Category Archives: IN THE NEWS

What’s to become of Victoria’s Gippsland Lakes commercial fishery?

15th August 2018

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.

Current assessment
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 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.

Market demand
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.

Political response?
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.

Danish Seine Fishermen Act to Protect Juvenile Flathead Stocks

21st June 2018

The harvest strategy in the South-East aims to maintain tiger flathead stocks at a pre-determined % of the pre-fishing, or virgin, biomass.   This is called the target reference point.  The flathead stock has been above this target for many years so fishermen have enjoyed quotas (total allowable catches or TACs) designed to slightly reduce flathead stocks down to that reference point.  However, the last flathead assessment showed that flathead is almost at that reference point so the quota has declined.

Less quota means less revenue so fishermen within the Association began to think about how to increase the per kg value of flathead.  One way is to catch larger flathead because larger flathead have a higher per kg price.  The market pays more for larger flathead because they are easier to fillet and they returns a higher yield of fillets as a % of whole weight.

Using larger mesh in the last section of the net called the codend increases the average size of flathead caught.

However, using larger mesh and not catching medium sized fish means less catch which means that fishermen must shoot their net more often, spend more time at sea and potentially increase their operating costs.  There are also costs to change to new fishing gear.

The debate was not an easy one but SETFIA members have resolved through a formal vote to increase Danish seine mesh size.  Two non-SETFIA member seiners were contacted and both supported the idea.

SETFIA has written to AFMA stating that they would like AFMA to increase the minimum mesh size in Danish Seine codends to 75mm by 1 May 2019 (the start of the new fishing season).

SETFIA has contacted fishing gear suppliers and advised them of the likely change so that they can adjust their supply.

Sustainable fishing practices protect our future.



Major changes in arrangements for commercial fishing in new Australian Marine Parks

21st June 2018

From July 1 2018, new Australian Marine Park management plans will come into effect, creating new rules for where fishing can occur in 44 marine parks around the country. Australian Marine Parks are located in Commonwealth waters, 3 to 200 nautical miles from the coastline, beyond state water boundaries.

Commercial fishing can occur in yellow and blue zones within these new Networks, in accordance with a class approval issued under each management plan. Class approvals set out the areas where commercial fishing can occur, the fishing methods that can be used, and the conditions that need to be followed while operating or transiting.

Parks Australia aims to contact all operators that fish in or near these new Australian Marine Parks, to inform them of the new requirements in advance of 1 July. This will include the final class approvals and factsheets for the Coral Sea Marine ParkTemperate East NetworkSouth-west NetworkNorth-west Network and North Network of Marine Parks. The factsheets will outline what you need to be aware of in order to comply and will include information on how to access electronic maps/files of all marine park boundaries. All documents will soon be available on the Parks Australia website:

Arrangements for commercial fishing within the South-east Marine Parks Network are not changing. The requirements in the existing class approval continue to apply.

If you would like more information please


phone 1800 069 352 or,


Marine Park Alert System Helpful in the South-East

21st June 2018

Marine parks are recognised globally as a tool that can contribute to protecting some marine environments from potentially damaging fishing methods such as trawling.  The South-East Trawl Fishery is proud to operate within a network of 14 Australian Marine Parks covering 388,000 km2.  The Association sees these marine parks as part of the risk-catch-cost fisheries management decision making trade-off.  Marine parks reduce the risk of commercial fishing, which should reduce fishery management costs and allow harvest strategies to set sustainable quotas.

The effectiveness of marine parks requires that fishing methods likely to harm the conservation values in that park are excluded from some parks. This requires compliance, including awareness of rules, monitoring and enforcement.  This can involve satellite photography monitoring, manned and unmanned aerial and sea patrols, acoustic detection and satellite-aided vessel monitoring systems.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), Parks Australia and SETFIA have worked together to set up a Marine Park Alert Service in the South-East and the newsletter has reported on this previously.  This system has since been rolled out to all Australian Marine Parks.  The backbone of this service is the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) platform; a satellite tracking system that is required on all Commonwealth managed fishing vessels that relays the position, speed, time and identity of vessels back to AFMA.

