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Commercial netting in Gippsland Lakes response
  |  First Published: May 2016



The Andrews Government Target 1 million review provides an ideal opportunity to take a long term, strategic look at the future of commercial netting in the Gippsland Lakes.

We commend the Andrews Government for revisiting this important issue in its Target 1 million policy to get more people fishing, more often. It is a watershed policy for recreational fishing, and in the case of Gippsland, it recognises that recreational fishing is worth $381 million to the regional economy. When the bream fishery in the Lakes is not performing as it should be, it is clear the local economy suffers. The impact on businesses such as hotels, restaurants, cafes, petrol stations, tackle shops and supermarkets are significant, with the average spend per fishing trip close to $400. Recreational fishing in Victorian bays and inlets is the higher value use of the resource when compared to commercial netting.

Our consultation shows that recreational fishers are disappointed by the lack of action on this issue by the previous Coalition government. The previous Baillieu/Napthine Government made a promise in 2010 to protect spawning fish by introducing controls on the practice of commercial netting near the mouths of rivers. However, they did little more than erect signage to communicate the current 400m restrictions, which are clearly inadequate. We are also disappointed with the Fisheries Victoria report released in late 2014 investigating netting and spawning fish at Gippsland Lakes river mouths. This report has little, if any, support or endorsement by recreational fishers. The conclusions reached are not based on new science, nor do the assumptions stand the scrutiny of the public eye.

Bream populations were subject to heavy, opportunistic commercial netting at river mouths without the imposition of an effective catch control, such that it yielded a catch of 144 tonnes in 2007/08. To highlight the extent of the problem, catches in the years immediately before and after this year were only 49 and 36 tonnes respectively. No such corresponding 3-4 time fold increase in recreational catches occurred, which is far from satisfactory if resource sharing is to be taken seriously. Clearly, something needs to be done to address this and it must be done urgently.

The number of commercial licences have declined over the years to 10 licences in 2016 through a series of Government funded adjustment schemes. The profitability of the commercial fishery has also no doubt declined considerably. The trend is irrefutable and it is time that the Gippsland Lakes joined the list of net free areas. The issue of netting around river mouths can no longer be looked at in isolation. Netting practices should be reviewed across the full extent of the commercial fishery throughout the Gippsland Lakes system and netting must be phased out without delay.

There is anecdotal and historical information held by angling club records to show that Gippsland Lakes once supported healthy populations of estuary perch. We contend that these populations have been decimated by commercial net fishing operations in the past, especially around river mouths at times of spawning. Recreational fishers have taken it upon themselves to work with fishery managers to attempt to restore these populations through targeted stocking programs, only to see our investment end up in commercial fishing nets. This is simply unacceptable to recreational fishers and the community.

We understand that the Government does not plan to phase out netting in the Lakes as it has done for Port Phillip Bay. This stance must be reviewed in light of the river mouth policy commitment. Recreational fishers are telling us a licence buyback scheme, in conjunction with the use of a catch cap that reduces as licences are removed has proven very effective for Port Phillip Bay.

Commonwealth Government action on Long Jetty is long overdue. Constructed in the late 1930s and at over 900m in length, Port Welshpool’s Long Jetty is the longest timber jetty in Victoria. As you know, a fire in June 2003 partially destroyed the historic structure and it was closed due to safety concerns. There is growing frustration and angst within the local community and recreational fishers that appropriate action has not been taken for more than 10 years to restore the jetty.

We now understand that the Long Jetty Restoration Project remains in limbo due to a lack of funding to complete the full suite of works needed. We note initial consultation and design work for options has been undertaken to clarify cost options. Our preference is for a full restoration in line with its original design (including a timber deck).

VRFish understands that a financial commitment of $5 million from the State Government and $1 million from the Council remain intact. We thank Minister for Regional Development, Jaala Pulford for her strong support and financial commitment.

It is vital that the Commonwealth take action to provide the balance of funds from whatever means available, such as the Commonwealth Government’s National Stronger Regions Fund. It is imperative that the Commonwealth co-invest in this development and support the region. Recreational fishing in Gippsland is worth $381 million to the regional economy annually and a restored jetty would provide improved access for fishers of all abilities, especially families and elderly citizens. Recreational fishers and the community have been extremely patient, and the time to act is now more urgent than ever before. It is time relevant agencies, the Shire Council and Ministers working with stakeholders to finalise a solution to this matter.

- Dallas D’Silva

Facts

Vale Don Ellis

It is with sadness that I inform readers of the sad passing of Don Ellis, Chairman of the Metropolitan Anglers Association. Don was an active member of the Recreational Anglers Statewide Roundtable and ensured the interests of rural anglers were put forward and discussed. A recent matter he raised was fishing platforms on the Bemm River to cater for elderly and handicapped anglers. This project will go ahead this year. While I never met Don face to face, we have communicated with each other on numerous occasions. I was unaware of his illness in recent times as he continued to deal with fisheries issues. I send condolences to the family of the late Don Ellis and hope they feel the sense of pride in the achievements of this recreational angler on behalf of anglers generally. I thank his son Greg for informing anglers across the state of the sad passing of this fine angler. – Lynton Barr

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