Commercial fishing nets are likely to be banned in bays around Australia. So why are restaurants and


The rights of recreational anglers chasing a feed versus those of commercial fishermen trying to make a living have been drawn into focus around the country as more net-free zones are introduced.

The Queensland government announced three new net-free zones in Cairns, Mackay and Rockhampton in November. This is accompanied by an ongoing push from local recreational fishermen to have areas around Moreton Bay and Stradbroke islands set aside from the perceived pressure of commercial net fishing.

In NSW, the state Labor party had hoped to introduce a huge marine park that would include Sydney Harbour, but the Baird goverment’s stance on this plan remains unclear. Meanwhile groups such as Keep Australia Fishing continue to lobby for recreational fishing havens in the Harbour and Hawkesbury River.

The Victorian Labor government is moving toward its goal of banning commercial net fishing in Port Phillip Bay by 2020, announcing a $27million compensation package for affected businesses as part of its Target One Million plan.

The Target One Million blueprint aims to encourage more Victorians to take up recreational fishing by increasing fish stocks, improving facilities and halting commercial netting. Fishing clubs will also be eligible for grants to promote membership.

In all cases, the battle lines are drawn along similar arguments. Recreational fishermen – backed by regional lobby groups and charter operators – claim fish numbers and sizes have been reduced and they believe commercial netting is at least partly, if not fully, to blame.


For the ban: recreational anglers, lobby groups and charters

These groups believe the value that recreational fishing brings to the economy cannot be discounted, and crucially, these voices have the weight of numbers on their side. In Victoria for example, 43 commercial netters are going up against more than 800,000 recreational anglers. And the government.



Against the ban: commercial fishermen, restaurants and wholesalers

On the other side are the commercial fishermen. Many of these are multi-generational  career fishos who have never done anything else and face an uncertain future if they give up their licenses. These professionals claim their take is sustainable and point to 100-plus years of custodianship, in the case of Victoria’s Port Phillip Bay.

The commercial fisherman are backed in their fight by restauranteurs and wholesalers who fear their supply of locally caught seafood will dry up and point to expected price increases for consumers if commercial netting fishing is banned further.

Interestingly, in Victoria, the netting ban is not based on any particular impact study, but stems from a Labor election promise. While the Liberal opposition supports the ban, the Greens are in this case against it.

A 2015 study (commissioned by recreational fishing lobby group VRFish) claims there were more than 800,000 recreational fishers in Victoria, generating $7.1billion in economic activity, so it’s easy to see why the major political parties would want to capture this vote.

Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber described the net bans as disheartening.

“It’s one of the most disheartening votes that I’ve seen in my nine years here, because no-one wanted to examine any evidence in relation to the sustainability of the fishery, or the economics of fish for consumption in Melbourne,” he said.

But Victorian Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford is determined to see the target One Million plan succeed.

“Phasing out commercial net fishing in Port Phillip Bay is the flagship commitment of our Target One Million plan,” she said.

“It will get more people fishing, more often, right here on Melbourne’s doorstep. Removing netting from Port Phillip Bay will help attract more visitors to this prime fishing destination, boosting local economies and supporting local businesses.”