An AOS survey completed in winter 2019 found that there were 42,600 tonnes of adult fish spawning on two hills in the eastern zone. Immature, non-spawning and southern fish were not surveyed and are additional to this.
Why all Victorian recreational fishers should be licensed
More than 50% of Victorian adult recreational fishers are unlicensed, thanks to a generous suite of exemptions. These privileges date back to a time when governments met the full cost of the State’s recreational fisheries program and an inland fishing licence funded some extra benefits.
Licence exemptions are now responsible for an unfair cost burden on licence-holders and for lost income for the recreational fisheries program. This situation can only worsen unless exemptions are replaced with concessional licences.
Today, Victoria’s Recreational Fishing Licence (RFL) scheme bears most of the ongoing operational costs of the recreational fisheries program. Over the years, the investment of up to $8.6 M of RFL funds has provided outstanding fishing opportunities for Victorian and visiting fishers.
However, while Government figures suggest that the number of fishers has almost doubled since 1999, the numbers of licences sold each year peaked in 2014/15 and have since declined, trending down towards the level of 1999. Licence revenue in 2017/18 was down by 8% on the previous year, despite fee increases.
Behind this, as the fishing population ages, is the large and increasing proportion of adult fishers who are exempt from the licence. Exemptions currently apply to fishers aged under 18 years and to adults over 70 years; holders of Victorian Seniors Cards and certain Commonwealth and DVA cards; and members of traditional owners groups under agreed arrangements.
REMOVING EXEMPTIONS IS VITAL – NOW
Recreational fishing licence exemptions existed in Victoria long before the start of the RFL in 1999. In terms of the viability and fairness of the recreational fisheries program, the exemptions weren’t important back then as Victorian governments bore the full costs of the ongoing program. All that’s changed now, so it’s timely to look at the origins of current exemptions.
For decades before the RFL was introduced, Victoria had an Amateur Fishing Licence which applied to recreational fishing in inland waters and to using bait nets and taking rock lobsters. Exemptions to that licence extended to fishers aged under 16 years, holders of various Commonwealth pension cards and Master Fishermans Licences, and participants in approved angling instruction courses. The licence revenue provided some extra benefits for recreational fishers.
When launching the RFL in 1999, having committed to maintaining government funding for the ongoing program, the Kennett Government increased the age for licence-free fishing to 18 years. They also added exemptions for fishers of 70 years or older and the 60+ year old holders of Victorian Seniors Cards (and removed Master Fisherman’s Licence exemptions). Over the years, the combined set of privileges have cost the RFL program millions of dollars. On top of this, from 2004, governments began cutting their program funding and cost-shifting their obligations to the RFL.
The decision to retain and broaden the pre-1999 exemptions gave no thought to the likely consequences. There was no assessment of the effect that the ageing of the population was having on the growing number of active over-60 year old fishers or of the effects that would have on the fairness and revenue aspects of the licence scheme.
Figure 1 compares the numbers of RFLs sold annually, from 2000 to 2018, extended to 2020 based on the current sales trend; and the estimated numbers of adult fishers based on the 2000-01 national survey, Ernst & Young surveys (2008/09 & 2013/14) and the Government’s target of one million by 2020. This illustrates the large cost burden already imposed on RFL-holders and how this will continue to grow unless the Government brings all adult fishers into the licensing scheme. On current trends, by 2030, every RFL-holder will be subsidising four unlicensed adult fishers.
So, what are some of the arguments put forward to oppose the introduction of concessional licences for currently-exempt fishers?
- THE RFL IS NOT A ‘SUPER’ SCHEME
Many ‘exempt’ anglers will claim ‘After years, of paying for fishing licences, I should be able to fish for free‘ or simply “I’ve paid my dues“. What’s wrong with those arguments is that paying for a licence over the years is not like paying into a superannuation scheme where you reap the benefits of free fishing later in life.
The licence you paid for in a given year contributed to the costs of maintaining the fisheries at the time. You either took advantage of the benefits or you didn’t, but they weren’t ‘banked’ for you to use later on. As time has gone on, the complexity and ongoing costs of maintaining fish stocks and expanding quality fishing opportunities have risen. Today, these costs fall on current RFL holders.
