Connector Newsletter Issue 31

Protecting the Ramsar Values of Western Port

October 4, 2021

Stephen Brend, WPB Project Officer

Photo Courtesy Daniel Hall

Our three-year ‘Ramsar Values’ project, funded by the Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority (PPWCMA) wrapped up successfully in June.  The project’s final event, a bus trip to highlight why Western Port is considered a wetland of international importance, was postponed due to the pandemic lockdown.  It will, however, certainly be run once restrictions allow.  We will advertise this before the event.  Protecting the Ramsar Values of Western Port remains a priority for the Biosphere Foundation.

In the meantime, the lockdown has made many people ask “what effect will the lockdown have on fish stocks?  Will there be more fish?  Will they be easier to catch?”  To the surprise of many, fisheries scientists answer “probably not”.  How can that be?  If thousands of recreational fishers are prevented from catching fish, why won’t there be more of them?  As with everything to do with fisheries, the explanation is complicated.  There are lots of fish species, each with different life histories, some are affected more by adult mortality (e.g. fishing) than others.  However, it really comes down to the incredibly large number of eggs a single fish can produce – sometimes in the tens of thousands.  As a result, it doesn’t take too many adults to do a lot of replenishing.  In the case of King George Whiting in Victoria, the adults spawn (lay eggs) out at sea where they are not fished.  It is then up to the currents and tides to bring the eggs and young into our bays where they mature.  The lockdown will mean that more adults will leave their ‘nurseries’ in Port Phillip and Western Port and make it out to sea to reproduce, but predictions are, this won’t significantly change fish stocks.

What about the fishing itself?  Surely, if those thousands of fish haven’t been caught, there will be more of them in the water and so they will be easier to catch?  Possibly, but only possibly.  The fish will be as elusive as ever.  The only thing that might help fishers is that school sizes may be bigger, making them easier to find.  Whether you consider that a good thing or not, depends on your passion!

The Foundation’s attitude is nuanced.  Firstly, we feel deeply the impact that lockdown has on individuals and society.  While environmental gains are always worth celebrating, there is no joy when it comes at such cost to people.  We recognise that recreational fishing does bring social and economic benefits.  Our concern is making sure it does not come at a cost to the natural world.  Therefore, we always encourage best practice:  Not littering; retrieving all spent line; anchoring without damaging the seabed; and avoiding disturbing birds.  Regardless of whether fish stocks have improved, or if catching them has become easier, our message is always about sustainability.  Catch your dinner, not your limit.

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