Gippsland Lakes FAQ

Know the facts! To help explain VRFish’s position on Gippsland Lakes in greater detail we have prepared the below set of questions and responses.

Why are the fish stocks in decline in the Gippsland Lakes

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Over decades, the ecology of the Gippsland Lakes estuary has changed dramatically with lower freshwater flows and a permanent opening to the ocean. Catchment management practices have affected water quality and fish habitat. These conditions have negatively affected the recruitment of our fish and shifted the estuarine system towards more marine. The cumulative effect has been a decline in fish stocks over the last 30 years. Addressing low freshwater flows and saline intrusion must be part of a fish recovery plan, in addition to creating better resilience with improved fish habitat and water quality.

What is has been the impact to the Gippsland Lakes Fishery?

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Using black bream as an example,  1984/85 the commercial catch of Black bream was 484 tonnes in 1984/85 and has declined to a meagre 13 tonnes in 2017-18 – an all time low.  To put figure in terms of fishing ‘effort’ that is 1 kg of black bream per kilometre of net per hour.

The recreational catch rate of black bream reported by the recreational angler diary program is about 1 legal-sized fish every 5 hours. By comparison, the black bream catch in Lake Tyers is 3 legal-sized fish per 1 hour. Black bream lives its entire lifecycle within the estuary, lives to over 30 years in age and has not experienced a strong recruitment since 1989.

What action is VRFish calling to improve recreational fishing in the Gippsland Lakes?

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We are calling for the implementation of formal fishery recovery plan for Victoria’s iconic Gippsland Lakes Fishery that  includes:

  • A fair and respectful compulsory buy-out of all 10 Gippsland Lakes Fishery Access Licenses – we believe the fishery has passed a ‘tipping point’ so the only way we can improve the quality of recreational fishing in the immediate short-term is reallocating to the recreational sector what the commercial industry is catching (see detailed response below);
  • A review of recreational fishing bag and size limits for black bream – the fishery is in trouble and our fishers need to play an active role ;
  • A plan to address factors suppressing the natural recruitment of black bream, including habitat improvement and mitigating saline intrusion, and implement a restocking program – there are a complex set of issues negatively impacting our fish stocks over the long term and a comprehensive and targeted plan must be funded and implemented now for the benefit in the long-term.

What is recreational fishing in the Gippsland Lakes worth to the local economy?

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Recreational fishing has been calculated to contribute $381 million to the Gippsland economy. In addition, 2,422 full-time jobs (EFT’s) are supported by recreational fishing in Gippsland. It has been estimated that 58,000 people fish.[1]

Why is VRFish calling for a compulsory buy-out of the commercial net fishery?

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The weight of evidence demonstrates that the entire fishery has reached a tipping point where it can no longer support both a quality recreational fishery and a viable commercial fishery. A reallocation of the commercial sector harvest to the recreational sector is to provide an initial boost the quality of recreational fishing while recovery plan strategies (restocking, improved habitat and enhanced water management) are implemented. During consultation with local recreational fishers, the continuation of commercial net fishery also not in line with their vision of a recovery plan.Removing the commercial net fishery won’t solve the ecological problems of Gippsland Lakes but will improve catch rates of recreational fishers. Local fishers experienced documented improvements in fishing at nearby areas that have been closed to commercial net fishing such as Lake Tyers and Mallacoota. At Lake Tyers trophy-sized dusky flathead are now being caught and fishers travel from across the State to go fishing in the estuary.

Can a voluntary buy-back work?

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No. A voluntary buy-back will provide an incentive for some commercial operators to leave – if they choose. Its important to point out that the commercial fishery operates without any catch restrictions or a catch cap (or quota). Therefore, without a catch cap on remaining licence holders, under a voluntary buy-back scheme there is a real risk that the remaining operators will catch the same or even more than before the buy-back leading to no impact on improving the Gippsland Lakes fishery for the future. Without restrictions on catch such as through quotas or spatial closures there is no benefit to recreational fishing. The catch rate of black bream by recreational fishers in the Gippsland Lakes is 1 fish per 5 hours. To improve catch rates for recreational fishers there is no option but a major reallocation of the available catch to the recreational sector through a compulsory buy-out.

What can recreational fishers do to help a recovery plan?

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Recreational fishers have been highly supportive to lead the recovery of the Lakes Fishery. VRFish is calling for a review of the management arrangements for recreational fishers based on that feedback. Fishers reported their readiness to halve bag limits, increase size limits, promote even more catch and release and to participate in citizen science to better monitor the fishery. Recreational fishers can help to lead fish habitat restoration works.

How many fish are caught by recreational fishers in Gippsland Lakes?

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There is no accurate estimation for total recreational catch in Gippsland Lakes. What we do know is fishers that used to travel to Gippsland Lakes are now travelling to smaller estuaries in Gippsland from Lake Tyers to Mallacoota which have better catch rates. Reports from fishers, fishing clubs, competition holders and accommodations providers are all reporting less fishers visiting the area due to poor catches.

What quantity of fish is caught by commercial netters in Gippsland Lakes?

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In 2017/18, a total of 133.5 tonnes were harvested by Gippsland Lakes Fisheries Access Licence holders. This included 30.9 tonne of tailor, 15.5 tonne of silver trevally, 17.9 tonnes of prawns, 15 tonne of yelloweye mullet, 13 tonnes of black bream (lowest on record), 9.5 tonnes of dusky flathead and 29.8 tonnes of other species. In 2016/17, a total of 232 tonnes of fish were caught, which included 56 tonnes of tailor, 42 tonnes of black bream, 19 tonnes of dusky flathead and 17 tonnes of carp.