Under this marine park alert service an SMS message is sent to skipper and/or licence holder when the vessel enters a marine park  where the fishing method is not allowed. The alert is generated and sent following an initial poll and is only sent once (not repeatedly) when a vessel enters a zone, and then sent again on any subsequent new entry. This is to avoid excessive alerts being sent to a vessel, which could result in diminished effectiveness.

It is important to note that fishing vessels are allowed to transit through Marine Parks, but some fishing methods are not allowed in some marine parks.  For example, bottom trawling is not allowed in any of the South-East Australia’s Marine Parks.

The efficacy of the service has been recently reviewed by Parks Australia using three years of vessel monitoring system (VMS) data from AFMA.  Parks Australia has studied the tracks of vessels that entered within one mile of a marine park and received an alert.  The analysis aimed to identify tracks that might indicate fishing.  For trawlers, this involved looking at vessels travelling at less than 4 knots, noting that slower speeds also can indicate ‘dodging’ into bad weather.  For longliners, fishing was identified as a track pattern, typical with the setting and hauling of longlines.

In the three years studied, a total of 2,291 alerts were sent to skippers and concession holders to Commonwealth fishing vessels in marine park boundaries where the fishing method of that vessel was not allowed in that park.  On 18 occasions vessels appeared to receive an alert and then either departed or ceased fishing outside the marine park. These vessels may have already been planning to stop fishing prior to entering the marine park or may not have even been fishing, but there is a chance that some were fishing, received the alert and immediately stopped fishing possibly preventing a compliance incident occurring.

Prior to the alert service, AFMA ran regular VMS reports of South-East fishing vessels inside marine parks who were travelling at less than 5 knots.  After an initial human common sense scan where some vessels were identified as not fishing a ‘show cause’ letter was sent to the remaining operators asking them to explain their actions.  This was a lengthy and costly process with almost all vessels inside marine parks being false positives.

The alert service aims to prevent unintentional and intentional breaches, before a fishing vessel fishes within a marine park where it is not permitted to do so.  If this is possible it will significantly reduce the amount of tax payer funded work required to identify and pursue fishing vessels through show-cause.

When this review was completed the South-East’s Marine Parks had been in place for more than ten years, so fishermen know where the parks are and are used to being monitored by VMS.

When the national system of Marine Parks comes into effect on 1 July 2018 there will be ten-fold increase in the area of marine parks – to three million km2 consisting of 59 marine parks around Australia.  The alert service has proven itself to be a cost-effective and efficient way that contributes to reducing accidental and intentional illegal fishing activities in marine parks.  The fishing industry may find this free service helpful given the complexity of so many new marine parks in which allowable fishing methods vary given different zoning arrangements.  The challenge with implementing this service will be that many State and Territory managed fisheries do not currently require vessels to operate VMS, meaning that for some fishers the service will not be available, at least in the short term.

More information on the alert service can be found here.

We need your help to understand the diet of Shy Albatross

21st June 2018

By Dr Rachael Aderman

Wildlife Management Branch – Marine Conservation Program DPIPWE

The shy albatross breeds nowhere else in the world apart from three tiny islands in Tasmania—Albatross Island in the north and Pedra Branca (pictured) and the Mewstone in the south. Unlike many of the other albatross species that travel widely across the Southern Oceans, most of the shy albatross population remains year-round within the south-east Australian shelf waters. They are truly Australia’s own.

The total population is estimated to be around 15, 000 annual breeding pairs. Like the other 21 albatross species around the world, the shy albatross is of high conservation concern. Albatross are very slow to mature and they have a very low reproductive rate. This means that even a slight increase in mortality or reduced chance of successful breeding, may have significant consequences for the persistence of a population.

