Commercial fishing nets to go in Port Phillip Bay, but there’s a catch

Commercial fishing nets to go in Port Phillip Bay, but there’s a catch

One of the fiercest opponents of commercial net fishing in Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay now says the Victorian government should save one of the fisheries set to close this week.

Key points:

  • The Victorian government net ban on commercial fisheries will come into force on March 31, 2022
  • Opponents say the loss of 80 tonnes a year of local bait would hurt bait and tackle shops and recreational fishers
  • The closure of more than 30 net fishing businesses is already affecting the price of fresh fish 

David Kramer is a fishing trader and director of the influential Future Fish Foundation, which pushed hard for the net ban before the 2014 state election.

But as the remaining commercial fishers prepare to haul their nets for the last time on March 31, Mr Kramer has thrown his support behind the bay’s only commercial sardine operation.

Phil McAdam has fished the bay for sardines, also known as pilchards, for 45 years. He is licensed to catch 160 tonnes a year and half goes to the bait market.

Mr Kramer said the closure of Mr McAdam’s business would hurt the recreational fishing industry.

He said he would lobby the major parties in the run-up to the state election in November this year to re-open a sardine fishery.

Photo of a man at a bait shop.

David Kramer says there’s nothing better than a local product fresh out of the ocean. (Landline)

The loss of 80 tonnes a year of local bait would hurt bait and tackle shops and recreational fishers. Mr Kramer says sardine supplies from Lakes Entrance in Victoria and interstate were unreliable and not the same quality.

A blow to recreational fishing

Mr McAdam is a second-generation fisher whose family business employs six people. He said the government was closing a sustainable fishery and risking biosecurity problems as the shortfall of bait would probably mean more imports.

Photo of a man.

Phil McAdam has been fishing the waters of Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay for sardines for 45 years.(Landline)

“You know, some of the muck they’re importing out of India at the moment. They import it as a food product, therefore it doesn’t attract biosecurity testing. It changes hands a couple of times and ends up on the bait market and then it’s thrown in our waterways with Christ-knows what disease.”

He said devastating pilchard kills in 1995 and 1998, which spread 6,000 kilometres across southern Australia, were caused by imported pilchards used to feed sea-ranched tuna in South Australia.

The Victorian government says Mr McAdam’s catch will easily be replaced by the Lakes Entrance sardine fishery, which catches about 1,000 tonnes a year.

Price rise for fresh local fish

The closure of more than 30 net fishing businesses since buy-outs were first offered six years ago is already affecting the price of fresh fish at the Melbourne Seafood Centre, which trades about 200 million local and imported products each year.

Market chairman Andy McLaughlin said prices for fresh local fish had already risen.

Photo of sardines in a box of ice.

Last year, 100 tonnes of Port Phillip Bay sardines were sold compared to just eight tonnes from elsewhere.(Landline)

He said the Victorian government’s policies promoting recreational fishing at the expense of the commercial sector had gone too far.

“People don’t have access to fresh local seafood right on their doorstep. Instead, they’re appeasing the recreational fishermen, which is maybe 1 or 2 per cent of the population that are really avid fishermen that go more than once a year.”

Fisheries Minister Melissa Horne declined to be interviewed, but a spokesman said the net bans would provide an additional 600 tonnes of fish to recreational fishers in Port Phillip Bay.

Negotiating long line licenses

Eight of the remaining net fishers had been offered long line licenses to continue supplying fresh fish for Victorian consumers.

They have each been offered a quota for 11 tonnes of snapper, but negotiations on additional species have stalled.

Photo of multiple men fishing sardines.

Phil McAdam and his team supply 160 tonnes of pilchards a year for the food and bait markets.(Landline )

Dennis White, whose family has supplied fish on the Bellarine Peninsula for 40 years, said an additional 18 tonnes of mixed quota was first offered and then withdrawn without explanation. The latest offer of three tonnes did not include the premium species King George Whiting, which his retail and wholesale business was built on.

“Once again the Victorian public’s been neglected. They’re denying people access to that resource that they own through us.”

Photo of sardines emptying from a net.

Ironically a policy designed to favour recreational fishers will deprive them of Melbourne’s only source of fresh local bait. (Landline)

Watch this story on ABC TV’s Landline at 12:30pm on Sunday, or on iview.

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