NEARLY three decades has passed since Corner Inlet’s licensed commercial fishers shook hands on a voluntary code of practice intended to sustain the fishery and ensure good catches for all, then and into the future.
Two aspects of that code; limiting seine net use to two shots in any 24-hour period and having only a single set of fishing gear including all nets and longlines in the water at any one time, have now become enforceable law.
Victorian Fisheries Authority (VFA) chief executive officer Travis Dowling has issued a Fisheries Notice enforcing the two new rules.
Twelve of the 18 Corner Inlet fishery licence holders wrote to the then Victorian Fishing and Boating Minister Jaala Pulford in May this year asking for the two changes to be made to the Fisheries Regulations 2019.
The signatories to the letter were concerned that the voluntary code, in place since 1992, was not always being honoured by all licence holders, especially during the past couple of years.
VFA figures show that the total commercial catch in Corner Inlet for 2018/2019 was 446 tons, 37 per cent more than the average for the previous 20 years of 325.6 tons.
Corner Inlet is the state’s last remaining bay and inlet commercial fishery and its catches of King George whiting, flathead, flounder, garfish, gummy shark and calamari are considered to be world-class, both in terms of quality and in the fishery’s long history of sustainable management.
The annual landed catch from Corner Inlet is valued at about $8 million and generates a livelihood for the licence holders and their deckhands along with jobs for people in the maritime industry, transport and food service among other fields.
Corner Inlet seafood is highly prized locally as well as by Australia’s top chefs and is regularly on the menus of restaurants such as Ben Shewry’s Attica in Melbourne and Neil Perry’s Rockpool in Melbourne and Sydney.
Both restaurateurs wrote letters to the Fishing and Boating Minister supporting the changes to the Fisheries Regulations.
In one of her final decisions as the Minister before being appointed to other State Government portfolios, Ms Pulford travelled to Port Welshpool on Friday June 19, 2020 to announce that the suggested amendments were now in effect.
Licence holders already abide by another of the regulations which states that there must be no commercial fishing in Corner Inlet between midnight on Fridays and 5 pm on Sundays.
Corner Inlet’s commercial fishing boats are also now required to install and operate a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) from August 1, 2020.
VMS uses satellite technology to provide real-time boat tracking information, which helps the VFA to monitor compliance. The VFA will pay for these VMS units and up to $250 towards their installation cost.
Minister Pulford said, “Corner Inlet’s commercial fishers are to be congratulated for their stewardship of the fishery and their continued efforts to improve its management to ensure its sustainability.
“Victorian consumers value fresh Victorian fish and Corner Inlet is a big contributor to what ends up on dinner plates in homes and at some of Melbourne’s finest restaurants,” she said.
Recreational angling organisation Futurefish Foundation director David Kramer welcomed the changes to the Fisheries Regulations and was present at Port Welshpool with Ms Pulford when they were announced.
“The Futurefish Foundation has longed to work constructively with the commercial fishing sector to ensure fair and equitable access to Victoria’s fish stocks and to eliminate heated interaction between the recreational and commercial fishers in any given area,” he said.
“Futurefish commends the Minister in recognising and cementing the voluntary Code of Practice which has existed in Corner Inlet for the past 28 years into enforceable rules.
“For the majority of licence holders who have fished for several generations; this is reward for their effort to ensure sustainable fishing for quality Victorian seafood,” Mr Kramer said.
“These rules ensure that the Corner Inlet area will not be overfished and that there is minimal interaction between the commercial and recreational fishers.”
Mr Kramer also advised that “the Futurefish Foundation is committed to not lobbying government for a buyout of commercial netters in Corner Inlet and that Futurefish will work alongside the netters to promote their sustainable fishing practices and assist with growing the brand of Corner Inlet caught fish.”
Third-generation Corner Inlet fisherman Neville Clarke and fourth-generation fisherman Luke Anedda were among the 12 commercial licence holders to seek the changes to the Fisheries Regulations.
“We’ve always found that Corner Inlet is a high-profile piece of water because of the quality and consistency of the catch,” Mr Clarke and Mr Anedda said.
“A lot of the fish species in the Inlet are at a sustainable level after full compliance with our voluntary code over many years, and the majority of licence holders were worried that the escalation in fishing effort would threaten that,” they said.
“A Corner Inlet Fishery Management Plan is to be developed and we are looking forward to being involved with that process.”