A VOLUNTARY buyback of commercial fishing licences on the Gippsland Lakes is not expected to adversely affect the industry locally, with sustainability levels in the lakes not a concern.
Minister for Agriculture and Food Security Peter Walsh said the state government, if re-elected, would commit up to $2 million for a voluntary buyback of commercial licences, which he said had been called for by commercial and recreational fishing sectors.
There are currently 10 commercial licences operating in the Gippsland Lakes.
Lakes Entrance Fisherman’s Co-operative chief executive Dale Sumner said the Coalition election promise of voluntary buyback of licences was different to a compulsory buyback scheme operating in Port Phillip and Corio Bay.
“It’s different to Corio Bay and Westernport, where there is compulsory buyback and no commercial action,” he said.
“It (voluntary buy-back in Gippsland Lakes) may result in one or two (operators) going, but the remaining will stay on.
“There are a lot of unknowns; at the moment it is just a statement on re-elected government and the devil might be in the detail.”
Mr Sumner said reduction in most local supply “may result in a price increase to the consumer or lead to imported products, which would be a bad outcome for everyone”.
However Mr Sumner stressed the voluntary buyback decision had not been made because of concerns of sustainability of supply in the Gippsland Lakes.
Mr Walsh said if re-elected, the state government would commit to a fair and equitable exit strategy for Gippsland Lakes licence holders during the next four years.
“Reducing commercial fishing efforts will boost opportunities for recreational fishing and, in turn, help grow Gippsland businesses that are supported by recreational fishing tourism,” he said.
An independent panel would be established to make recommendations to the state government on how the buyback would be structured.
The panel would consult with Seafood Industry Victoria, VRFish, Future Fish, Australian Fishing Trading Association and others.
The panel would make recommendations on licence types, species and fishing methods applicable to the buyback.
Mr Walsh said the Coalition wanted to grow Victoria into a recreational fishing mecca.
He said the Gippsland Lakes initiative complemented the Coalition’s commitment to phase out commercial netting in Port Phillip Bay and Corio Bay.
Deputy premier Peter Ryan said the buyback would help commercial operators exit the industry in a dignified way with some money in their pockets.
“I think with the passage of time, they’ve had difficulty to transfer their licences, (and) succession planning is a bit of an issue for them,” he said.
“For those interested in doing it, we are interested in talking to them.”
Gippsland East MLA Tim Bull welcomed the initiative.
“A voluntary buyback is a proposal I have received advocacy on from both commercial and recreational interests and I am delighted at today’s announcement by Minister Walsh that we have been able to progress this,” he said.
“In the last four years the Coalition Government has invested $10 million into practical projects that have helped to protect and improve Gippsland Lakes and I’m sure this commitment to a voluntary commercial licence buyback will be well received.”