- LICENCE AFFORDABILITY
There will be claims such as “They’re old – they can’t afford it” and “What about the pensioners?” Certainly, affordability is an important issue when it comes to considering licences for adults currently exempt from the RFL. But, similar pleas can be put for many of those who buy licences despite the fact that they struggle financially. That’s why the issue of ‘ability to pay’ needs to be looked at beyond:
- those over 70 years of age;
- holders of Victorian Seniors Cards, Commonwealth Pensioner Concession Cards and specified DVA cards.
‘Ability to pay’ is an important part of the concessions applied to recreational fishing licences everywhere, inter-state and overseas. An important element of concessional licences is that they must all make a real contribution towards the fishing program costs. Only young children qualify for free licences, which must be renewed each year.
For example, for fishing in Tasmanian inland waters, decreasing annual fee levels are set from Adults (full cost, 100%) to Seniors (79%), Pensioners (55%) and 14-17 year old Juniors (16%). Similarly, for several of Tasmania’s licensed saltwater fisheries, a “Concession Licence” costs 57% of a “Standard Licence” and applies to various State and Commonwealth card holders and fishers under 16. The key point is that no adult is exempt from these saltwater fisheries or for any inland fishing.
In Western Australia, where six recreational fisheries are subject to licensing, concessional licences cost 50% of the standard fee. Concessions apply to holders of various State and Commonwealth cards and to fishers under 16 years. The only exemptions apply to Aboriginal fishers taking fish for personal use “in accordance with continuing Aboriginal tradition“.
- MEDIA SENSITIVITY
If Victoria does require all adults to be licensed, there may be some Government nervousness about incidents where, for instance, an 88 year old is fined for fishing off a pier without a licence. Concerns such as “The media will have a field day” are needless. For decades, Victoria’s Fisheries Officers have handled similar encounters sensitively, as do their counterparts in Tasmania, WA and elsewhere.
AN ESTABLISHED PRINCIPLE
The principle that, ‘if you hunt you hold a licence’ has been firmly established in Victoria for many years. The VFA’s hunting counterpart, Game Management Victoria’s website states “Anyone hunting game in Victoria, including juniors (12–17 years), must hold a current Game Licence“.
As outlined in a previous article, Victorian Government guidelines clearly set out the principles under which cross-subsidies, where “free-riders” benefit from services paid for by others, should be avoided. That principle carries through in the State Concessions Act 2004 which, while providing for concessional fees for some government services, offers no exemptions.
Back in 1991, at the national recreational fishing conference in Canberra, Australian fishers and administrators heard a US keynote speaker advocate introducing young fishers to the precept that “If you fish, you hold a licence“. For decades, US states have issued free or low-cost fishing licences to children. This has borne fruit, including the universal acceptance of licensing among all adult fishers, for whom there are no exemptions.
Licensing under-18 year olds could be considered “world’s best practice”. The Tasmanian and WA examples, above, are just a hint of licensing policies elsewhere. Wherever junior licences apply, the popularity of fishing among children indicates that licensing proves no barrier to participation.
In NZ inland waters, annual licences for 12-17 year olds cost 20% of an adult licence and under-12s must hold free licences, renewable every year.
In British Columbia, every person fishing salt waters must hold a licence. Free licences are issued to those under 16 years and must be renewed every year. Regardless of age, everyone who fishes for salmon must have a CAN$6 Salmon Conservation Stamp on their licence.
The UK Environment Agency requires 12 to 16 year old fishers in England and Wales to hold licences which it issues free of charge; younger fishers do not require a licence.
There are great advances being made in areas such as on-line and phone-based licence applications and digital licences. As well as simplifying matters for fishers, the technical aspects of licensing schemes can be streamlined, often yielding cost savings. Expect to see Victoria’s RFL review to deliver such improvements.
However, as VRFish has highlighted, where real progress is needed is in the areas of fairness, revenue security, governance and accountability. If the Victorian Government, the VFA and recreational fishers approach the current review of the RFL system with an open positive mindset, recreational fishing in the State is on the brink of a great new era.
* Ross Winstanley is a keen angler, fishing writer and fisheries consultant. For 30 years he worked with Fisheries Victoria in policy, management, research and consultation with fishers. From the 1980s he was deeply involved in developments leading to the introduction of the RFL.
Four years ago, AFMA installed cameras on gillnet vessels targeting sharks in the south-east fishery to monitor dolphin and sea-lion interactions.
However, a consequence of doing this was that human observers were removed from these vessels. These observers collected data on interactions with dolphins and seals but also collected lengths and vertebrae, which are used to age sharks. These “biological” samples are used to understand the growth and the recruitment of young sharks both of which are critical in the assessment of the gummy and school shark stock.
