Connector Newsletter Issue 30

Protecting the Ramsar Values of Western Port: Project Update

June 24, 2021

Stephen Brend, WP Biosphere Foundation Project Officer

Our current project, funded through the Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority is coming to an end.  It has been highly successful.  Specifically focussed on engaging with the recreational boating community, which essentially means anglers, the project aimed to identify ways to minimise negative impacts on the environment.  To our surprise, it turns out that recreational fishing does not adversely affect the bay.  Of course, to the individual fishes it may be catastrophic but, at a population level the fishery scientists are confident that the main target species (King George Whiting, Red Snapper, Gummy Sharks and Squid) are all robust.  The scientists obtain data through a tagging program; they tag and release fish, then people report back when they catch a tagged fish.  This is a great citizen science project producing useful information which helps keep the fishing community engaged with the people who set catch limits.  We wholly support this science based approach.

Our project was originally designed around the interaction between boaters and our migratory shorebirds.  However, our work has revealed that there is actually very little interaction between shorebirds and fishers.  Western Port is so shallow that most boats are out at high tide.  At hide tide, the birds are roosting on dry ground.  Of course, they could still be disturbed by a large bow wave but that would be survivable.  Of more concern is discarded, spent fishing line and dogs let off leash from moored boats.  Here again, though, most people do the right thing.  Litter consciousness is very high amongst everyone we spoke to.

The one thing we did find out is how damaging and unpopular bait pumping is.  This is the process by which silt is sucked up so that people can collect worms and shrimp to use as bait.  This is unsightly and can be smelly and is bad for the environment as deep, un-oxygenated sediment is dumped on the surface.  Furthermore, shrimp stocks can be exhausted.  Stopping, or strictly limiting bait pumping is an issue we will continue to pursue.  After all, there are plenty of alternative baits that people clearly use to great success, so there’s no reason for it.Click on the above image to watch an informative Video

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