Wharf access a balancing act

Fishermen line the cement wharf, an area where their recreation can come into conflict with the safe management of a working port. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
Fishermen line the cement wharf, an area where their recreation can come into conflict with the safe management of a working port. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery

Forget the bush telegraph. The ubiquity of various modes of telecommunications has created something of a feeding frenzy when it comes to those who seek to snare salmon within Otago Harbour.

As Port Otago chief executive Geoff Plunket observes: ‘‘When people are catching salmon, word spreads very quickly. So everyone rushes down to the wharves and that creates pressure on space.''

The Port Otago head is referring to the fact that as salmon numbers rise in the harbour so, too, does the volume of the debate regarding land-bound recreational fishers' access to deep water.

‘‘We are supportive of public access for fishing. It would be disappointing if the only way a person could catch a salmon in the harbour was by boat. We recognise we need to provide anglers with access to deep water.

‘‘I've been at Port Otago since 1988 and until the late '90s we used to allow people to come into the port at Port Chalmers and fish off the log wharf even when there was a ship in. People would sit on their deck chairs and fish.''

Yet, over time, public safety has become a much greater concern, Plunket says, adding focus on a safer working environment requires better separation between the public and Port Otago's operations, be they at Port Chalmers or its upper harbour wharves.

‘‘I'd be the first to agree that there are not lots and lots of fishing spots, but it is about people exercising good judgement.

‘‘It is a balancing act and it is hard for us to exercise that balance. We could just put the issue in the too-hard basket and shut the wharves to the public but we don't want to do that. We are asking people to help us keep the wharves open by respecting our operations.''

Brett Bensemann, a recreational fisherman and chairman of the Dunedin Community Salmon Trust Inc, believes it's a matter of fishers working constructively with Port Otago.

‘‘I think the ORC and Port Otago are assisting wherever possible. There are areas where people can fish off the wharves; and there are some areas that are closed. That's because they are working areas. It's a matter of common sense.''

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