SSIA* has now been engaged by AFMA to collect these biological samples. Gillnet and hook vessels take a sample of sharks when directed by randomly tagging some of the sharks caught on a trip. Each tag has a unique number and when entered into the database by SIDaC samplers each shark can be traced back to the depth, fishing method, vessel and area in which it was caught.
Vessels then deliver these tagged sharks to port samplers who measure the length of the sharks and take a vertebra from about half the sharks. The vertebrae are cleaned, frozen and then encased in resin before being sawed in half. A fish ageing specialist can then read growth rings in the vertebrae much like growth rings in a tree.
A very similar program to sample pink ling and blue eye trevalla has being simultaneously rolled out for the auto line sector of the fishery.
SSIA have engaged Ross Bromley, an ex-AFMA manager, to co-ordinate this work. The project would like to thank port samplers Jeff North, Atlantis Fisheries Consulting Group , Ross Bennett, AFMA staff at Lakes Entrance, Nick and Chris Pitliangas, Kyri Toumazos, Toni Clarke, the Lakes Entrance Fisherman’s Co Operative, Heath Rogers and Bob Shaw from Mure’s Fishing. Thanks too to the crews supplying samples: the skippers and crew of the sample vessels Cape Everard, Morrie D, Christine Claire, Candice K, Jean Bryant, Diana, Lutarna, Peter Crombie.
If you are a gillnet or hook vessel operating in the fishery and would like to be involved in the project or would like to become involved in the sampling of gummy or school sharks, or ling and blue eye trevalla please email Ross here.
* The Southern Shark Industry Alliance (SSIA) represents the interests of operators and quota owners in the gillnet, hook and trap sector of the south-east fishery.
Sustainable fishing means keeping fishing activity to a level that allows it to continue indefinitely, maintaining the integrity of ecosystems where fishing occurs, and using non-destructive, wild-capture fishing techniques.
Australia rates highly on an international scale in terms of sustainable fishing practices. A recent study (2013) by the Fisheries Research Centre at the University of British Columbia ranked Australian fisheries management second of 53 countries for sustainability. Australia was also the first country in the world to receive the independent certification of one of its fisheries by the independent not-for-profit Marine Stewardship Council.
This stamp issue presents three species of fish that are classified as “sustainable” in Australia, either by the Marine Stewardship Council and/or the national Status of Australian Fish Stocks reports.
Learn more about sustainable fishing practices and the work of the Marine Stewardship Council in our blog article.
Stamp illustration is by Dr Lindsay Marshall, a natural history artist and a shark scientist. As well as an illustration of each fish species, in the background is a simplified graphic of a technique deployed in commercial fisheries to minimise environmental impacts.
$1 Blue Grenadier
Also known as “hoki”, Blue Grenadier (Macruronus novaezelandiae) is a bottom-dwelling deep-water fish found in temperate marine waters of New Zealand and Australia (in the waters off southern Australia, from New South Wales to Western Australia, including around the coast of Tasmania). The Blue Grenadier can reach a size of around 110 centimetres in length and six kilograms in weight. It has a long, slender silvery-blue body.
Commercial Blue Grenadier fisheries are located in south-east and southern Australia and off the west coast of Tasmania. The fishing method used in these fisheries is mostly midwater trawl (but also some bottom trawl). The use of excluder devices to minimise by-catch of seals has been very successful. Seal Excluder Devices (SEDs) are designed to help seals swim out of a fishing net if they are accidentally caught.
$1 Tiger Flathead
Tiger Flathead (Platycephalus richardsoni) is a greyish-brown flathead with many small orange to reddish-orange spots, and often several large greyish blotches along the mid-sides. The fins are spotted, too. It has a large flattened head with low ridges. Tiger Flathead is endemic to Australia and distributed from northern New South Wales to western Victoria, including Tasmanian waters.
Commercial Tiger Flathead fisheries are located in south-eastern Australia and the Great Australian Bight. Gear has been designed to avoid bycatch (of smaller or non-target species). This is achieved through the use of specific mesh sizes in various parts of the bottom-trawl fishing net, which allow the non-target fish to escape.
$1 Patagonian Toothfish
The Patagonian Toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) is a large and slender deep-water species. It can grow to up to around two metres in length and 200 kilograms in weight. (Females grow larger than males.) Patagonian Toothfish are so named for the sharp teeth on their upper jaw and the fact that they were first fished in waters off Patagonia, Chile.
