies turn into PR-based sinecures. Listen to the veterans, while they’re still about.

Don’s appeal on safety issues comes close to home. My son recently got into trouble in shallow-water diving for scallops in Port Phillip Bay. He thought his time was up. The surface breeze, pushing him away from the boat, rapidly sapping his energy…and then he remembered life-saving advice from his now officially-old dad…now not stupid enough to go back into the water.

“Swim under the surface to avoid the breeze. Make your way to the anchor chain. Otherwise you’ll get blown away from the boat and never see it again.”
More advice? Never dive alone.

Perhaps rec fishers might take this life-saving advice where they may take the plunge for that ubiquitous marine delicacy until such time the little dredges once again become part of our fabulous, envied, Tasmanian marine life-style. After all, we own the fish in State waters. State instrumentalities only manage them. Now I hear rumours that the size limit on the humble flathead might go up. Much to say about this sooner than later. Let’s hope Don Paton has awoken a sleeping giant.