Action needed over Gld Lakes fish stocks

David Warren, president, Gippsland Lakes Recreational Fishing Alliance

LETTER TO THE EDITOR:

AFTER reading an article regarding fishing in the Gippsland Lakes, we felt it necessary to clarify some points.

The Gippsland Lakes Recreational Fishing Alliance has never scapegoated the commercial fishermen of the Gippsland Lakes.

Government policy and management settings currently allow 10 fishery access licence holders to use various nets and methods to harvest fin fish and bait in the Gippsland Lakes.

They primarily use gill nets, which can be up to 2.2 kilometres in length per licence holder.

The high value species that are netted are Black Bream and Dusky Flathead.

Occasionally they net Whiting, Estuary Perch and Australian Bass.

While it is now illegal to net Australian Bass, they can be and are either discarded dead or marketed as Estuary Perch or ‘hybrid’ perch.

All the species mentioned are also targeted by recreational anglers in the Gippsland Lakes, and this is a source of ongoing conflict between the two sectors in a poorly performing fishery.

It is disingenuous of Arthur Allen to talk of recreational anglers taking quotas (bag limits) on a daily basis when commercial fishermen operate with no quotas, and in the case of Dusky flathead, no upper size limits.

We agree that some recreational anglers are irresponsible in taking large breeding fish, particularly when the fishery is in obvious decline and under stress, but not all anglers do this — and not every day.

It is however also irresponsible for commercial fishermen to do the same.

No one is doing anything illegal but, it demonstrates that the Fisheries Regulations for the Gippsland Lakes needs urgent review.

Currently, many anglers and angling clubs practice catch and release.

Most serious anglers, the 10 per cent that catch 90 per cent of the fish, recognise this responsibility.

In the recent Twin Rivers tournament, of the 220 bream weighed in 146 were released.

We are aware that not all anglers wear white hats, but then neither do commercial fishermen.

We are advocating for a reduction in bag and possession limits for Black Bream, and consideration be given to slot limits so the larger breeding fish can be protected.

The commercial arguments to continue exploiting the Gippsland Lakes are well known: “Those campaigning are an elitist minority group.”

“There are plenty of fish for everyone, and there are safeguards to ensure the security of fish stocks.”

“Where are you going to buy your fish from?” These assertions and scare tactics are just that. Tactics.

The Gippsland Lakes Recreational Fishing Alliance has the backing and support of the Gippsland Angling Clubs Association and VRFish, the peak recreational body representing 840,000 Victorian anglers.

We are also supported by the FutureFish Foundation.

By comparison, 10 commercial fishermen, some claiming intergenerational historical rights to continue harvesting a community resource, could be considered the minority, elitist group in this equation.

Gippsland Lakes Recreational Fishing Alliance policies are about returning the fishery to the abundance of the 1980s.

The Gippsland Lakes has seen a decline in commercial and recreational catch rates since this time, and is well documented in Victorian Fisheries Authority data and reports.

The Black Bream commercial catch has declined from a peak of 570 tonnes in the mid-1970s (this represents 1,425,000 fish of 400 grams) to currently 12.9 tonnes in 2017-18.

The decline in other species is also evident from a total of 1000 tonnes in the 1980s to 316 tonnes in 2016-17.

More than half of this catch was carp (100 tonnes) and tailor (56 tonnes).

Clearly the current ‘safeguards’ to ensure the security of fish stocks are not working.

The Gippsland Lakes supplies about 0.3 per cent, including carp, of fish to the Victorian market (about 59,000 tonnes).

Nearly all local fish in Gippsland comes from offshore — not the Gippsland Lakes.

Lakes Entrance Fishermans Co-operative sells about 600kg of ‘Lakes’ fish through its local outlet annually, that is, 11.5 kilograms week, and rarely Black Bream.

Most of the Lakes catch goes to the Melbourne or Sydney market.

Consumers will be able to continue to continue to buy ‘local’ offshore fish, and should notice no difference in supply or price if commercial netting ends in the Gippsland Lakes.

The arguments for discontinuing commercial netting in the Gippsland Lakes are overwhelming.

Where such practices have ceased in other estuaries around Australia, these estuaries have recovered and thrived in spite of Ron Porto’s beliefs.

The economic arguments to end commercial netting estuaries and bays are compelling.

These were presented and accepted by the Liberals, Nationals and Labor when legislation to ban netting in Port Phillip and Corio Bays was debated in parliament. It was only opposed by the Greens.

There are many issues affecting the Gippsland Lakes, but removing commercial fish nets is a precursor to resolving them.