Caught with hoe, lake opener fined

A 45-year-old person from Bermagui is facing a hefty fine after allegedly being caught dredging a channel to the sea at the entrance to Cuttagee Lake, south of Bermagui.

“Fisheries officers from the Narooma fisheries office received information that members of the public were attempting to artificially open Cuttagee Lake late last month,” NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) supervising fisheries officer Mathew Richardson said.

“Cuttagee Lake is an ICOLL (Intermittently Closed/Open Lakes and Lagoon) and had been closed to the sea for over six months.

“Officers attended the scene and spoke to a person who was later interviewed and made admissions with respect to dredging a channel to the sea in an attempt to lower the level of the lake.

“A hoe, which was used by the person to dig out the channel, was seized.

“Heavy rainfall had meant that the lake level had risen in recent times.

“Cuttagee Lake had a bumper crop of prawns and fish that would have been ripe for the picking for recreational fishers over the Christmas break.

“However as a result of the opening the fish and prawns will have run out to sea.”

The alleged offender is facing an on the spot fine of $1000, pending a review of any environmental harm done.

Should the review identify serious harm has been done, the person faces being charged with carrying out dredging without authority, which carries a maximum fine of $110,000.

Intermittently Closed/Open Lakes and Lagoons are located all along the NSW coast and are key fish habitats.

Most occur south of Sydney where catchments are generally smaller in size and experience lower average rainfall.

“The Department supports minimal interference with the entrance barriers of lakes and lagoons and advocates natural processes being allowed to operate to the greatest extent possible,” Mr Richardson said.

“Previous attempts by community members to illegally open similar areas on the South Coast have resulted in large scale fish kills.

“More frequent openings can also lead to increased exposure and death of aquatic vegetation and increased risk of low dissolved oxygen, increasing the incidence of fish kills.

“Over the long term, more frequent openings will lead to shifts in the structure and distribution of fringing riparian vegetation communities.”

Persons who want to pass on information about illegal lake openings or illegal fishing can call Fishers Watch on 1800 043 536 or their local fisheries office.

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