Last year, the Victorian State Government passed legislation banning all commercial netting in Melbourne's Port Phillip Bay. This was implemented at the instigation of the recreational fishing lobby, based on their figures which indicated that there were one million recreational fishers who supported the government's decision.
The ban aims to phase out commercial netting by 2022 and offers compensation packages to fishers to surrender their licences. The compensation offered will be gradually reduced over the course of seven years and 33 of the 43 commercial fishers in the bay have already accepted the buyout.
For fishing families like Phil McAdams and his daughter Katheren McAdams, who has fished with him from a young age, the decision was devastating. Phil left school at the age of thirteen to fish with his father and now, at fifty-three years of age, he has built a solid business with two boats, fishing gear, a processing facility and a boat shed. His plans for Kat to take over the business and continue the family's fishing tradition have been shattered.
"Sadly, our government has committed to halt all net fishing in the bay by 2022 and this will put an end to the family business we have all worked so hard for" says Kat. Port Phillip Bay has 170 years of commercial fishing history since the advent of white settlement and a 40,000 year history as a source of local seafood among the Australia's First Peoples. The scientific evidence shows that the industry is 100% sustainable, but the government didn't wait for this data and voted to appease the recreational fishing lobby, confident of securing their votes in the future.
Much of their catch is pilchards, which are then sold on as bait for recreational fishing, fed to tuna for export, or end up in cat food. They now want to change the game by promoting their catch as fresh, sustainable, healthy and delicious sardines. "We can tell quality by the look and touch of them. Quality sardines are firm to touch, have clear eyes and shiny skin." A staple seafood in Europe, the Slow Fish network wants to promote them as the highly sustainable seafood they are.
Chefs on our side
Melbourne's chefs have also protested the ban on commercial fishing. Sicilian chef Rosa Mitchell, who is part of the Slow Food network in Australia, works with Kat in Melbourne to educate the public on the benefits of buying and consuming their sardines, and to raise awareness on the issues that local fisher families are facing. "I like to buy local and now that is extremely difficult as there are no local fish to buy. We do get fish from other parts of Australia but I would prefer to buy local."
With no formal training, Rosa Mitchell cooks simple, traditional, lovingly prepared food with passion and years of home cooking experience at her restaurant, Rosa's Kitchen & Rosa's Canteen. "The coming together of families is as important as the making of salami, olives, tomatoes," says Rosa, "it's what keeps traditions going, the enjoyment of celebrating what our ancestors did and hopefully what our children will do." Her other concern is that this ban will open way to imported fish coming from overseas: "I don't want my fish to arrive frozen and days old, there are fish right on our doorstep and we won't be able to eat them: it doesn't make sense!"
While the ban seems to favor the public's right to fish, it sacrifices generations of fishing traditions among the small commercial fishers in the bay, an area with a strong history of fishing communities. The McAdams family and Rosa Mitchell are protesting the ban, along with many other famous chefs and conservation groups in Melbourne. They will both be at Slow Fish as part of the We are the Net meetings with fishing communities, at the event Port Phillip Bay: Last fishers standing on Friday the 19th of May.
by Buket Soyyilmaz