Response to issues raised in submissions received on the Proposed Fisheries (Port Phillip Bay and Western Port Commercial Catch Limit) Notice
The Proposed Fisheries (Port Phillip Bay and Western Port Commercial Catch Limit) Notice (Proposed Notice) was released on 24 August 2015 for a four week consultation period.
An initial Government response to submissions was communicated in a letter from Travis Dowling (Executive Director, Fisheries Victoria) to all affected licence holders and other submitters on 15 October 2015, to:
- delay the implementation of individual catch limits and associated reporting arrangements until 1 April 2016.
- provide licence holders with the option of using either the average catch from the previous three or five licensing years (up to 31 March 2014) to calculate individual catch limits.
The issues raised in submissions can be grouped into eight key themes. A Government response to each of these themes is provided below.
Seven of the 51 submissions that were received on the proposed notice, plus one submission from a group of nine licence holders, are publicly available at www.vic.gov.au/ppbnets. The remaining submissions could not be published, either due to a request for confidentiality or because they contained personal and/or financial information.
1. The calculation and implementation of catch limits
Submissions expressed a number of concerns about the proposal to apply catch limits to individual Western Port/Port Phillip Bay Fishery Access Licences and the Purse Seine (Port Phillip Bay) Fishery Access Licence. The main concerns in relation to the calculation and implementation of catch limits are outlined below.
What is a 'catch limit'?
Some submitters were unclear about what a catch limit was and if it was a 'quota'.
A catch limit will be applied to each Western Port /Port Phillip Bay Fishery Access Licence and to the Purse Seine (Port Phillip Bay) Fishery Access Licence. It is calculated as the average annual catch taken over previous licence years (see below) based on catch and effort records submitted by the licence holder. As outlined in the proposal, on trips where team fishing is recorded on catch returns, the catch is split equally between the licences. The catch limit is not a 'quota' in that it cannot be transferred to another licence holder or adjusted. The catch limit for each licence will not change over time, except in relation to 'overcatch' (see below).
The catch limit in Western Port and Port Phillip Bay is the cumulative total of individual catch limits applied to affected licences. This total catch limit reduces ('slides') over time as licences are surrendered and the licence is removed from the fishery with the corresponding catch limit.
Period of time used to calculate catch limits
In initial meetings with licence holders, it was argued that the use of three years (as stated in the election commitment) did not adequately recognise the circumstances of individual businesses. To help address this issue, it was suggested that individual catch limits be based on the average of five previous licence years (1 April 2009 to 31 March 2014).
The decision to base catch limits on five years catch history was subsequently questioned by some submitters and there were requests to revert to the three years or to use the best years, whether this be two, three or four, in the calculation of the catch limit. There were also queries as to why the licence year (1 April to 31 March) was used.
Given the concerns raised, the Government has agreed to provide each licence holder with the option of using either the average catch from the previous three or five licence years to calculate individual catch limits. In terms of the period used to calculate catch limits, 'licence year' has been used in order to align with the annual re-issue of licences and with the management of catch limits into the future.
A number of submitters noted the impact of exceptional circumstances on the calculation of individual catch limits (e.g. year/s where licence holders were unable to fish due to illness and other circumstances).
The Government has acknowledged these concerns, and will provide the option to use either three or five years of catch history to calculate catch limits. Averaging catch over a longer time period will reduce the impact of one or more poor years.
Viability of catch limits
Individual catch limits were considered by a number of submitters as too low and insufficient to maintain longer-term commercial viability, particularly for those licence holders who have recently purchased the licence and are bound by the previous owner's catch history.
Concerns about the viability of catch limits will be partly addressed by providing the option to use either three or five years of catch history to calculate catch limits.
Using the licence's declared catch history is the fairest way to calculate catch limits and allows each licensee the opportunity to continue fishing at recent levels for the licence. This approach recognises the election commitment to cap commercial catch at recent levels. Increases in catch would not be consistent with this commitment.
Why aren't species included?
Submitters queried why catch limits do not include species and/or gear types.
The Government's objective in implementing the catch limits is to reduce commercial catch over time, without changing the mix of species taken, in order to enhance recreational fishing opportunities in Port Phillip Bay.
Each individual catch limit is currently set as a total limit covering all species and gears. This decision was made in order to reduce regulatory burden on fishers, and to allow licence holders to continue to target those species which are seasonally available with the most efficient gear. In implementing this approach, it is expected that individual operators will continue to fish as they have in the past without major changes to operations. If the Government becomes aware that deliberate, material shifts in the targeting of species are occurring (for example, to high-grade catch or a shift from targeting sardines to King George whiting), further restrictions may need to be considered.
