Commercial fishers argue Gippsland Lakes ban

Lakes Entrance. Image: ABC Landline

LAST month, the Victorian Government enacted its election promise of banning commercial fishing of the Gippsland Lakes in eastern Victoria.

Despite monetary compensation, Lakes Entrance commercial fisherman Gary Leonard told the ABC’s Landline program he is unhappy with the ban:

“We’re all feeling the stress from it,” Leonard said.

Leonard has been a professional fisherman for more than 30 years. His family began fishing commercially in the 1870s.

He and other Gippsland Lakes commercial fishers accuse the Victorian Government of being selective with their data to justify the closure, and that current catch sizes are proof of an overfished, depleted fishery.

Matthew Allen, a sixth-generation fisherman, said the fish have at present retreated upstream of the rivers, where commercial netting is not allowed.

Victoria’s Fishing and Boating Minister Jaala Pulford refutes that.

“Any connection between the state of the fishery and the last three years of dry conditions and drought in East Gippsland, I think that doesn’t collate all that well,” Pulford said.

In recent decades, the fishery has come under intense pressure from environmentalists and recreational anglers arguing the sustainability of netting and the pressure it puts on fish stocks.

Fish scientist Ross Winstanley, a former chair of Victoria’s Fisheries Assessment Panel, is angry about the commercial fishing ban and accuses the State Government of double standards.

“If you were concerned about fishing’s impact on the ability of a stock to recover, why would you shut down 10 operators who are taking 15 tonnes [per annum], while you know there is a recreational take of 200 tonnes?” Winstanley said.

VR Fish, which represents anglers, denies that.

Executive officer Michael Burgess hails the decision as “courageous.”

He said commercial fishing in the Gippsland Lakes put added pressure on a degraded ecosystem that needs remediation.

He believes the Government promise of restocking the lakes with highly-sought species such as black bream will make a difference to the region, attracting anglers and tourist dollars.

But Mr Winstanley believes the Government has erred.

“If you manage the fishery properly, you can have the benefits of both the commercial sector and the recreational sector,” he said.

Minister Pulford disagrees.

“We have provided a generous compensation package to recognise the loss of livelihood for that group of people,” she said.

“But we want to restore the Gippsland Lakes to its former glory.”

Source: ABC

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