Victoria’s commercial fisheries yield a wide variety of the highest quality and healthiest seafood in the world. The commercial fishing industry contributes an estimated $60 million annually to the State’s economy and supports coastal and regional communities.
Major commercial fisheries are:
- Abalone Fishery
- Rocklobster Fishery
- Giant Crab Fishery
- Rainbow Trout & Salmon
- Scallop Fishery
- Snapper Fishery
- Bream Fishery
- Eel Fishery
- King George Whiting
- Southern Calamari
- Shark Fishery
- Squid Fishery
All of these fisheries generate significant export revenue for the State. The majority of harvested finfish is consumed by the Victorian community. Boutique fisheries located in regional centres such as Corner Inlet, San Remo, Apollo Bay and Portland are socio-economically important to these communities.
Commercial fishers play a vital role in supplying seafood to the vast majority of the community who choose to buy their seafood.
Seafood is often recognised as our national dish, and eating fresh local seafood in Victoria is an essential part of our lifestyle. Commercial fishers help ensure that Victoria’s leading restaurants have a continual supply of seafood and (commercial fishers) are crucially important to the tourism and hospitality sectors of the State.
Our wild catch seafood stocks are limited, but is a sustainable, renewable resource. Victorian fisheries are high valued species and therefore the emphasis for harvesting is on the quality and value of the harvest rather than the volume.
Blacklip Abalone (Haliotis rubra), Greenlip Abalone (Haliotis laevigata)
Blacklip abalone (Haliotis rubra) is the basis of Victoria’s most valuable commercial fishery. The landed value of the Victorian TACC is currently about $20 million.
There are 71 fishery access licences in the Victorian abalone fishery, which is subdivided into three management zones; Eastern Zone 23 fishery access licences, Centrtal Zone 34 fishery access licences and Western Zone 14 fishery access licences.This results in more than 71 divers participating in the fishery throughout the year, although only a maximum of 71 divers can operate on any particular day.
The combined Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) for the fishery is currently 806.4 tonnes with an estimated landed value of $AUD20 million at 2009/10 average beach prices. In the Western Zone, holders of 14 fishery access licences share a TACC of 27.3 tonnes of blacklip and 15.4 tonnes of greenlip, in the Central Zone a TACC of 328.3 tonnes of blacklip and 3.4 tonnes of greenlip is shared among 34 licences and the remaining TACC of 432 tonnes is distributed among 23 licences in the Eastern Zone. Some divers harvest abalone on behalf of more than one licence holder and some holders own more than one licence. Licence ownership may be by individuals or businesses and units of quota may be temporarily transferred among licence holders for the duration of a quota year. The quota year commences on 1 April and continues until 31 March of the following year.
The Victorian Abalone Fishery Management Plan was released in late April 2002. During 2002/03 the Victorian abalone fishery was assessed by Environment Australia as satisfying sustainable management criteria under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The fishery has been granted a 5 year export exemption, meaning trade is exempt from the export controls normally in place to protect Australia’s native wildlife. An extension to export approval was granted by the Commonwealth for 12 months until 30 June 2009. To ensure export approval is maintained, reassessment of the fishery was undertaken in April 2009.
Eastern Rocklobster (Jasus verreauxi) Southern Rocklobster (Jasus edwarsii)
The Victorian rock lobster fishery is based primarily on one species, the Southern Rock lobster (Jasus edwardsii) but small quantities of eastern rock lobster (Jasus verreauxi) are taken in eastern Victoria. Rock Lobster is taken by fishers using baited rocklobster pots.
Southern rocklobster is well renowned for it is exceptional eating qualities and is listed as a ‘priority species’ under the Fisheries Act 1995. The majority of the catch is exported live to Asia. A significant event in the management regime for this fishery was the introduction of Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) management on 16 November 2001.
The rock lobster fishery is the second most valuable commercial fishery in Victoria. There are more fishing boats, crew and processors associated with the rock lobster fishery than any other State fishery. Currently, the total annual catch is limited to 306 tonnes and landings are valued at $15 million. Post-harvest processing and live exportation to markets in Asia greatly enhance the value of the landings.
Fishing is prohibited between 15 September to 15 November for males and 1 June to 15 November for females in order to protect the spawning stock. Most fishing occurs between mid-November and March, however fishing behaviour is expected to change now quota management is in force. The fishery is divided in two management zones so that the spatial nature of the stock can be better managed.
