Commercial Net Fishing gone from Port Phillip Bay

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By Leonardo Vaquero

Attention all fish connoisseurs! Are your freshly cooked snappers, King George whiting and calamari been tasting differently? Well the reason to that may involve what happened in the past couple of weeks where the Victorian State Government celebrated its work to end commercial netting in Port Phillip Bay by 2022.

You would expect environmentalists to be overjoyed at this announced, but in an interview conducted by St Kilda News, Neil Blake, Port Phillip BayKeeper with over 30 years of experience protecting our bay, suggests there is no silver bullet when it comes to protecting fish stocks.

Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford recently announced that 33 of the 43 commercial licence holders have accepted the state government’s compensation package which consists of $310,000 as annual monetary compensation for each commercial licence (the amount itself will reduce each subsequent year till 2022), with additional monetary compensation provided for equipment and loss of income.

Currently eight commercial licence holders have elected to stay after 2022 using alternative fishing methods such as line fishing and longlines. Only two licence holders have chosen not to take the compensation offers in the first year of the Government’s seven year phase out of commercial netting.

Progress certainly has been made regarding the state government’s ‘Target One Million’ plan which aims to boost recreational fishing participation to one million anglers by 2020. It is estimated that there are at least 800,000 active anglers here in Victoria. Of course they are assured that investing in recreational fishing not only makes sense from a social and community perspective, but contributes $7.1 billion each year to the Victorian state economy.

Both recreational and commercial fishing of snapper, King George whiting and calamari in Port Phillip Bay have been performing very well and according to the most recent Victoria Fisheries stock assessments, our fish stocks are in good condition and are being sustainably fished both commercially and recreationally.

Interestingly in their press release, Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber, whose party voted against the net fishing ban, says that these stock assessments illustrate that the harvesting of fish by both parties are sustainable and that the Labor party has not established a compelling case for their ban on commercial net fishing.

In our interview with Neil Blake he surmised that generally it’s preferable to have small local commercial fleets that are regulated properly to ensure sustainability in Port Phillip Bay and that our local markets are supplied with our bays freshest fish. It is not easy to demonstrate that commercial fishing, as a whole, has worser impacts that recreational fishing does. As an example, you can find anglers losing their fishing lines out in the water which can cause entanglements for fish.

While Neil has not had the chance to converse with local commercial fisheries, from what he has heard, these negotiations are not being well received since they are having their permits taken from them with no other viable choice. Of course banning net fishing is a significant step but he would prefer to see greater discussions between these parties and even more in our media today to raise further awareness as it does affect all of us.

Neil’s closing comments were that when a matter of this nature arises we tend to have a simple reaction that commercial fishing is bad but this banning does warrant a balanced consideration before the state and our community makes any decision.

In an interview with The Age last November, Phil McAdam (a 51 year old commercial fish license holder from Newport) claimed that the state government’s ban on commercial net fishing has no merit because there is no indication of severe impacts by commercial fishing on the sustainability of fish in our bay. He also claimed that the compensation offered will not cover all the assets he has invested over the past 30 years (including a recently purchased boat valued at least $250,000, as part of a 15 year plan for continued commercial fishing). Lastly in his perspective, this is simply the state government’s attempts to win more votes and is aimed purely at recreational fishing due to its larger community of active anglers compared to its commercial counterpart.

Certainly this change in the fishery industry is coming into effect faster than most of us could anticipate. As a community that surrounds Port Phillip Bay we can only hope that the impacts caused by banning commercial net fishing are outweighed by the supposed benefits promised by the state government and our fellow anglers.

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