Commercial Australian Patagonian Toothfish fisheries are found in the Southern Ocean and the Ross Sea. A move to weighted longline fishing (the aim of which is to sink the baits out of bird-access depth as fast as possible), combined with devices that keep birds away from fishing lines, are examples of practices that have reduced seabird interactions to minimal levels.
By Ross Winstanley*
Recreational fishing in Australia faces an interesting challenge: a recent decline in the community’s view of its sustainability. While community perceptions of commercial fishing’s sustainability sit at a lower level, the industry has invested heavily – and with some success – in maintaining public support. It would be risky for recreational fishing to ignore the current trend in community perceptions and the possible consequences for one of our favourite pastimes.
Since the 2000-01 National Recreational Fishing Survey, statewide surveys have shown declining participation rates in recreational fishing around Australia. Despite population growth, fewer people are fishing and the numbers of fish they catch are declining. For example, a NSW statewide survey estimated that, along with declining fisher numbers, between 2000/01 and 2012/13, the numbers of every targeted scalefish, including stocked species, decreased. In Tasmania, across three surveys since 2000/01, participation fell by 22% and the total number of fish caught fell by 35%. Between 1996 and 2014, Queensland’s participation rate has fallen from 28% to 15%.
For 20 years or more, recreational fishers have been alert to overseas pressures that could pose threats to their activities here. For example, the rising pressure from the animal rights movement and bans on catch and release fishing in some European states have aroused attention in Australia. These factors have helped to motivate fishers, working with governments, to develop fishing and fish-handling practices and fishing regulations aimed at harm-minimisation at the level of fish stocks, individual fish and the environment. All of this is to the great credit of the recreational fishing community. The question is, what has the wider Australian community made of it?
NATIONAL FISHING INDUSTRY PERFORMANCE
Australia’s commercial fishing industry is engaged in continual efforts to improve community support and recognition of its gains in areas of environmental and fish resource sustainability. Ensuring the health and productivity of fish resources involves continuous investment in technology, fishery monitoring, stock assessment and management, with much of the costs borne by the industry. Equally challenging is raising community awareness of achievements made in these areas and what this represents in terms of ongoing investment by the industry.
To measure how effectively the industry performs in maintaining public support, the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) has been tracking perceptions of the industry through a series of community surveys since 2011. Combined with a 2002 pilot ‘community perceptions’ study, these surveys compare trends in how Australians view the sustainability of commercial ‘wild catch’ fishing, recreational fishing, traditional fishing and aquaculture. The 2018 survey showed that recreational fishing is one of three sectors currently showing a downward trend in sustainability as viewed by the community.
While fewer in the community view commercial fishing as operating sustainably, it is the only sector to have maintained a stable image throughout the 16-year period of these surveys. This has not happened by accident: the commercial fishing industry has invested heavily – and with some success – in maintaining its level of public support. The 2018 survey indicated that, while 11% of Australians are aware of the industry’s efforts to improve its level of sustainability, the majority (57%) are unaware of details, but assume that ‘something is being done’.
The industry works independently as well as with governments in several ways to demonstrate its sustainability. Environmental management plans, codes of practice and third party accreditation are some of the measures increasingly adopted and publicised during the past 20 years. Whatever the industry is doing, it is succeeding in holding the line, unlike the other sectors. The recreational fishing sector could learn a lot from the commercial fishing industry.
REACHING OUT TO PUBLIC OPINION
If they’re aware of it, most recreational fishers are indifferent to the downward national trend in participation: who wants to see more competition on the water, at the boat ramp and on the jetty?
Fisheries agencies enable participation through programs such as fishing clinics, schools programs and information services and by providing catch shares and access as required under government policies. The current Victorian Government goes the extra step by actively promoting fishing participation through its Target One Million program, with the aim of boosting adult fisher numbers to one million.
Recreational fishing bodies work independently and with governments in many of these programs and through promoting responsible fishing behaviour, humane fishing practices, safety and respect for other resource users. Anglers are increasingly involved in meaningful fish habitat restoration works, such as river re-snagging and shellfish reef recovery programs.
The recreational fishing industry engages with many of these programs, directly or through sponsorships. It also actively promotes fishing, for instance through media programs, statewide and local fishing shows, and fishing tournaments.
