THE debate over how best to manage the health of the Gippsland Lakes and its dwindling fish stocks continued in parliament last week, with a petition tabled calling for an end to licence buy-out plans.
Almost 600 people have already put their name to the petition, organised by the Lakes Entrance Fishers Cooperative and calling for the state government not to “enforce any further compulsory buy-outs of commercial fishing licences in this state against the will of those who hold a commercial licence”.
It also calls for any buy-out scheme to be “voluntary only”.
General manager of the fishing cooperative Brad Duncan said support for continued commercial netting in the lakes was gaining widespread support, with another 700 people across Gippsland and metropolitan areas wanting to add their names to the petition in recent days.
“People are concerned about the impacts of banning commercial fishing in the lakes,” he said.
“It’s going to mean we’ll be importing fish, just like we now have to import snapper from New Zealand because they stopped netting in the Port Phillip Bay.”
He said Victoria already imported at least 75 per cent of its seafood, and all Victorians deserved the right to access fresh Victorian Sustainable Seafood.
But recreational fishers tell a different story.
East Gippsland anti-netting campaigner Peter Erwin said visitation rates to the Gippsland Lakes area were dropping significantly because of its “reputation as a place where you can’t catch a fish”.
“Angling tourists are chasing fish in places like Port Philip Bay because they have outlawed commercial fishing,” he said.
“It’s hurting our local businesses and our community.”
Mr Erwin said it was great to see the issue hitting the media, with people “taking notice”, and good attendance by most politicians at the Gippsland Lakes Recreational Fishing Alliance community meetings.
Mr Erwin is not a member of the alliance.
“We have had the CEO of the Victorian Fisheries Authority at the meetings,” he said.
“Cr Joe Rettino, the mayor of East Gippsland Shire came to one meeting.
“Cr Mark Reeve, who is the deputy mayor and the Labor Party candidate for the upcoming state election, has come to two meetings.
“Matt Stephenson, an independent candidate running in the election has come to two meetings and pledged support for a buy-back of the nets,” he said.
“It is fantastic to see community leaders stepping up, realising how important this is and giving their time to the issue.”
Mr Erwin said he would like to see bipartisan support for managing the health of the Gippsland Lakes, and urged more local state members to get involved.
He urged people to “use their vote” to send a message that politicians need to do a better job “for us”.
Gippsland East MLA Tim Bull said he’d had strong representation from “both sides of the fence” on the issue, and this week was asked to table a petition in parliament containing several hundred local signatures opposing a compulsory buy-out, and that any buy-out schemes put in place be voluntary.
He said meetings with stakeholders had gone well and “as a result the shadow minister is fully aware of the push to have reduced commercial netting effort”.
“My office is aware of four public meetings that have been held in the Gippsland East electorate, three of which were on parliament sitting weeks, so impossible to attend, and a fourth when I was interstate,” he said.
Mr Bull said the Nationals had announced several policies and positions in the lead up the election, with many more to be announced.
“I would also point out I was the only one of the eight candidates at the last election to have a policy to reduce commercial netting, so the criticism seems a little misguided.”
Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien said he had been unable to attend the two meetings in his electorate in Sale and Loch Sport because one was on a parliamentary sitting day and the other was held shortly after the death of his mother.
“I recorded an apology for both meetings,” he said.