COASTAL groups are pinning their hopes on pressure from the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council to delay an artificial reef being installed off Port Nepean.
The groups are concerned about the impact of the reef on the environment and lack of community consultation.
As part of a plan to improve fish stocks for recreational fishers, the Victorian Fishing Authority wants to install 16 large concrete structures in clusters of four about 50 metres apart in the ocean north of Observatory Point, at Point Nepean.
The council has sided with residents and beach users concerned about the reef and is urging fishing and boating minister Melissa Horne to hold off on the plan.
Chair of the Rye Community Group Alliance, Mechelle Cheers, said the council’s support had given opponents of the reef “a fair bit of hope”.
“For a minister to ignore the request of a local council would be outrageous,” she said.
In a letter to the minister dated 30 March, the mayor Cr Anthony Marsh said members of the Portsea, Sorrento and Rye Coastal advisory groups, alongside the broader community, had expressed “significant concerns” about the planned artificial reef.
The letter calls for more information on the potential environment and water safety impacts to be made publicly available.
Ms Cheers said there was an expectation of community consultation about matters likely to affect marine communities, but “that hasn’t happened” and there was no evidence of any environmental assessment study.
“We only heard about this reef when we read it in The News, it’s been pushed through quietly because of the powerful recreational fishing lobby groups,” she said.
“We are simply asking for the installation to be put on hold until the questions are answered. It’s not a big ask for such a sensitive part of the bay.”
The push for an artificial reef has largely been led by the government body the Victorian Fisheries Association, and the Futurefish Foundation, which describes itself online as “a fearless watchdog” representing recreational fishers, with an aim to “protect and enhance” recreational fishing throughout Victoria.
One of its mandates is to increase the number of artificial reefs in all parts of Port Phillip.
Futurefish director David Kramer, who runs a fishing tackle shop and is a consultant to the state government, has previously told The News that an identical reef at Shoalhaven, NSW, had “proven to be outstanding in attracting yellowtail kingfish”, a type of big game fish (“Artificial reef off Point Nepean” The News 21/2/22).
Ms Cheers said the extra fishers and long lines could impact a nearby dolphin sanctuary and questioned whether the reef was suitable for the majority of recreational fishers because the target hunters of yellowfin were big game fishers.
Sorrento resident and recreational fisher Robert Bell is also angry about the artificial reef and said the VFA had not considered the lack of infrastructure in the area Portsea Sorrento area, and the upheaval to residents if there was an increase in traffic and jetty use.
“This is crazy, they’re trying to bring people down here and exacerbate an already bad traffic problem,” he said.
“A lot of us are alarmed. In summer, Nepean Highway is clogged right through to the boat ramp, it’s chaotic and dangerous.
“There has been no consultation, everybody I have spoken to didn’t know about this.”
Mr Bell, who has fished the area for more than 30 years, said the proposed reef was “a bad idea on so many fronts”, including the potential impact on dolphin and other marine life.
In the shire’s letter, Cr Marsh said the council was not opposed to an artificial reef “and appreciate the benefits they have demonstrated elsewhere”.
But he said concerns included the structure’s closeness to the Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park, the “limited” marine biology assessment, safety and potential rubbish increase at the site.
He said the council also wanted to ensure the approvals process aligned with the marine and coastal Act and that all marine users were consulted.
Nobody in government was prepared comment before deadline. The VFA was contacted, but forwarded the request to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, which then forward the request back to the VFA.