Too many tuna anglers put safety last

Leading Senior Constable John Anderson of the Water Police keeps check on boats returning from tuna fishing.  
140609DW24 Picture: DAMIAN WHITE

Leading Senior Constable John Anderson of the Water Police keeps check on boats returning from tuna fishing.  140609DW24 Picture: DAMIAN WHITE

VICTORIA’S Water Police has blasted tuna anglers at Portland for poorly equipped boats as the city wrapped up one of its busiest fishing weekends of the year.

Leading Senior Constable John Anderson said only about 20 per cent of the 40 boats checked yesterday complied with all the safety requirements for boats venturing more than two nautical miles offshore.

Leading Senior Constable Anderson, based with the Water Police at Williamstown, said the result was only slightly better on Sunday, when 30 per cent of the 50 boats checked had all the required safety equipment.

The safety breaches included having expired or no flares, unregistered Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) or EPIRBs with no batteries.

“The compliance rate was alarming,” Leading Senior Constable Anderson said.

He said the boats’ skippers were putting their lives and those of their passengers at risk by failing to comply.

On one boat all four people were wearing lifejackets without air cylinders to inflate them, rendering the life jackets “cosmetic”, he said.

The policeman said many of the anglers were issued with fines ranging from $180-$280 for the safety breaches. It was a busy few days with up to 200 boats launching each day of the long weekend at Portland, continuing this year’s bountiful tuna season for the city.

Portland fishing enthusiast Bob McPherson said the big fleet of boats attracted by the weekend’s good seas put the recreational tuna industry well on target to the $10 million it yields each year for Portland.

Mr McPherson said 16 charter boats, each carrying up to eight anglers, were among the hundreds trawling the Southern Ocean for the trophy fish. 

Most anglers got their bag limit of two tuna on each of their days out, Mr McPherson said.

Many of the fish caught during the weekend weighed between 14-22 kilograms, with much larger tuna caught a few weeks ago, he said.

Mr McPherson said the big boat numbers caused congestion at the Portland boat ramp on Sunday evening, when some people waited for up to 90 minutes to load their boats. 

However, he said that problem should ease in a few weeks when a new four-lane boat ramp was opened.

The tuna season gets underway each year about mid-February to March and runs until about mid-July. 

It generates revenue not only for Portland but also for Port Fairy, where up to 70 boats launched each day during the long weekend.

Many of the anglers are from Melbourne and stay overnight.

Portland Coastguard deputy flotilla commander David Lanyon said the rescue service had no call-outs during the long weekend but had received some a few weeks earlier.

“We have had a very busy year,” Mr Lanyon said.

Tuna anglers whose boats had broken down comprised the bulk of the Portland Coast Guard’s call-outs, he said.

Portland charter boat operator Aleks Matic said this year had been a great tuna season with good weather allowing frequent access to the fishery.

Mr Matic said his customers had hooked more than 80 fish during the three days of the long weekend.

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