However, recreational fishers and their allied industry do little that reaches out with the aim of building community confidence in the sustainability of recreational fishing. Instead, around Australia their political activism has been rewarded by the closure of competing – and sustainable – inshore commercial fisheries, effectively gifting them sole fishing access. Few recreational fishers realise the privilege they have been granted, believing these re-allocations to be their right. Privilege or right, it would be a mistake to assume that this has gone unnoticed by the majority of Australians, most of whom are seafood consumers.
WHAT’S BEHIND THE TREND?
Despite the popularity and recognised quality of ‘farm fishing’ produce, it is not hard to think of factors contributing to the downward trend in the perceived sustainability of aquaculture. Serious events from several states have resulted in prominent mainstream media coverage nation-wide: Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS), diseased prawn farm closures and mass fish mortalities and environmental contamination from sea-cage farming.
Negative perceptions about commercial fishing abound and receive widespread publicity. On top of well-described Australian examples, the industry suffers from conflation with prominently described negative aspects of overseas fisheries. Actions to stabilise and rebuild our overfished stocks and to minimise environmental harm are not as well publicised as the conditions they seek to address. Effective responses help to maintain public support but require significant investment (eg Marine Stewardship Council certification) and persistence (eg promotion of seafood health benefits).
It’s not so easy to identify what’s behind the post-2013 decline in the community’s view of recreational fishing. Perceptions of cruelty and excessive catches are not new and the sector has worked closely with governments for over 20 years to improve fishing’s conduct and image. Working collaboratively, the sector has tightened catch limits, promoted humane fish handling methods and strengthened controls of fishing competitions and tournaments. However, while these measures are well publicised among the fishing fraternity, they may not earn credit with the wider community.
Genuine advances in responsible fishing can be undermined by publicity given to one-off events such as the 650 kg marlin suspended from a gantry, accompanied by the RSPCA’s reminder of their anti-game fishing policy.
What the 90% or so of Australians who eat seafood see is dwindling access to their local sources of fresh fish as governments heed calls from anglers to close inshore commercial fisheries. This process, too, has been ongoing for many years but recent prominent examples, amplified through mainstream and social media coverage, have heightened public awareness.
Over many years, governments’ huge and well publicised investments in supporting recreational fishing have been justified partly on the basis of the social and economic benefits flowing from fishing. In an era of increasing application of user-pays, the large majority of Australians who seldom if ever fish may be beginning to question this as a valid use of public resources.
HOW WILL THE RECREATIONAL SECTOR RESPOND?
Politically, around Australia, recreational fishing currently enjoys a healthy level of recognition and support. However, with trends in public perception and fishing participation heading in the same direction, the sector faces a wake-up call, if not a real challenge.
In the report of their 2002 FRDC-supported study, Community perceptions of fishing: implications for industry image, marketing and sustainability, Heather Aslin and Ian Brown wrote:
Without baseline understanding of public perceptions of the industry, industry plans, strategies, and communication and extension activities cannot take into account existing public concerns or knowledge levels. ….To effectively inform, educate and communicate with the public, the industry needs an understanding of what the public currently knows and whether this knowledge is accurate and up-to-date. The industry also needs to know where the public obtains its information so it can target its communication strategies into appropriate communication channels and use appropriate media.
In keeping with this assessment, targeted community surveys and communications have guided commercial fishing’s response to both emerging and persistent challenges. How and when will the recreational sector respond to their challenges and who will take the lead?
Most avid and rusted-on recreational fishers aren’t concerned that participation is declining and will be indifferent to the level of public funding; they’ll back their own ability to carry on successfully. Also, unlike Victoria, most governments around Australia aren’t driven to increase fisher numbers, so the main incentives to turn the perception and participation trends around lie with the fishing tackle, boating, tourism and other allied industries, and with fishers’ representative bodies whose political influence depends on numbers.
If these trends continue unchecked, carrying on in a bubble of indifference carries a real risk. The commercial sector has demonstrated how, working with social science and public opinion survey professionals, there are paths to – at least – halting the community’s declining view of recreational fishing.
In terms of individual and community health and social benefits, there’s a lot for the sector to work with in effectively selling the true value of recreational fishing to Australia.
* Ross Winstanley is a keen angler, fishing writer and fisheries consultant. For 30 years he worked with Fisheries Victoria in policy, management and research.
