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A note on the State Government proposal to end commercial fishing in Port Phillip and Corio Bays, Victoria

NB: The State Government has affirmed their commitment to the Target 1 Million plan and has indicated an intention to halt commercial netting in Port Phillip and Corio Bays over the next 8 years. (February 2015)


Edit: The Labor Party also announced a similar policy to ban commercial netting in Port Phillip Bay through their Target 1 Million plan - intended to increase the number of recreational fishers to 1 million by 2020. As such, this proposed policy went to the most recent Victorian election with bipartisan support.  (November 2014)

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Premier Dennis Napthine has announced that commercial net fishing will be phased out in Port Phillip Bay and Corio Bay if his government is re-elected on November 29, with fishing licenses to be bought back from fishermen as part of the $65 million ‘Better Bay Plan’.

The move seems targeted at securing political support from recreational fishermen. Whilst the Premier claims that his plan will “significantly improve recreational fishing opportunities through greater fish numbers in the bay … and see benefits flow on to local businesses”, a ban on commercial fishing appears poorly balanced against the losses accrued by commercial fishermen and the wider seafood-buying public.

The winners are clear: recreational fishermen gain access to the fish that commercials now take. The losers are far more widespread. Not only do commercial fishermen lose their livelihoods, but Victorians will be denied access to fresh, local and affordable fish from a sustainable commercial fishery in Port Phillip Bay. Where will this fish come from instead? Considering we currently import over 70% of our seafood, this policy seems certain to shift demand to international fisheries, where we cannot be assured of acceptable environmental and social standards.

The Port Phillip Bay (PPB) commercial fishery is widely acknowledged as environmentally sustainable. Biological stocks of snapper, whiting and other species in the bay are considered healthy and hence a ban on environmental grounds is not supported by the government’s own assessment of how fisheries in the bay are managed or currently performing . In addition, commercial fisheries for calamari, silver trevally, King George whiting, snapper and calamari in Port Phillip Bay have been independently assessed as sustainable by the Australian Conservation Foundation's Sustainable Australian Seafood Assessment Program . Commercial fishing is highly regulated, with licenses capped, and limits to total allowable catch and permissible gear types.

Recreational fishing, by contrast, is difficult to monitor and enforce. Recreational catch of the key species in Port Phillip Bay currently exceeds commercial seafood catch - as much as 4 times more snapper is taken, by tonne, as that by commercial fishermen.

While it may be dressed up as such, this policy should not be mistaken for an environmental one. This announcement by the Premier comes less than a month after recreational fishing lobbies announced that they would be advocating a ban on commercial net fishing in the bay to the state government. These same lobby-groups will be included on the ‘advisory panel’ that Premier Napthine is putting together to make recommendations about the license buy-back scheme. As such, it’s very hard to see this policy as anything but a political play for the recreational fishing vote.

It would also appear that the government has failed to consult with commercial fishermen themselves, fishing industry representatives, or their own Department of Environment and Primary Industries, which is responsible for the sustainable management of Victorian fisheries. Commercial fishermen in NSW recently spoke out about the hardship in their communities, including mental health issues, that result from a lack of consultation and the myths perpetuated about their lack of environmental awareness. Commercial fishermen can be stewards of marine environments, and more often than not they are sensitive to changes in these environments. After all, they are out on the water most days. Protecting the livelihood of these individuals and their right to their way of life is as important as protecting the rights of the environment and recreational fishers. The balance of these needs is what true sustainability – environmental, economic, and social – is all about.

All Victorian’s have a right to the seafood from Port Phillip and Corio Bays. While 750,000 recreational fishers may take to the water annually, millions more are currently able to access the fresh local seafood from it thanks to the work of commercial fishermen. That we can eat delicious and abundant seafood out of Port Phillip Bay, home to a working commercial port and with a city of over 4 million people on it, should be a matter of immense civic pride.

Local food production is important. We should be preserving our sustainable local fisheries for the same reasons that we need to protect agricultural land in peri-urban areas – local food production has both social and environmental benefits. We should be creating ties to local industry, local producers, and local environments, not continuing the decline towards agro-industrial food systems in which connectivity and community have no place. A decision to end commercial fishing in Port Phillip and Corio Bays will mean that Melbourne seafood consumers are denied an important local food source.

Melbourne does not act like a coastal city in the way that many other Australian cities do. We do not have the strong connection to our bay in the same way Sydney does to its Harbour. But a stronger relationship with our coastal world will likely improve environmental outcomes, as people consider the impacts of their actions - such as littering - on this environment. The act of eating snapper from Port Phillip reminds us of the vibrant marine environment on the doorstep of our city. It makes us think of the generations before that have taken fish from these waters, of the rivers that flow into it, and of the need to protect these ecosystems. It connects us to the history of the city, to the industries that support it, and to the natural environments that we are a part of.

As a common-pool resource, Victorians have a right to enjoy the seafood from Port Phillip and Corio Bays. This policy will remove this right, and ensure that the only people able to enjoy this seafood in the future are those with the time, money and skill to catch it themselves.

We should be celebrating seafood from the bay, and ensuring that it is sustainably managed for future generations of Victorians. The rights of commercial fishers and seafood consumers must therefore be considered, alongside those of recreational fishers.

Oliver Edwards - Chef and Founder of GoodFishBadFish.com.au

John Ford - Marine Scientist, Department of Zoology, Melbourne University[/wpcol_1half_end]

contact@goodfishbadfish.com.au

Melbourne_skyline_from_Port_Phillip_Bay (1)

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