Giant Crab Fishery
Giant Crab (Pseudocarcinus gigas)
The Giant crab commercial fishery is linked to the rocklobster fishery. Giant crabs are fished in deeper waters in the western rocklobster zone. A Giant Crab Fishery Access License (GCFAL) is required and 33 are issued currently. The commercial catch is regulated by a quota management system and ITQ units with a TACC. Giant crabs are taken by using commercial rocklobster pots therefore can only be operated in conjunction with a western zone rocklobster license. The same boat, pots and operator must be used on both the linked rocklobster and giant crab licenses.
A minimum size for giant crab exists and is 150mm (carapace length) and there is a closed season. Females crabs are not to be taken from the 1st June to the 15th November and male crabs from the 15th September to the 15th November.
Rainbow Trout & Salmon Fishery
Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)
Rainbow trout farming is the largest aquaculture sector and the the most commercially valuable finfish species in Victoria. Semi-intensive and intensive grow-out systems for trout, use flow-through systems where large quantities of water are continually exchanged in the culture unit. Victoria’s trout farms are concentrated around the upper reaches of the Goulburn River, close to Lake Eildon Dam where they get a year round supply of good, cold quality water.
In Victoria, Atlantic salmon are farmed in freshwater flow through raceways/ponds for production of premium quality caviar.
Commercial Scallop (Pecten fumatus)
The Victorian-fishing zone extends 20 nautical miles from its coast, with the majority of the fishery being conducted from the ports of Lakes Entrance and Welshpool. The Port Phillip Bay commercial scallop fishery was closed in 1996.
There are 91 fishers licensed to fish in Victorian waters. Scallops are harvested by using a box shaped harvester up to 4.5 metres long. The harvester is dragged or towed along the seabed and the scallops are lifted so they can be caught in the harvester basket. Fishing usually occurs from the month of May to the end of November. In 1998 Individual Transferable Quota was introduced as a management tool in order to allow licence holders increased flexibility in their operations, and allows for changes in the number of vessels operating in the fishery according to the stocks of scallops and economic factors of the day.
Scallop populations throughout the world fluctuate quite dramatically in response to variable environmental conditions. Relatively high populations occur in some years. These can be followed by relative scarcity, but populations can quickly rebound to large numbers provided enough adults remain for successful breeding and recruitment.
Snapper (Pagrus auratus)
The commercial snapper fishery is small but has a high commercial value. As yet there are no structured management arrangements for Victorian finfish fisheries. The main method of management is to limit fishing effort by limiting the number of commercial licenses and restricting commercial fishing equipment, and to apply catch controls such as legal size limit. Snapper are caught as a by-product in several Commonwealth fisheries off the coast of Victoria.
An Open Fishery Access License permits the take of snapper (and other finfish) with the use of commercial fishing equipment from Victorian waters. There are 246 licenses which are non-transferable. The fishery is managed using input (effort) controls and catch controls such as legal size limits. It is not effective to manage the fishery with TACC and ITQ units due to the relatively small commercial value.
Two-thirds of the total commercial catch is taken by long lines with a 200 hook limit per license. Other methods of fishing include snapper taken from haul seine (maximum length of 460m) and mesh nets (maximum mesh size 130mm, maximum length 2500m per license). Snapper is also targeted with hand lines in Western Port Bay (1000 hook limit per license). Incidental catches are taken in Corner Inlet and the Gippsland Lakes. All other Victorian bays and inlets are closed to commercial fishing for snapper.
Black Bream (Acanthopagrus butcheri), Yellow Bream (Acanthopagrus australis)
Gippsland Lakes is the only remaining target commercial bream fishery in Victoria. Nearly all the commercial catch is taken from haul seine nets (maximum length of 732m) and mesh nets (maximum length 2200m). All other bays, inlets and estuaries are closed to commercial fishing for bream and other finfish.
Transferable Gippsland Lakes Fishery Access Licenses (maximum of 10) can be issued to permit the use of commercial fishing equipment to catch and sell bream. Management controls for the bream fishery are legal size limits. The legal minimum length is 28cm (total length) for the Gippsland Lakes. As with the snapper fishery, it is not effective or practical to manage the fishery with TACC and ITQ units. The bream fishery is therefore managed through input (effort) controls and legal size limits.
Short Finned Eel (Anguilla australis), Long Finned Eel (Anguilla reinhardtii)
The eel fishery in Victoria is based primarily on the short-finned eel. Short-finned eels can be found in all Victorian coastal drainages. The long-finned eel (Anguilla reinhardtii) makes up the remainder of the catch and is found east of Wilson Promontory along the east coast of Australian to Cape York Peninsula.
Eels are taken using fyke nets. No minimum lengths or closed season exists for the eel fishery in Victoria. As the life history of the eel is complicated it is difficult to manage the fishery through TACC’s based on stock assessments. So, the fishery is managed by input controls. An Eel Fishery Access License (EFAL) is required to take eels or use commercial eel fishing equipment in coastal rivers and streams. EFAL are capped at 18. Restrictions on mesh sizes of fyke nets are also in place. Individual waterways are generally allocated a single EFAL to reduce fishing pressure.