By Tanya King
Senior Lecturer In Anthropology, Deakin University
In 2017 many of you would have been invited to complete a survey on health, wellbeing, safety and resilience, as part of the FRDC-funded project, Sustainable Fishing Families. The report of this project has recently been released and the results are confronting, highlighting poor health outcomes in areas of mental health, general bodily pain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Stress was a key concern of industry members who responded to the survey, who experienced significantly higher levels of ‘high’ and ‘very high’ psychological distress than the Australian population as a whole.
The top sources of stress reported by respondents was related to uncertainty about future changes to government regulations, government regulations on access to fishing, and red tape (>50% responses). Negative media and poor public image were also significant sources of stress (>30% responses). In contrast, factors such as isolation, physical danger of fishing, climate change, and succession were not perceived to be associated with stress.
The report can be accessed here.
The Southern Shark Industry Alliance (SSIA) represents operators and quota holders in the Commonwealth managed gillnet, hook and trap (GHaT) sector, a sector in the larger fishery that also encompasses the trawl fishery. SSIA recently wrote to a large number of fish and chip shops across Australia.
The letter explained to these selected shops that the Australian Fish Naming Standard sets down that “flake”, a name synonymous with high quality fresh fish in south-eastern Australia, should only be used for Australia’s gummy (Mustelus antarcticus) shark and NZ’s rig (Mustelus lenticulatus).
The letter went on to explain that the Australian Consumer Law sets down that it is illegal to engage in conduct that is misleading or deceptive. SSIA believe that substituting other fish and calling it flake is likely to constitute such behaviour. The letter explained that the ACCC has vast investigative and infringement powers and can take proceedings in Court against this misleading and deceptive conduct. Judges can issue fines as much as $500,000 per offence for individuals or $10,000,000 for Corporations for each offence. The ACCC can also issue infringement notices for as much as $2,520 per offence for individuals and $12,600 per offence for a Corporation.
The letter went on to say that the SSIA has begun a process of investigation in which the results from samples of “fake flake” that prove not to be one of the two allowed species will be passed to the ACCC.
The SSIA has offered to assist any fish and chip shop owner who is unclear on the rules and SSIA can be contacted by email here.
As an example of how bad fish labelling has become in Australia the image shown is from the front of a fish shop that does not sell ANY Australian fish.
An innovative new design is being proposed for fishing vessels in Australia. Leading Australian boat designer Paul Bury has released concept drawings for a 20m fishing boat that can be configured to efficiently work different types of fishing gear. The design would be the largest Australian working vessel under a measured length of 20m.
The vessel design features an ‘inverted axe’ bow for a long waterline length; this provides better seakeeping and reduced vessel pitching and lower resistance which brings about fuel efficiency and reduced CO2 emissions.
The 12.6m long working deck is huge for such a small vessel and is configurable to individual operators’ requirements. The 110m3 fish room is enormous for such a small vessel and has 150mm insulated walls suitable for frozen fish storage. A total of seven crew can be housed onboard with up to six crew accommodated in twin-share cabins with the Master in a separate cabin off the bridge.
Rather than a normal diesel engine a diesel electric drive system produces electricity which powers an electric engine. This is the same system used in many trains and submarines. Less combustion engines on the vessel means lowered fuel and maintenance costs. Electrical motors are simpler than combustion engines and can often be switched out with a faulty motor sent for repair after being replaced by a new motor. This is especially important for vessels like squid jiggers who use large amounts of power for lights used to attract squid but also for fishing methods that use winches.
Twin propellers mean that the vessel is highly manoeuvrable and doesn’t need a bow thruster.
The concept is presented here to gather comments and expressions of interest from commercial operators interested in updating their existing vessel or adding a new boat to their current fleet. These vessels will be built in Thailand by an Australian owned yard with Australian build supervisors and surveyors to current AMSA/NSCV standards. The vessel build is currently being priced, contact the designer for further information on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Gippsland Basin in South East Australia is a hot spot for oil and gas resources. Australia’s first oil field was discovered at Lake Bunga, Lakes Entrance in 1924. More than 20 pieces of oil and gas infrastructure sit on the seafloor in eastern Bass Strait connected by numerous pipelines that return precious resources to land through Orbost, Seaspray and Longford.
The area is also one of Australia’s richest fishing grounds given the mixing of the East Australian Current with waters from Bass Strait and the large continental shelf that drains into the abyss through many small canyons into the enormous Bass Canyon. Most of the fishing vessels accessing these resources do so from the small Victorian town of Lakes Entrance.
