THE lost campaign to continue commercial fish netting in Port Phillip has had a devastating impact on established participants.
One Rye fisherman of long standing was too upset to talk last week with his livelihood – and way of life – coming to an end.
Seafood Industry Victoria CEO Johnathon Davey said many bay fishermen, after fighting the impending ban for five or even 10 years, had “developed mental health issues which have not been thought through” by decision-makers.
The Fisheries Amendment Bill 2015 passed in state parliament last week specifies that net fishing will be phased out by 2022, with Corio Bay closed to all netting from 1 April 2018.
This was a key commitment of the state government’s Target One Million plan for recreational fishing, which aims to get more people fishing, more often, and increasing participation to one million by 2020.
Proponents of the ban say it will increase recreational catch rates and the size of fish available for anglers over the next seven years.
But commercial netters, including those at the southern end of the bay, point out that they have sustainably netted quality table fish for generations alongside recreational anglers. They feel hard hit by the ban which they say will deny buyers access to fresh fish at the Melbourne markets, and that compensation packages are inadequate.
The most popular species sought are flathead, whiting, bream, snapper, gummy shark, squid, garfish, trevally, flathead, barracouta and slimly mackerel.
The legislation also specifies how compensation will be determined for the 43 commercial licence holders and provides for a non-netting fishery – such as long-lining – of up to eight licence holders from 1 April 2022.
Seafood Industry Victoria’s Davey said the “vast majority of the community does not understand what the ban will mean. By April, when the licences are bought out, about 500-600 tonnes of fresh fish annually will no longer be available to consumers,” he said.
“We are asking the government ‘Where will the fish come from?’ That’s what we would like to know. Restrictions in other areas [of the state and nationally] mean we will not be able to cater to demand and this will mean consumers have to buy imported fish.”
He scoffed at claims the bill included a “generous compensation package”, saying the loss of the industry would financially ruin previously sound family businesses.
The decision to reduce payments over the seven-year buy-out period “to encourage early exit from the fishery” was also gutting fishermen whose lives were being turned upside down.
“The bay’s a unique fishery,” he said. “It offers a sustainable resource and fishermen use methods that are ecologically friendly.”
He said markets would be affected by a shortage of quality local fish which would then have to be imported.
Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford said compensation payments would depend on catch histories and “will provide proper recognition of individual investment and loss of income to licensees”.
“The government appreciates that this decision impacts on the livelihood of licence holders, many of whom are multi-generational fishers with strong family connections to the industry.
“The phasing out commercial net fishing will get more people fishing, more often, right here on Melbourne’s doorstep.
“[It] will attract more visitors to this prime fishing destination, boosting local economies and supporting local businesses.”
Melbourne Seafood Centre chairman Andrew McLaughlin said the “biggest loser” would be the consumer. “They’ve got a beautiful array of fish that’s available to them in retail shops and restaurants.
“They all utilise that fish and it’s not going to be available to them anymore. And it’s the sort of thing that they won’t realise until it’s gone.”