Lakes Entrance’s fishing industry has not been immune to the challenges of 2020.
While taking hits through bushfires and COVID-19, the local industry has had to compete with the lake fishermen’s State Government licence buyout and off-shore seismic testing.
South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association (SETFIA) chief executive, Simon Boag, said the industry has had to ride the bumps, admitting seismic testing has created a number of issues relating to worker income and a significant drop in catch rates.
“2020 has been challenging but the most serious event has been the CGG seismic survey. We are still astounded that the Federal Government would order local boats out of the local fishery to allow a French company (CGG) to profit from our absence,” he said.
“Through all this the East
Gippsland fishing industry continues to employ people, maintain vessels using local trades people, and supply fresh food.
“The State Government has shut most of its finfish fisheries to promote tourism – they may be regretting this decision now.
“CGG started their seismic testing the day after the fire event passed Lakes Entrance. Three scientific studies have occurred inside and outside the area that was seismically surveyed.”
Mr Boag said the impact of seismic testing, which was completed on July 11, is still being felt both with catch rates and compensation claims due to loss of catch.
“The seismic impact occurred across a huge area 13,000 square kilometres in size. Initially catch rates dropped 80-99 per cent inside the area. Results released last week show that while school whiting has showed signs of recovering both whiting and flathead catch rates remain very low and have been significantly impacted,” he said.
“CGG’s survey started 10 months ago and finished more than three months ago, but less than half of (catch rate) claims received have been resolved. We continue to call on the Perth-based oil and gas regulator, NOPSEMA (National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority) to force CGG to honour their agreement but they have not acted yet to support Victorian fishermen.
“We thank (local MP) Tim Bull for his support in pushing CGG to pay the compensation they promised.”
COVID-19 has also presented challenges, however Mr Boag says fish markets quickly adapted to the changing landscape to the industry’s benefit.
“Immediately after the initial lockdown there was significant concern about fish markets and our ability to supply the Australian community with food. However, since this time fish markets have done an amazing job and have modified their operations to reduce COVID risk and continue to operate strongly,” he said.
“There has been a cook-at-home revolution because consumers are working less and have more time.
“A reduction in the number of passenger planes from New Zealand has seen the supply of fresh fish from New Zealand reduce and this has also been positive for the local industry.
“Finally, the Federal Government reduced cost recovered levies by two thirds and offered other stimulus schemes which has further insulated the Commonwealth fishing industry and we are very thankful for their support.”
While it has been a tough year for the fishing industry, there are a number of positive moving forward, according to Mr Boag, starting with a Federal Government report into Australian fish stocks which showed that no stock managed solely by the Australian Government is being overfished.
“As a consequence several quotas have increased and the volume of fish caught in south-east Australia will be the highest in 20 years,” Mr Boag said.
“Much of this fish has been exported which goes a small way to assisting Australia’s economic recovery.”
Green groups, however, have put a road block in another chance at economic recovery, Mr Boag said.
“The orange roughy fishery east of Tasmania was set to receive an international sustainability accreditation which would have opened new markets, but this certification has been appealed in London by two green groups,” he said.
“This delay has negatively impacted vessels from Lakes Entrance who planned to fish orange roughy and export it into the United States.”
Lakes Entrance’s fishing fleet has had to endure a challenging 2020, however there are signs pointing to a positive end to the year and future with several catch quotas increasing and the volume of fish caught in south-east Australia nearing its highest in 20 years.