Imports ‘replacing our fish’ on tables

by Luke Voogt

Commercial fishing in Port Phillip Bay is set to plummet 85 per cent by 2022 amid revelations most Victorian seafood is imported.

Seafood Industry Victoria executive director Jonathon Davey slammed State Government for phasing out net fishing as commercial harvests continued to decrease.

“There are fish and chip shops in Queenscliff, Geelong and the Bellarine that pride themselves on having local seafood,” he said.

“But it’s not going to be available for them.”

The bay’s commercial fish harvest had halved since State Government began phasing out net fishing in 2015, according to Victorian Fisheries Authority.

Previously fisheries harvested about 600 tonnes per year, which had fallen to a projected 250-300 tonnes for 2019.

Mr Davey disputed the figure saying over the past 15 years the annual average was 700 tonnes.

After the completion of the ban in April 2022 eight local fisheries will have permits to fish a combined 88 tonnes in Port Phillip Bay.

“Eleven tonnes (each) per year is not financially viable,” Mr Davey said.

Several of the eight fisheries had already transitioned to hook and line fishing, according to government.

This limited them to catching only snapper and gummy sharks, Mr Davey said.

The staged introduction of the ban comes as a recent Fisheries Research and Development Corporation study found 80 per cent of Victorian seafood was imported.

Mr Davey said the ban would increase imports and urged government to relax regulations to provide more Victorian seafood to local costumers.

A Williamstown sardine and pilchard fishery planned to leave the bay by 2022, which would deprive recreational fishers “craving local bait supply”, he added.

Others have already moved their operations, like Portarlington’s Peter Jenkins, who says his family fished the bay for 100 years.

“There’s been about 30 that have left,” Mr Jenkins said.

“All they’ve done is sold us out over votes. The good fishermen that caught all the fish had to bloody go.”

But prior to the ban commercial net fishing produced “just one per cent of seafood consumed in Victoria” at the expense of recreational anglers, according to Fishing Minister Jaala Pulford.

Ms Pulford said the ban was creating a world-class recreational fishery.

Recreational fishing in Port Phillip Bay was “worth more than $1.3 billion to the Victorian economy”, she said.

State Government in May announced $35 million to support recreational fishers including $2.5 million for reef development in Port Phillip Bay.

The investment also funded $600,000 for fish-cleaning tables and fishing platforms around Port Phillip, including Corio Bay.

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