Are catch limits in whole wet weight or another form of weight?
Some fishers have queried if their individual catch limits are in whole wet weight or another form of weight. For example, one fisher salts his fish before landing and another guts his fish before landing.
Individual catch limits are based on catch history as documented in catch and effort records. It is recognised that a small number of fishers have salted or partially processed (gutted) fish. Fishers can continue these practices and record the weight of fish as landed in their logbooks.
What happens when the catch limit is reached?
A number of submitters queried what was required of licence holders once the individual catch limit was reached.
Each licence holder cannot exceed their catch limit in any year. However, given the issues raised during consultation, an 'overcatch' of 100kg of fish will be permitted, to recognise the difficulty of precisely estimating catch on the last day of fishing. This 'overcatch' amount will be deducted from the catch limit in following licence year. Once the catch limit and 'overcatch' have been caught in any one licence year, fishing on the affected licence must cease.
Why is catch being restricted when there are no sustainability concerns for fish stocks in the bays?
A number of submissions queried the need for catch restrictions in Western Port and Port Phillip Bay when there are no concerns about the sustainability of fish stocks in these fisheries.
Individual catch limits on licences will prevent an increase in fishing effort during the phasing out of commercial netting in Port Phillip Bay. The cap is part of the Government's Target One Million election commitment to enhance recreational fishing opportunities in Port Phillip Bay by increasing the fish stocks available to recreational anglers.
2. The enforcement of catch limits – the proposed reporting requirements
A number of submitters expressed concern that the proposed reporting requirements were too complex and impractical. Several submissions questioned various details of the proposed arrangements, including the requirement to estimate the weight of the catch to within 10% of the actual weight, the requirement to complete actual weight within 24 hours, the need to have logbooks on board small open boats, the practicality of using mobile phones at sea, and the requirements for catch disposal records. A number of licence holders were concerned that the requirement to complete part of the logbook at the place of landing was a personal safety issue due to potential conflict with the recreational sector.
Ensuring the integrity of the catch limit is an important element of the Target One Million commitment and the proposed reporting requirements are designed to achieve compliance with the catch limits in a fishery with a demonstrated high compliance risk.
Key concerns around the practicality of reporting arrangements can be partly addressed by making adjustments to the proposed arrangements. The amendments proposed are:
- to allow for an estimate of weight within 10% of actual weight to 20% of actual weight
- a change from providing actual weight within 24 hours to within 48 hours
Entering only estimated weights before leaving point of landing should minimise the time spent at the boat ramp and potential interactions with recreational fishers.
Note that the requirement to provide estimated catch weight, as well as other details of the catch and effort record book, prior to leaving the place of landing is critical in ensuring that catch limits are able to be enforced.
It is proposed to discuss the revised logbook design with Seafood Industry Victoria (SIV) in the near future. SIV may identify a logbook format for the reporting requirements that is more practical for fishers.
Clear instructions, as well as one-on-one education with fisheries officers, will be made available to licence holders.
3. The mechanism used to implement the new requirements
A number of concerns were raised in submissions, including:
- the use of catch and effort data to set the catch limit;
- the absence of a 'right of appeal in this process'; and
- the perception that imposing a catch limit on a licence de-values those licences with low catch limits compared to licences with higher catch limits, when previously all licence were effectively of equal value.
Catch and effort data are statutory returns provided by licence holders. The Government believes that it is appropriate to use catch and effort data provided to the Secretary for the purposes of determining catch limits for individual licence holders. Licence holders were provided a period to query the proposed catch limit attached to their licence by requesting an extract of the data used to calculate the catch limit.
The catch limits will be established to ensure that commercial catch remains at existing levels. The introduction of the catch limit does not affect the value of the licence which, for the purposes of compensation, is contained in the Fisheries Amendment Bill 1995 which has been passed by Parliament. More information on this compensation scheme is provided at www.vic.gov.au/ppbnets (see Item 5 below).
4. The impact of the proposal on the wider community
Submitters argue that restricting the catch of fish in Western Port and Port Phillip Bay will result in reduced local fish supplies, affecting local seafood consumers as well as tourism in local ports. Likewise, the restriction on the catch of bait species will have an impact on the recreational fishing sector.
The Government acknowledges the contribution that the Port Phillip Bay fishery has, and will continue to make, to the supply of seafood consumed in Victoria. However, the bay only provides about 1% of the seafood consumed in Victoria.
Melbourne's seafood comes from a variety of sources – from Victoria's own fisheries including other bays and inlets such as Corner Inlet and the Gippsland Lakes, from Victorian ocean waters, from other state and Commonwealth waters and from imported product. Quality fish will continue to be supplied from these sources. The decision to remove netting will therefore have limited impact on the public's access to locally caught fresh fish in Victoria.
