In a move designed to sway the states recreational angler’s votes Steve Bracks has promised to eliminate all commercial fish netting from Westernport Bay. Big deal.

This giant red herring is a ploy to win back recreational anglers’ votes in exchange for their acceptance of the much more threatening Port Phillip Bay Channel Deepening Project. State Government has tried hard to keep dredging off the election agenda so moves to ban commercial netting from Westernport should be viewed for what it is - pulling the wool over recreational fishermen’s eyes – because it surely won’t achieve much else!

The 'No more netting in Westernport' deal announced by Rex Hunt and Premier Steve Bracks at Tooradin on Saturday 11th November trades off a small Westernport commercial operation for the proposed mega million dollar destruction of Port Phillip Bay through the lured votes of recreational anglers.

Whilst the overall commercial fishing operation in Westernport only achieved a total return of $270,000 for 48 tonnes in the 2004/2005 season with figures as low as $138,000 in 2003/2004, by comparison, state government and the Port of Melbourne Corporation (PoMC) has already spent a massive $60,000,000 just investigating the feasibility of the dredging project which underpins the Port’s expansion plans and which Lindsay Fox recently described as “ill-conceived”. 

“In a typical pre-election move, the Bracks government is cynically using Rex and recreational anglers as his puppets. Victorian anglers are not so ill-informed as to fall for this. The PoMC admits there may be medium term interruption to fish stocks in Port Phillip Bay as a direct result of their destructive channel deepening proposal – and yet they expect recreational fishermen to tolerate that on a promise that Bracks will remove the last few commercial netters from Westernport – what a joke!

The ‘No more netting in Westernport’ announcement gives little to any fishermen - recreational or professional. The Bracks government’s recent announcement of the planned expansion of the Port of Hastings (Westernport) is a much greater threat to our members commercial and recreational fishing pursuits in Westernport than is the small amount of netting which still occurs there.” says Blue Wedges spokesperson Jenny Warfe 

The Westernport expansion plan intends to move 3.7 million containers per annum through Hastings by 2035 (which is roughly twice that of the current throughput of the Port Of Melbourne), turning Westernport into a busy commercial port with huge on land infrastructure involving more damage to mangroves, seagrass beds and fish breeding and feeding grounds. Ship traffic and fishing exclusion zones in Westernport are expected to increase dramatically.

Perhaps the Brack’s government’s idea is to eliminate the problem of compensating displaced commercial fishermen early and cheaply, before the expansion of the Westernport container handling facility even starts.

Meanwhile, the Bracks Government has pushed any decision on the Port Phillip Bay Channel Deepening back until after the election in attempts to keep the controversial project off the political agenda, but Blue Wedges believes the project is doomed anyway. “Trial dredging last year was a failure - contrary to what VECCI and the state government claim. The dredging company failed to meet the Environmental Management Plan criteria, they kept dredging when they knew they had caused extensive underwater damage and many questions remain outstanding – such as how to handle the millions of tonnes of toxic sediment to be dredged from the Yarra and dumped again in the Bay” said Jenny Warfe. What’s more:   

  • PoMC still cannot provide a convincing cost-benefit analysis of the project including cost estimates for loss of fish stocks and industries that rely on them
  • Arguments that we need bigger ships for our exports do not ring true. Export levels are falling and imports are increasing right around Australia. Over 30% of Melbourne’s total exports last year were empty containers!
  • Drought and peak oil issues mean downturns in primary production. Victoria’s biggest export is dairy which is tipped in future as a ‘no growth’ scenario. Present sized vessels may well prove the most suitable, with supersized vessels design dinosaurs. It’s time for a re-think. 

“Rather than preserving our own fisheries by looking after our environment in Port Phillip and Westernport Bays, it seems our government would prefer to trash our Bays and coastline with more dredging and port expansion in anticipation of a few larger vessels with even more imports coming our way – I guess we’d have to import more of that tasteless fish from Asia as well if we let Mr. Bracks destroy our Bays. Fresh fish and chips on the beach will become a thing of the past. One wonders what will be on the menu soon at the Rex Hunt D’Lish fish shop – will it be fresh local or imported frozen fish?” says Ms. Warfe.

Blue Wedges Spokespersons: Jenny Warfe, John Willis, Phil McAdam (Port Phillip Bay & Westernport Professional Fishermen’s Association)                                               

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