Revised Geelong Star management plan fails to address concerns

Merimbula Big Game and Lakes Angling Club secretary Chris Young fishes with the Geelong Star trawler in the background. Photo: Supplied
Merimbula Big Game and Lakes Angling Club secretary Chris Young fishes with the Geelong Star trawler in the background. Photo: Supplied

A review of the Geelong Star super trawler's vessel management plan has been released by the federal government, but it fails to address the concerns of tourism bodies and recreational fishers.

The regional catch limits have not been altered, despite great public concern that the Geelong Star's fishing habits will lead to localised depletion of bait fish. The vessel has fished heavily on the NSW far south coast, a popular area for recreational fishers and one that relies on tourism for survival.

The main changes to the revised management plan were wording for clarity, and specific by-catch procedures, according to the boat's governing body, the Australian Fishing Management Authority.

The regional catch limits, one of the major concerns for the far south coast fishers, went unchanged. Effectively, the vessel can catch its quota anywhere in the allowable zone which stretches from southern WA through to the Queensland border, encircling Tasmania. There are no "move-on" provisions, which, short of removing the vessel from Australian waters, was the request of existing fishers and businesses on the south coast.

The Geelong Star is the subject of a senate inquiry into large-capacity fishing vessels. A spokeswoman from the Australian Fishing Management Authority said the management of Commonwealth fisheries were based on the best available science and data, considering the views of stakeholders.

However, businesses and tourism bodies on the far south coast continue to argue that the recreational industry, directly linked to the $400m tourism industry, was too important to put at risk.

Merimbula Chamber of Commerce president James Smith said the Geelong Star would have an "insidious and detrimental ongoing effect" on the region.

"Information from Tourism Merimbula shows that 42 per cent of local tourism is angling related, compared to an eight per cent baseline of like areas such as Batemans Bay, Coffs Harbour and Gippsland," Mr Smith said.

Tackle shops on the Sapphire Coast estimated up to 90 per cent of fishing licences were issued to visitors, which had a flow-on effect to accommodation, hospitality and retail providers.

It was money that could not be replaced, Mr Smith said, if the industry ceased as a result of the super trawler.

Merimbula Big Game and Lakes Angling Club secretary Chris Young said the boat "virtually fished nowhere else" but off the far south coast.

"It is a known bait hot spot," Mr Young said.

"These fish are the base of the food pyramid, everything else depends on them. Environmentally they should not be fished, full stop."

Fisherman up and down the coast agreed the vessel needed stricter provisions to prevent localised depletion of bait fish.

The vessel management plan is reviewed at least every 12 months. The Australian Fishing Management Authority said it is continuing to review regional catch limits and protected species management.