SOUTH-WEST abalone divers are hoping new limits for the recreational abalone take are discouraging Melbourne people who were exploiting previous rules.
Western Abalone Divers Association (WADA) executive officer Harry Peeters said there had been little evidence of the “Five a Day crew” operating in Port Fairy this week since the new limits were brought in on December 19.
Mr Peeters said Melbourne people, known locally as the Five a Day crew, had been regularly travelling to Port Fairy in cars carrying five people in each vehicle to harvest the maximum recreational take of five abalone per person.
WADA chairman Phil Plummer said about two cars a day were involved in the operation, which had stripped some reefs in the Port Fairy area of abalone.
The group’s activities prompted the state government to bring in new rules that limit the recreational abalone take in the south-west to 10 a vehicle.
But the recreational take for individuals will remain at five.
The recreational take for other shellfish such as periwinkles, dogwinkle snails and limpets has been set at 10 litres a day.
A two-litre vehicle limit will apply to shellfish other than abalone if they have been removed from their shells.
Mr Peeters estimated the Five a Day crew had taken two tonnes of abalone and 3000 litres of periwinkles in the past three months from the Port Fairy area.
He hoped the new 10-abalone-per-vehicle limit would make it commercially unviable for people to make the trip from Melbourne to the south-west.
“We can only hope that Port Fairy is now only visited by genuine recreational divers,” Mr Peeters said.
Fisheries Victoria has warned that its officers will be active in enforcing new rules.
Western Victoria manager Paul Miller said officers would erect signs along the coast and inform people about the rule changes.
Mr Miller said if people came to the agency’s attention again after being spoken to, they would be penalised.
He said the new limits had been imposed because a small group of people were harvesting abalone at levels “outside of the spirit of reasonable recreational activity”.
Premier and member for South West Coast Denis Napthine said the Melbourne-based “abalone pirates” were operating quasi-commercial operations to take dozens of abalone and hundreds of other shellfish from the south-west each day.
On the state of the local industry, Mr Peeters said demand for abalone from China had declined because of political disfavour for displays of conspicuous consumption at government functions.
China is a major export market for south-west abalone and it is an expensive delicacy there.
Mr Peeters said a free trade agreement between China and Australia would be of great benefit to the local abalone industry.