Many of the threats to the shy albatross are encountered while the birds are foraging at sea and include marine pollution and plastics ingestion; fisheries interactions; competition with fisheries or reliance on discards; and a changing ocean environment driven by climate change which  is altering the type, distribution and availability of food sources.

Central to understanding the nature and consequence of these threats is knowing where shy albatross are foraging; what they are eating; and is their diet changing over time?

Researchers from the Tasmanian State Government have been monitoring the shy albatross populations for over thirty years; however, studies of their diet have been limited. Traditionally, the only way to sample their diet is to force the birds to vomit up their most recent meal. This method not only invasive but can also bias the data, as often only the hard parts—such as squid beaks— can be identified.

Now there is a powerful new tool available. DNA analysis of albatross scats (aka poo) allows researchers to identify all the food sources they have recently consumed and in what relative proportions.

Researchers have spent endless days watching shy albatross on their nests on Albatross Island in Bass Strait—waiting for the distinctive sound of an albatross relieving itself – before darting in to collect a tiny precious sample of poo in a vial. Thanks to funding from the Fisheries Research and Development Corporations (FRDC), the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) and the Tasmanian Albatross Fund, researchers from the Marine Conservation Program of the Tasmanian State Government, in collaboration with CSIRO, are now analysing hundreds of diet samples collected over the past four years.

Key to the success of this project is ensuring that researchers have reference DNA sequences for all potential species the shy albatross could consume.

While we have managed to find samples from most of their likely food sources, DNA sequences from some key species of fish are still missing. SETFIA has kindly offered to help supply samples to fill these gaps. In coming weeks, we will be circulating to SETFIA fishers our ’most wanted’ list, complete with mug-shots and a how-to-guide. With your help, we hope to be able to create a complete picture of the diet of this incredible species.

[FRDC project 2016-118: Using scat DNA to inform sustainable fisheries management and Ecological Risk Assessments: a Shy Albatross case study]

Autonomous saildrones out and about

23rd May 2018

Through the GipNet Environmental Monitoring Research Initiative, CSIRO are trialing the use of a saildrone, a type of Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) to collect a range of oceanic data in Bass Strait.

The saildrones are controlled remotely through satellite communications and are powered by wind and solar. They are also equipped with navigation lights, radar reflectors and an Automated Identification System (AIS) beacon to help prevent collisions. The saildrones are approximately 7m in length and 4m in height and have an average speed of around 3 knots (max 8 knots).

They have been equipped with advanced monitoring technology, capable of measuring a range of parameters include carbon dioxide levels in the water. Data collected is being sent back CSIRO researchers in near real time.

The saildrones are designed to travel anywhere in the ocean. Vessel controllers simply plug in coordinates of the area to be monitored and the saildrone makes its way there using its ‘sail.’ Monitoring and communications are powered by an inbuilt solar unit. Each vessel can stay offshore for extended period of time (up to twelve months) without returning to land.

A saildrone is being trailed in Bass Strait to test a range of sensors that ensure this type of platform is reliable, durable and accurate for future monitoring of ocean properties and proposed carbon storage sites. If you see a saildrone, marine users are asked to stay 500m away from the system.

For further information  visit, call the GipNet team on 0467-003122 or watch the video below.


NSW Southern Trawl Fishery to join the South-East Trawl

18th May 2018

The NSW and Australian Governments have been working on merging the NSW managed Southern Fish Trawl and the Commonwealth managed South East Trawl fisheries. The NSW trawl fishery operates inside 3 nautical miles and the Commonwealth trawl fishery between 3 and 200 nautical miles.

The push for the merger has come because the two fisheries often target the same species with the same trawl method and operate side by side but do so under different rules and restrictions.  The 2016 Productivity Commission report investigated management inefficiencies between Commonwealth and State fisheries and recommended that these fisheries merge.

An agreement between NSW and the Commonwealth sets down how the two fisheries operate and share the resource.

