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Anglers unite against Geelong Star

THREATS to regional economies and fears of bait stock decimation in important game fishing areas have resulted in an uprising of angler anger against the Geelong Star, which is currently fishing off the NSW South Coast.

National and state angling groups have for some months attempted to work with the Small Pelagic Fishery Industry Association to minimise threats to the recreational fishing sector caused by the industrial scale fishing of baitfish stocks.

However, talks have broken down after the SPFIA provided what rec fishing leaders say is an “unacceptable” response to angler concerns.

Fisho understands that angling groups led by the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation will now begin lobbying the federal Government to impose restrictions on where and when the factory trawler can target bait stocks.

Angling organisations had asked the SFPIA in a meeting on April 15 to limit operations around key game fishing ports and commit to research to assess the impact of industrial fishing on the rec sector and regional communities. See press release, map and full proposal HERE.

The SFPIA responded on May 22 with a proposal that would protect less than 10 per cent of the game fishing areas outlined by ARFF and encompassed about 1 per cent of the area the Geelong Star can fish. The SPFIA did not respond to ARFF’s request for further research on the fishery, and instead demanded that ARFF gag its members from publicly disparaging or criticising the factory trawler or its operations.

All state and territory recreational fishing organisations – VRFish, RecFish SA, Recfishwest, the Recreational Fishing Alliance of NSW, the Tasmanian Association for Recreational Fishing, Sunfish Queensland, the Amateur Fishermen’s Association of the NT, the Game Fishing Association of Australia, ANSA and Keep Australia Fishing – have slammed the SPFIA response as unsatisfactory.

“(The SPFIA response) reflects little appreciation of the concerns recreational fishers have about the effect of the Geelong Star on the small pelagic fishery, recreational fishers or the communities that support them and does nothing to address these concerns,” an ARFF letter to SPFIA chairman Grahame Turk said.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority was recently forced to intervene in the Geelong Star’s activities following public outrage over the killing of dolphins and seals during the factory trawler’s first two voyages.

The Geelong Star is currently operating within sight of land targeting baitfish stocks off the NSW town of Bermagui. This has provoked a storm of online protest, with many anglers blaming the federal Government for allowing industrial fishing in important recreational fishing waters.

See HERE and HERE for details.

Local anglers are concerned the Geelong Star will cause localised depletion of bait stocks off Bermagui and other areas and put at risk the winter tuna and shark sport fisheries. Research indicates that recreational fishing contributes significant economic activity in regional communities such as Bermagui.

“Commercial fishing operations like the Geelong Star think they have precedence over the recreational fishing sector,” ARFF MD Allan Hansard told Fisho.

“The Government needs to step in and assess the relative worth and benefits of both sectors. We would argue strongly that the Geelong Star is putting at risk many millions of dollars of revenue for small coastal communities. If this boat removes baitfish off these ports, then the game fish will simply head out far offshore to find food. That means anglers won’t be able to access the fish and the money they would have otherwise spent in places like Bermagui, Portland, Jervis Bay and a whole range of other towns up and down the coast will not be spent. Regional economies will suffer as a result.”

Hansard said it was time the federal Government and AFMA recognised recreational fishing as a major stakeholder in the fisheries resource sector and managed the nation’s fisheries accordingly. “Our concerns about this style of fishing on fish stocks, recreational fishing and the broader community are real, and have largely been ignored todate by the approvals process,” Hansard said.

“We understand the fishery the Geelong Star is involved in is a very low worth enterprise,” Hansard told Fisho today.

“They are selling low grade fish to overseas markets so the net benefit to Australia is questionable. In contrast, the expenditure on recreational fishing largely stays in Ausralia’s local communities, like Bermagui. In our opinion, the threat of localised depletion – not to mention possible risk to the entire marine food chain and the impacts on local communities – means this fishery needed far more research before a decision was made on if and how it is fished.

“Any economic and social impacts of the Geelong Star on local communities will likely be borne by the recreational fishing sector, along with all the small businesses that rely on us.

“What is also concerning is that the Geelong Star could be the first of a number of similar vessels brought to Australia to access this fishery and other fisheries. Will the Government approve these other vessels to fish Australian waters with the same lack of knowledge of the impacts on recreational fishing and the communities that support them?

“We ask Prime Minister Tony Abbott to take control of this issue and prevent our businesses and livelihoods from being put at risk by the industrial fishing sector,” Hansard said.

Fisho understands the federal Government is divided on the industrial fishing issue with many coastal MPs pushing to see the Geelong Star removed from Australian waters.

It’s understood federal fisheries spokesman Senator Richard Colbeck is under significant pressure due to his enthusiastic support for the factory trawler industry.

Senator Colbeck has released a statement urging the recreational fishing sector to continue discussions with the SPFIA.

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