Seeking support for safe harbour at Loch Sport

Fishing association members Craig Holland, Bill Cooper and Peter McMahon say the webcam is already increasing Loch Sport's profile as a great place to fish and enjoy the lakes. Photo: Liz Bell

Liz Bell

LOCH Sport business and tourism advocates hope a new, privately-funded beach webcam will add momentum to a long-standing push for a safe harbour in the coastal resort.
The Loch Sport Fishing Association has recently installed a 24/7 beach webcam and integrated weather station at the Stockyard Hill lookout on the 90 Mile Beach, which is providing live streaming vision of the ocean and beach conditions and live reporting of the weather observations.
Stakeholders say the webcam is already increasing interest in the area and cementing Loch Sport as one of the premier fishing and boating destinations on the Gippsland Lakes.
Loch Sport Fishing Association secretary Craig Holland said judging by the “hits” the webcam was receiving, and the increase in online applications for the fishing club, the webcam was “doing its job already”.
The association also hopes the webcam will give traction to the proposal for a safe harbour and a marina at Loch Sport to make the boating experience on the lakes more diverse, safer and more enjoyable.
In conjunction with Loch Sport Business and Tourism Association and the Loch Sport Boat Club, they are lobbying all levels of government to make the project happen.
The Loch Sport community has long agitated for a safe harbour in the town, with an initial proposal to build a breakwater (rock groyne) to protect the existing deep water jetty and to keep the main boat ramp usable, compiled by the Loch Sport Boat Club in 2004.
Mr Holland said many consultants’ reports and feasibility studies had been undertaken during the past 15 years, all recommending the project.
Currently, the safe harbour proposal has state and federal support, propelled by regional population growth and an increase in boating tourism, but needs Wellington Shire Council to make a commitment to auspice the project.
Loch Sport Business and Tourism Association president Matthew Edey said it made sense to have a safe harbour at Loch Sport, and to build on the area’s “amazing scenic and aquatic sports attributes”.
In 2019 he presented a 1000-signature petition to council supporting a safe boat harbour at Loch Sport.
“Wellington Shire has an amazing opportunity to set up a boating facility at the western end of the lakes, of similar proportion to that found at Metung, Paynesville and Lakes Entrance,” he said at the time.
For many years Loch Sport Boat Club has also been advocating for a breakwater to protect the deep water jetty and boat ramp.
A feasibility study by consultants Ainley Projects in 2007 determined that the foreshore area along Lake St adjacent to the identified commercial area was the preferred location for a safe harbour and marina in Loch Sport, provided the town centre was further developed.
However, the report, which looked at existing information and boating facilities, demographic and tourism data, boating statistics and trends, found that the development of a safe harbour and marina “does not appear to be economically feasible at this stage”.
Loch Sport Fishing Association committee member Peter McMahon said in recent years there had been an increase in the size of boats launched at Loch Sport, as it was the closest port on the Gippsland Lakes to Melbourne.
“We are witnessing congestion in the eastern end of the [Gippsland] Lakes as that is where all the infrastructure is in place,” he said.
“We want to attract the boats that go to Metung and bring them here.”
Mr Holland said Loch Sport had changed considerably since the 2007 feasibility report had been completed, with new shops, new homes and more people, and more recent data supported the economic feasibility of a safe harbour.
He said recent conversations with Gippsland MHR Darren Chester revealed there was strong government support to provide funding for the safe harbour project, but that it had to be “auspiced” by the council before either state or federal funding would be committed.
“I recently read over all the various reports that have been done on this proposal over the past 20 years and put together a discussion paper that I took to Mr Chester,” he said.
“He was very supportive — but because of funding protocols, now we just need the shire to support it so it gets off the ground.”
Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien has also told supporters of the proposal that he has had discussions with the council and community on a proposed safe harbour facility on Lake Victoria, and would back this and other ideas that would help the town grow.
“I’m very keen to work with the community and the shire to help advance some of these issues to ensure Loch Sport gets the attention it deserves,” he said in a recent statement.
Mr Holland said state Fishing and Boating Minister Melissa Horne had recently visited Loch Sport and shown interest in the proposal, and there was a possibility of funding being made available under the Boating Safety and Facilities Program.
In addition, supporters are hoping a change in the way registration and licence fees are spent will advance the proposal for a safe harbour.
As of July 1, all fees will go back into improving existing and creating new boating facilities, and a safe harbour at Loch Sport has been included in a ‘priorities plan’ of better boating infrastructure, put together by the Victorian Fisheries Authority and Better Boating Victoria.
“Everyone agrees it has to be done, we are just waiting on the council,” Mr Holland said.