The oil and gas industry use seismic surveys to locate reserves of fossil fuels. They produce detailed images of local geology to determine the location and size of possible reservoirs. Very strong sound waves are bounced off underground rock formations with the waves that reflect back to the surface captured by recording sensors for analysis later. An ABC animation shows graphically how seismic surveys work and extend up to 50 kms into the earth.
Recent research off Tasmania has shown that seismic surveys can kill scallops and zooplankton and have negative long term effects on crayfish. Fishermen across the world report reduced catch rates that can last up to a year after a survey is completed.
The fishing and oil/gas industries have a history of co-existence and the fishing industry is proud that it has been a good neighbour for more than 40 years. It would be hypocritical for the fishing industry to behave otherwise given the modern world’s reliance on fossil fuels – albeit with the environmental costs we now understand.
Peter Clarke is a former SETFIA Director, he is now retired after handing the reins of the family vessel Kendean to his son Stuart. Peter explained to the newsletter how in 1965 as a 14 year old crew member on his Father’s fishing vessel they would regularly deliver supplies to Esso vessels.
Rather than fight all oil and gas development SETFIA has worked hard to assist the oil and gas industry to minimise their impact on the fishing industry and to minimise the risk that fishing vessels present to oil and gas infrastructure. SETFIA’s clients have included Cooper Energy, Esso (Exxon), Tasmanian Gas Pipelines, 3D Oil, Geoscience Victoria, Geoscience Australia and many others. SETFIA has become skilled at requesting and analysing fisheries data, while maintaining fishers’ confidentiality, so that oil, gas and now seismic survey companies can understand the fishermen that might be present, when they will be there, and how they work. In partnership with the fishing industry they can then try to find ways to change the timing, sequence or footprint of exploration activities to reduce effects. Warning fishermen also gives them time to move elsewhere.
French company CGG has announced plans to undertake a seismic survey covering 18,000km2 in the Gippsland Basin – the biggest survey ever seen. The survey will affect around one third of the fish going into the Melbourne and Sydney fish markets. The Lakes Entrance Danish seine fleet will have almost all its grounds exposed to this seismic survey. This means that they seine fleet will have no-where else to go. Stuart Clarke, now a third generation fisher, explained to the newsletter his concerns about whether his business can withstand the short term displacement and the decline in catch rates that could last for more than a year after the survey.
Member for East Gippsland MLA Tim Bull made speech in Victorian Parliament last week raising concerns about CGG’s plans.
SETFIA has always been able to find a way to move fishing vessels elsewhere and to minimise seismic surveys effects on the fishing industry. However, CGG’s proposal is huge covering entire fisheries and will displace the fleet for five months.
This is why SETFIA is calling on the federal oil and gas regular NOPSEMA to understand that the fishing industry in south east Australia cannot withstand a survey of this size and duration and to not approve this survey.
By Ross Winstanley*
Not content with their exclusive fishing access to every Victorian estuary, recreational fishers are now pushing for the closure of commercial fishing in the Gippsland Lakes.
From the 1960s through the 1980s, Victoria’s annual 800 tonne Gippsland Lakes commercial fishery produced 80% of Australia’s black bream landings, averaging about 250 tonnes.
Today, the Gippsland Lakes commercial fishery is under extreme pressure from recreational fishers and related business interests. Flushed with the success of the 2014 campaign to end commercial net fishing in Port Phillip Bay, these interest groups are pressing the major political parties to bring an end to commercial fishing in the Lakes.
Success for this campaign would mean the end of another 10 perfectly sustainable family fishing businesses and the end of Victorian consumers’ access to black bream.
So, in the lead-up to Victoria’s November election, what positions will the major parties adopt regarding the future of fishing in the Gippsland Lakes?
Victoria’s 23-year record of fisheries and stock assessments have consistently shown the sustainability of the black bream and overall Gippsland Lakes fisheries. Together with environmental assessments of the lakes system, these studies have tracked changes to fish habitats and fish stocks which have been matched with fisheries management changes.
Commercial fishermen have been proactive in initiating some important changes: in 1996 they observed the apparent total loss of juvenile bream throughout the lakes. When surveys drew similar observations, the Government introduced emergency controls including tight monthly commercial catch limits and reduced recreational catch limits. Many years earlier, the closure of commercial fishing on weekends and public holidays had a marked effect in easing competition with anglers.
