Will a million-dollar fish lure tourists to Sydney, or will it just swim away with our hopes and dreams?

Fishing competition with $1m reward has been floated as part of a festival to ‘kickstart Sydney’s recovery from Covid’

fisherman in yellow oilskins looks out onto opera house and harbour bridge
A post-Covid recovery plan for Sydney includes a mooted fishing competition with cash prizes, including a kingfish with a $1m tag that would be released into the harbour. Photograph: Philip McAllister/Getty Images
A post-Covid recovery plan for Sydney includes a mooted fishing competition with cash prizes, including a kingfish with a $1m tag that would be released into the harbour. Photograph: Philip McAllister/Getty Images

Last modified on Fri 13 Nov 2020 19.39 EST

Naaman, I have often dreamed of amassing obscene wealth with a minimum of labour or talent. Are my dreams likely to remain unfulfilled?

Hi Stuart. You have two options – buy a house 10 to 20 years ago in Sydney, or grab a rod and catch one very special fish.

Under a (not confirmed) new proposal designed to boost tourism, an alliance of Sydney harbourside businesses are thinking of starting a fishing competition along that iconic shore.

One kingfish will be released into Sydney Harbour and tagged with a million-dollar reward. If you catch it, the money is yours. Other fish will be released with smaller prizes of $5,000 and $10,000.

The million dollar fish is only one idea, floated as part of a new “Sydney Harbour festival”, and designed by the Western Harbour Alliance.

The chairman of the alliance, Geoff Parmenter, said: “These kind of events can really kickstart Sydney’s recovery from the Covid pandemic.”

Is there a chance that the fish, once released, will swim away and never be seen again?

I’d say yes. Fish famously have no respect for the rules and conditions of NSW tourism campaigns. Our wealthy piscine could simply scarper, with its $1m tag still attached, and maybe live out the rest of its life on some tropical island.

In fact, the Northern Territory government has run a nearly-identical million dollar fish campaign – called Million Dollar Fish. Over five years, that million dollar fish has never been caught.

A spokesman for the Western Harbour Alliance told Guardian Australia: “It is unlikely that the fish would be kept in a certain area. It may indeed, therefore, leave the harbour.”

Won’t that $1m be missed?

Hopefully not. The plan is that this event will generate more revenue for the state than will be lost through the catching of the fish. The fish hunt is also only one event in a broader plan for a harbour festival.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph reported glowingly that “it is hoped the festival would rival Vivid, which attracts 3 million visitors and generates $172m a year, or Sculpture by the Sea, which attracts 450,000 visitors and pumps $40m into the economy.”

A second Daily Telegraph article on the same fish hunt said that organisers expected it to generate $7m – but a Western Harbour Alliance spokesman said this was an error. They’re not willing to put a number on this yet.

It’s not my job to judge whether 3 million visitors and $172m is a realistic aim for a primarily fish-based festival, but hey, you have to consider it. Especially if our million-dollar fish is never caught. Think of the profit margin!

Is there a risk that, once the fish is released, hordes of Sydneysiders will descend on the area and begin flinging explosives into the ocean in an attempt to make their fortune?

Organisers told Guardian Australia that “very preliminary target audiences” are “set indicatively” at 100,000. But that includes people visiting sculpture and art installations and food stalls as well.

“Estimates of participation in each element, including the fishing, would be made as part of detailed event planning, should the event be progressed,” a spokesman said.

However, once it dethrones Vivid, I would definitely be worried. Prepare for a Simpsons-esque city-wide scramble to secure Molloy the cat burglar’s treasure.

But isn’t this irresponsible? Don’t we need as many fish in the sea as possible?

A spokesman for the Western Harbour Alliance assured me that “sustainability and safety would be key planks of the event”.

That is again, only in the event that “the event be progressed”. So please put away that dynamite-loaded lure of yours and get back to earning excessive amounts of money the traditional way – consulting.

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