VFA Gippsland Lakes presentation – commercial catch 20180822

How many commercial licence holders are there in Gippsland Lakes?

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There are currently 10 commercial netting licences (Gippsland Lakes Fishery Access Licences) authorised to operate in Gippsland Lakes. In addition to commercial netting licences, there are 9 commercial bait licences that operate in Gippsland Lakes. VRFish is calling for the compulsory buy-out of the Gippsland Lakes Access Licences, not bait licences.

What species are caught by Gippsland Lakes Fishery Access Licences in Gippsland Lakes?

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The commercial fishery in Gippsland Lakes is a multi-species fishery. The species which make up the majority of the catch by commercial netters include European carp, tailor, black bream, dusky flathead, silver trevally, mullet, luderick, Australian salmon and school prawns.

What types of commercial fishing equipment can be used by commercial net licence holders in Gippsland Lakes?

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The operators of commercial netting licences in the Gippsland Lakes are authorised to use a number of different types of commercial net types, includes up to 2.2 kilometres of mesh nets, haul seine nets and stake nets

Are recreational fishers against commercial fishing?

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 No. When there is plenty of fish to catch there is no reason why commercial and recreational sectors cannot co-exist and work together for the benefit of the fishery. In the case of the Gippsland Lakes however the diminishing fish stocks over 30 years have significantly impacted the quality of fishing for recreational fishers. Many recreational fishers are now bypassing the Lakes which has a significant economic impact on all the businesses and communities which relies on this tourist dollar. Our argument is that it makes economic sense for the communities and towns around the Gippsland Lakes that available fish for harvest in the Lakes system is of more benefit to the recreational fishing sector. This reallocation will provide an initial boost to recreational fishing while outcomes of a longer-term recovery plan is realised. We have explicitly requested the compulsory buy-out must be both fair and respectful in terms of financial compensation and support to the 10 licence holders and their families. 

How can estuarine restocking help to improve recreational fishing?

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We have seen in the Gippsland region the positive impact an Australian bass stocking program is delivering to bring bass populations  back from the effects of low recruitment  Factors affecting the Gippsland Lakes are not dissimilar to those affecting other Southern Australian estuaries. The Blackwood River Estuary in south west Western Australia was also experiencing low recruitment and hence was an ideal candidate for a restocking program. A total of 220,000 black bream fingerlings were released over two years. The results were amazing, with stocked black bream, contributing 75% and 92% to the total number of individuals of the 2001 and 2002 year classes. VRFish are also advocating for the feasibility to establish a marine finfish hatchery.  As part of the fish recovery plan, a hatchery could be re-established at Bullock Island at Lakes Entrance using the remaining existing infrastructure and provide new jobs to the region.

Why won’t restocking the Lakes while commercial net fishers are still operating work?

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Restocking a waterway where commercial and recreational fisher both operate is problematic and creates another avenue of conflict. Stocking of fish is usually paid for by recreational fishers either through our licences fees or Government money (the taxpayer). Australian bass being stocked by recreational fisher’s license fees are or at risk of ending up being caught in commercial nets. Commercial operators are not legally able to be retain Australian bass and they must be released.However, due to passive netting practices many end up dead. Therefore bycatch and survival of released fish is an issue for recreational fishers considering Australian bass can live until 48 years of age and is only breeding every 10-20 years.

How will the buy-out of the Gippsland Lakes Fishery Access Licences affect seafood consumers?

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The Gippsland Lakes Access Fishery supplies 0.2% of seafood consumed in Victoria.

There is a large fleet of ocean-going commercial fishing industry operating out of Lakes Entrance that will continue to supply large volumes of seafood and support a vibrant seafood industry in Gippsland. In 2012/13, 7,300 tonnes of seafood was landed in Lakes Entrance from these ocean-going fisheries with a value of approximate value of $27.5 million.[2]

Around 230 000 tonnes per year of seafood produced in Australia has remained relatively stable over the last 20 years.Australia is a net importer of seafood with around 66% of seafood consumed from imported products[3]. Australia also exports overseas its high value seafood. Whether the Gippsland commercial net fishery continues to operate or not will not change Australia’s seafood consumers reliance on imported seafood due to demand.

How many jobs (EFTs) does the commercial net fishery in Gippsland Lakes support?

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Directly, each Gippsland Lakes commercial fishery access licence supports up to two people. Commercial netters in Gippsland Lakes also rely on processors, transport and wholesalers in getting their catch to market and the final consumers. Referring to the total tonnage caught in the fishery, this equates to only 5% of the seafood product processed at Lakes Entrance. To assert that that commercial netting in the Lakes directly supports hundreds of full-time jobs (equivalent full-time staff) is incorrect.

Will the removal of commercial netters from Gippsland Lakes impact on other commercial netters or trawlers that operate off-shore?

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No, the buy-back only relates to commercial netting licences that operate in the Gippsland Lakes. This licence type is only authorised to operate inside the Gippsland Lakes and not offshore, so commercial off-shore netting and trawling will not be impacted.

References

[1]Economic Study of Recreational Fishing in Victoria,Ernst & Young 2015.

[2]Gippsland Ports,  2014, Economic Value of Commercial Fishing Operating out of Lakes Entrance (Port of Gippsland Lakes)

[3]Department of Agriculture 2015, Australian Seafood Trade, Canberra

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