The 1996 event brought about lasting changes: an increase in the legal minimum length for bream and the continuation of reductions in the numbers of commercial fishing licences. Since 1995 alone, the number has been reduced from 21 to 10, mainly as a result of voluntary licence buy-outs.
As the numbers of licences have decreased, the level of commercial fish production has fallen accordingly. In 1995/96 the total catch was 721 tonnes, including 130 tonnes of bream: in 2016/17 the total catch was 316 tonnes including 42 tonnes of bream.
The most recent estimate of the recreational catch from the lakes was 203 tonnes of bream in 2000/01.
Two comparative studies of the economic values of commercial and recreational fishing in Victoria’s bays and inlets showed no grounds for re-allocating fish resources between the sectors.
In 2017, the Victorian Fisheries Authority conducted detailed assessments of the State’s key marine stocks. To lend additional rigour to the process, interstate fisheries managers and scientists participated in the assessments. Drawing on detailed long-term commercial and recreational fisheries data sets, they found that the combined pressures from fisheries for black bream in the Gippsland Lakes are sustainable, as were the recreational-only fisheries in other eastern and western Victorian inlets.
Their conclusion was that “Appropriate management is in place.”
In contrast, none of the current anti-netting campaigns offer any evidence that commercial fishing is unsustainable or incompatible with angling. Referring to the state of fish stocks and to angling success, statements such as “the decline is attributed to commercial fishing” offer no supporting evidence of declines from fishing or other causes.
Current political pressure
Since 1994, VRFish and local anglers have participated in at least seven Gippsland Lakes black bream and fishery assessments, all of which found fishing to be sustainable. When presented with the evidence they agreed with the conclusions and the management implications.
Today, against this solid background of evidence-based policy and fisheries management come spirited appeals to end commercial fishing in the lakes. Recreational fishing peak body, VRFish’s, key push to ‘save our Gippsland Lakes’ is a compulsory buy-out of all 10 licences as part of their ‘fish recovery plan.’ A change.org petition asserts that ‘it’s time to end commercial netting of fish in the Gippsland Lakes’ to ensure ‘the sustainability of the Gippsland Region.’ The Futurefish Foundation web page simply urges “Ban netting in the Gippsland Lakes.”
VFA creel surveys show that angling success in the lakes is comparable to success in other East Gippsland inlets where anglers face no ‘competition’ from commercial fishing. The evidence simply confirms what we know about recreational fishing everywhere: the majority of anglers catch very few fish. Removing commercial fishing pressure – spread across 20 fish species – would not alter that reality.
The economic importance of recreational fishing to the Gippsland Region, including tourism, is widely acknowledged. While the anti-netting campaigns claim that these benefits are threatened by commercial fishing, the VFA’s 2017 assessment shows that this is plainly untrue. In fact, the full social and economic value from fisheries in the Gippsland Lakes can only continue if the viable commercial fishery is retained. This has to be good news for government, seafood consumers and the wider Victorian community.
Victorian seafood consumers’ keenness for bream can be seen in the prices they’re prepared to pay: about $30/kg which is more than they’ll pay for snapper.
Anyone who has read reports of fishing offences in Victoria might recall the prevalence of illegal gill-netting in rivers and streams around the bays, inlets and coastline. Whether in the Werribee, Paterson or Tambo rivers, the main target for these activities is black bream. This is a reflection of high prices and an unmet market demand for the species.
Speaking of markets, there’s more at stake here than 300 tonnes of fresh fish annually. The Lakes Entrance Fishermens Co-op is a major source of Victorian and inter-state fish supplies. The Co-op operates on very thin financial margins and closure of the lakes fishery would seriously threaten its continued viability. As a popular direct outlet for fresh fish, the Co-op shop depends on the lakes fishery. Without that fishery the shop would be likely to close as trawl-caught fish can be unavailable for weeks at a time during unfavourable seasonal conditions offshore.
In 2014, the major political parties bowed to pressure from recreational fishing interests and committed to banning the commercial net fishery in Port Phillip Bay. They did so without any consideration of the proven sustainability of that fishery.
Faced with similar pressures in 2018, what will the major parties do? Will they seek balanced evidence-based policy advice from the VFA? If so, what advice will they receive and how will they balance this against pressure from recreational fishing interests?
The outcomes will be revealed in the next couple of months.
* Ross Winstanley is a keen angler, fishing writer and fisheries consultant. For 30 years he worked with Fisheries Victoria in policy, management and research.