Long-line fishing for snapper and other non-net based methods will be allowed to continue in Western Port and Port Phillip Bay. Along with dive fisheries, including the scallop, abalone and sea urchin fisheries, these will continue to supply fresh local seafood directly into the Melbourne seafood market.
Bait used in Port Phillip Bay (pilchards and whitebait) comes from a variety of sources, including Port Phillip Bay, Lakes Entrance, Eden, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia so there will continue to be a supply of bait available to the recreational sector.
5. The timing of the proposal and the exit strategy
As part of the election commitment, the Government committed to 'offering a clear and fair exit strategy to licence holders'. Submissions raised the absence of information on this exit strategy and the timing gap between the proposed implementation of catch limits (originally 1 November 2015) and the start of the compensation process. A number of submissions raised concerns about the absence of details on the process for compensation, and requested a delay to the implementation of catch limits until the process was made clear and had commenced.
The implementation of individual catch limits and associated reporting arrangements has been delayed to the start of the next fishing year, on 1 April 2016.
The Parliament has now passed the Fisheries Amendment Bill 2015 to implement the buyout process. The amendments to the Fisheries Act 1995 will:
- Specify the compensation to be offered to the 42 holders of Western Port / Port Phillip Bay Fishery Access Licences and the single Purse Seine (Port Phillip Bay) Fishery Access Licence holder;
- Provide for a limited non-net commercial fishery to operate in Port Phillip Bay from 1 April 2022; and
- Specify a process for the phasing out of commercial netting in Port Phillip Bay.
Under the proposed scheme, the first round of compensation offers for fishers surrendering and exiting the fishery will commence in early 2016, with the first payments expected to be made on 1 April 2016.
As part of the phase out, all commercial fish netting will be removed from Corio Bay by 1 April 2018.
Information on the proposed scheme is now available at www.vic.gov.au/ppbnets.
6. The operation of the non-net fishery in Western Port and Port Phillip Bay
There were a number of questions raised in submissions regarding the non-net fishery that will remain in the bays once nets are removed. Questions included the need for catch limits in the non-net fishery and the ongoing requirement for input controls.
The intent of the Government's election commitment was to remove commercial net fishing in Port Phillip Bay and cap commercial catch. Consistent with this, amendments to the Fisheries Act 1995 will provide for a limited non-net fishery to continue after the phase-out of nets is completed in Port Phillip Bay in 2022. Western Port/Port Phillip Bay Fishery Access Licence holders will be able to elect to remain in this non-net fishery. The Port Phillip Bay fishery post 2022 will be limited to 8 licences. It will be established as an 88 tonne quota-managed long-line snapper fishery, with each eligible fisher allocated quota units equal to 11 tonnes of snapper on 1 April 2022. These fishers will also be able to use the non-net methods currently specified in the regulations (octopus trap, bay fish trap, fishing line (other than a longline), underwater breathing apparatus, hand operated mussel rake and a hand operated bait pump).
Further discussion will be arranged with industry in January 2016 on the characteristics of the non-net fishery.
7. The impact of the proposal on the mental health of licence holders
Some submitters expressed concerns about the impact of the proposed changes on the mental health of affected licence holders and their families. A number of submissions cited anxiety, depression and stress as serious concerns.
The Government recognises that the proposed changes to the management of the Western Port / Port Phillip Bay Fishery and the Purse Seine (Port Phillip Bay) Fishery impacts on the livelihood of all net fishers and their families.
If you are involved in these fisheries and require financial or other support services, you can contact the Rural Financial Counselling Service, Mornington Peninsula – Marshall Scott on 5662 2566, Bellarine Peninsula - Wayne Stephen on 1300 735 578. This is a free, independent and confidential service.
We would encourage anyone who has concerns about someone in the industry to help the affected person make contact with a rural financial counsellor or doctor.
8. The impact of the proposal on licence renewal fees and cost-recovery levies
Submitters suggested that cost recovery levies should be reviewed as each licence will have a different catch limit different compliance risk and associated enforcement activity.
In licence fisheries, there is no distinction in cost recovery between licence holders with different levels of catch. Cost recovery partially recovers the costs of services and, for the most part, those services do not differ based on production/catch (e.g. an inspection cost is the same regardless of the size of the operation).
Overall, cost recovery levies will reduce as the commercial catch in Port Phillip Bay declines because research and management costs attributed to the commercial sector are based on the estimated proportion of catch taken by the commercial sector compared with the proportion taken by the recreational sector. Levies for individual licences will depend on the year holders choose to exit the fishery.