The commercial fishing industry is one of the most complicated and often misunderstood industries. The idea behind Trapman Bermagui is to try and dispel some of the myths and misconceptions that exist and to give people more understanding of what is involved in the everyday life of a commercial fisherman. I would also like to bridge the gap between commercial and amateur fishermen, by sharing some of my knowledge and experience to help create a more sustainable and enjoyable ocean for everyone.
My dad has been a commercial fisherman since the 1950s, line fishing kingys and snapper and trapping out of Sydney. I started life sleeping in a fishbox on dad’s boat, which I much preferred to daycare.
I spent all my school holidays working on boats with other professional fishermen, learning about fishing and diving. At 15 I became the youngest commercial fisherman in Sydney. When I started, I was line fishing, trapping lobsters and mullet netting during the autumn season. I bought my first tinny with money I made selling fish to my school teachers.
At 18 I upgraded from the tinny to a 6m boat called Princess (named after my dog). A 32ft swift craft boat (Zoe) that I bought next turned out to be a lemon, so I traded that one for a 7m predator boat which was dark blue and creatively called Blue Boat. I had Blue Boat for 16 years.
I mostly fished Kingfish as well as trapping for lobster and fish, and sharks. I would travel up and down the coast a week at a time to break up the boredom, fishing out of Port Stephens, Culburra, Seal Rocks, South West Rocks and Bermagui. In 2000 new fishing regulations were introduced. Lobster quotas were applied along with shark trip limits and mullet netting was banned in Botany Bay. These new regulations meant a big drop in income so I bought a line east and chased Yellowfin and Albacore to try to make up for it.
By this stage I had become one of the top commercial fishermen in Sydney. In 2007 I bought the Marilyn M Sailfish (named after my mum). Shortly after, I met my wife and we decided to leave Sydney for a quieter life. Opting for a seachange, we moved to Bermagui in 2012. Since moving to Bermagui I have mostly focused on fish and lobster trapping, along with a little King fish and tuna fishing. I recently sold Marilyn M and upgraded to the Narissa J which is now moored at Bermagui Fishermen’s Wharf.
Moving my fishing business to Bermagui has been a huge learning curve. There have been many challenges, like learning new fishing grounds and the biggest one, the inconsistency with king fishing. It is very seasonal which is hard to get used to. Snapper is also inconsistent, although the shark fishing here on the South Coast has been good. Overall, fishing in Bermagui I find you catch more quantity but the quality is not always there.
Commercial fishing is a really tough industry. The biggest issues I find as a fisherman are things like inconsistent fish means inconsistent pay, fishing is completely weather dependent and seasonal, the seals here are crazy. It is tough physical work which means my hands burn and hurt and my body is always aching, plus there is constant anxiety /stress, the regulations and licensing systems are always challenging us, my clothes stink and so do I.
But of course, there are some good things about the job too. I get to be out on the ocean, part of nature. I see things that most people never will, such as the majesty of great white sharks swimming beneath the boat, whales breaching at sunrise and the company of dolphin pods as I work. I get to do what I love for a living and live in a great part of the world. It’s also really rewarding to see people eating and enjoying my catch. It feels good when my plans work out and I get a good catch. There is also great camaraderie here amongst the community. The commercial fishermen work together and help each other out. There is also a lot of support from local businesses and the people in this small town.
Jason (Trapman Bermagui)