Short-finned eels are mainly exported to Europe as a snap-frozen product with about 5 percent being smoked for local consumption. The market for long-finned eels is restricted mainly to large live eels (above 3 kg) that are exported to Taiwan and Hong Kong for consumption in China.
King George Whiting
King George Whiting (Sillaginodes punctatus)
In the multi-species, multi-gear Victorian Ocean Fishery, whiting is a minor target species taken using haul seine nets, mesh nets and hand lines. Commercial whiting catches are concentrated in Port Philip Bay, Corner Inlet with a small catch also harvested in Victorian coastal waters and from other inlets and estuaries. The majority of whiting are harvested with haul seine nets and mesh nets a small quantity being line caught.
Victorian multi-species finfish fisheries of which King George Whiting is a component are managed via input controls including limited entry, gear restricitions and open and close seasons. Port Philip Bay and the Corner Inlet Fisheries are defined as commercial King George whiting fisheries. There are 42 transferrable Port Philip Bay/Western Port Fishery Access Licences and 18 in the Corner Inlet Fishery. In December 2007, due to Government policy unrelated to sustainability, Western Port Bay was closed to commercial netting allowing only for line harvesting techniques.
Southern Calamari (Sepioteuthis australis)
Southern calamari are seasonally plentiful in Victoria’s large bays and inlets and in the State’s coastal waters.
Most of the Victorian commercial calamari catch comes from Port Phillip Bay and Corner Inlet. Small catches of other squid species, including Gould’s squid (arrow squid), are taken in the State’s coastal waters.
Southern calamari are a fast growing and short-lived species. They can grow by up to 4cm each month – females usually faster than males – and most calamari do not live any longer than 12 months. There is some potential for further development of the calamari fishery in Victorian waters.
Gummy Shark (Mustelus antarcticus), School Shark (Galeorhinus galeus), Elephant Fish (Callorhinchus milii), Dog Sharks (Family squalidae), Whiskery Shark (Furgaleus macki)
To aid management between States and the Commonwealth a piece of legislation was enacted (passed before parliament) called the Offshore Constitutional Settlement. An agreement between Victoria and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) means that all gummy and school sharks caught in the Southern Shark Fishery are managed by AFMA.
Victoria’s shark fishery operate in Commonwealth waters of the Bass Strait. The fishery is known as the Shark Gillent and the Shark Hook Sector (SGSHS). The main gear type used in the fishery is gillnets, with mesh size regulated at 6-6.5 inches. Mesh sizing of gillnets influences the size composition of catches and has been an important factor in the management of stocks. Fishing permits issued are 62 for gillnet and 13 for hook.
The major market for shark is for its flesh. The flesh of gummy shark is known as flake because of its white flaky texture, mild taste and boneless nature. It is popular for use in fish-and-chip shops. Sharks are head-and-gutted immediately after capture. They are stored surrounded by ice in refrigerated storage holds onboard boats. Freshly chilled shark carcasses are sold to the wholesale market who then fillets the product before selling it to retail outlets like fish shops and supermarkets. New markets have opened for by-products of catching sharks for their flesh. The fins are now removed and sold to make local shark fin soup. The cartilage from shark spines are now dried and ground into powder. Shark cartilage powder is sold as a pharmaceutical product.
Gould’s Squid (Nototodarus gouldi)
The Victorian squid fishery is based on Gould’s squid (Nototodarus gouldi) previously known as arrow squid. Bycatch of other species is rare although it may include other oceanic squids such as red ocean squid (Ommastrephes bartrami) and southern ocean squid (Todarodes filippovae) or closer inshore as southern calamari (Sepioteuthis australias).
Gould’s squid live in marine waters over the continental shelf and upper slope and are commonly found at depths from 50 to 200m. They form schools or aggregations near the seabed during the day and disperse at night.
Gould’s squid are targeted in western Bass Strait using jigs. Fishing is seasonal with the season starting in February and ending in June. The season starts off the Port Phillip Bay heads and slowly moves westwards to Portland as the season progresses, following the natural migration of the squid. Squid are also targeted off the eastern coast of Victoria from Lakes Entrance to the NSW border and in Tasmanian waters.
Management of the fishery is now the responsibility of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, the Commonwealth fisheries agency. As of January 2007, there were 6400 Commonwealth Statutory Fishing Rights in the fishery. However, only 21 vessels actually fished during the previous year. The Jig sector is managed by limiting entry.