NSW operators have limits on “Commonwealth quota” stocks like tiger flathead. This frustrates NSW operators because they are often forced to discard commercially valuable fish that have little chance of survival.

Commonwealth operators are frustrated because NSW catches are debited to Commonwealth quotas.  This ensures that the sustainable limit, set by the Commonwealth, is not exceeded but means that Commonwealth operators are the last in the line and only receive what NSW don’t catch (noting NSW vessels can only catch limited volumes).  Commonwealth fisheries are also frustrated that the NSW fishery does not contribute to the cost of assessing stocks.

Often fishers hold both NSW and Commonwealth endorsements but cannot operate inside and outside the 3-mile line on a single trip.  This too is inefficient.

All this because a line was placed at 3 nautical miles in NSW based how far a cannon ball could be fired in the 17th century.

The truth is that both sectors have an equally strong right to operate and there must be a better way to organise a fishery.

The NSW and Australian Governments formed the Southern Fish Trawl Working Group made up of fishers, associations and managers from both fisheries, they have agreed how the NSW Southern Fish Trawl could become part of the Commonwealth South East Trawl.  NSW released a consultation document that captured these proposals.  The proposal is that rather than debit NSW catches to Commonwealth quotas, that NSW operators should become Commonwealth operators working on a special permit allowing them inside “the line” (3 miles) and be issued around 246 tonnes of Commonwealth quota.  A separate NSW allocation panel would divide up this quota across the 23 NSW operators.

Under this system there is no change to the sustainable catch and no quota is taken from existing owners to give to new NSW entrants to the Commonwealth system – the catch is already coming off Commonwealth quotas.

The Committee also made recommendations that NSW vessels entering the Commonwealth fishery should operate seabird bafflers, VMS (satellite monitoring) and be subject to normal conditions such as ongoing efforts to reduce discards and by-catch.

SETFIA supports the transition under these terms and believes it offers the many benefits:

* fish trawling in south-east Australia will be managed by a single jurisdiction and many fish species will have a cap on how much can be caught each year;

*better data collection and improved understanding of stock status;

*one jurisdiction removes duplication and administrative burden;

*where the required concessions are held, fishers will be able to complete a single trip inside and outside NSW waters;

*security of access for NSW fishers will be increased

*no more trip limits and less discarded fish from NSW vessels.

The Association is frustrated at some recreational fishing groups who have led with headlines like, “the trawlers are coming”.  This is clearly not the case, there has been a trawl fishery inside NSW waters for more than 100 years.  What is being proposed is just a better outcome for the fishing industry and the Australian community.

ABARES report South-East trawler profitability up

20th April 2018

Latest financial and economic survey results from operators in the Commonwealth Trawl Sector (South East Trawl) shows that the profitability of vessels operating in the fishery improved in 2014-15.

Generating a gross value of fishery production of almost $43 million in 2015-16, the South East Trawl is the major supplier of locally caught finfish to Melbourne and Sydney fish markets.

The survey undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 financial year show that profit at full equity (a profit indicator that assumes all assets are fully owned by operators) increased for the average boat in the CTS from $131,000 in 2013–14 to nearly $154,000 in 2014–15. The improvement was primarily due to lower average costs on items like fuel.

The rise in average vessel performance is also reflected in an improvement in net economic returns (NERs) from the fishery in 2014-15.  ‘NER’ measures how well the fishery has performed as a whole and accounts for all revenue and costs of the fishery including all management costs, owner labour (even where there is no cash transaction) and capital employed in the fishery.  ABARES estimates that net economic returns continued to improve for the fishery in 2015-16 and 2016-17 reaching $4.2 million by 2016-17. Three years of consecutive growth in returns is great news for trawl operators, particularly as it comes following a three year period of decline.

ABARES is currently undertaking the next survey of Commonwealth Trawl Operators of the fishery covering the 2015-16 and 2016-17 financial years.

The latest survey results can be found at: