RECREATIONAL fishers were urged last night in Warrnambool to stand up and fight for their right to catch southern bluefin tuna.
They were told there was no long-term guarantee the federal government would allow continued easy access to the prized stocks off south-west Victoria, which lure hundreds of boat crews each winter.
About 90 people turned out to the rally meeting, organised by the WE FISH campaign group.
WE FISH is circulating a petition calling on Canberra to allow recreational fishing to continue for southern bluefin tuna with current bag limits and controls.
“Recreational fishing is looked at as a soft target by government. We need to make a stand,” WE FISH leader Dale McClelland said.
“The whole Commonwealth quota on southern bluefin tuna is given to the commercial sector. We are not the buggers who almost fished it into oblivion.
“We are just the ones who want freedom to go out and enjoy fishing.”
Mr McClelland said tuna crews spent an estimated $2.5 million in Portland during the Easter weekend, and in Victoria recreational fishing was worth $2.3 billion a year.
Fisheries Victoria executive Anthony Hurst said the state government, which managed access for recreational and charter fisheries, was seeking assurances from the Commonwealth .
He described the tuna as the “sports car of the ocean” living up to 40 years and weighing up to 200 kilograms.
In the past 40 years, stocks had declined dramatically but there were promising signs of improvement, he said.
“It’s a big fishing sector with lots of economic activity, but we don’t have secure access,” Mr Hurst said.
Australian Fishing Trade Association director Garry Kerr warned of fishing zone lockouts by the federal government and the proposal for Dutch super trawler FV Margiris to catch bait fish off southern Australia.
“The message is clear,” Mr Kerr said.
“We’ve had enough and we must make our voices heard.”
Warrnambool offshore fishing enthusiast Bruce Ludeman said there were community perceptions that recreational fishers were “raping the sea”.
“But many times we go out and not catch a single fish or take our full bag entitlement,” he said.
Mr McClelland said recreational fishers took a total annual catch of about 270 tonnes.
But he said a commercial boat from Port Lincoln recently caught 300 tonnes in one trip and it was not unusual for 240 tonnes of snapper to be taken out of Port Phillip Bay in a single Saturday.
The federal government told The Standard this week there were no plans to tighten access to southern bluefin tuna for the recreational sector.