Monday, May 26, 2008
Of Mushrooms and Fish
This is my mate Henry Kernot, the last of several generations of a fishing family dynasty from Tooradin. What does a fisherman do when the weather turns cold? Pick mushrooms of course!
We filled the basket in a couple of hours last Saturday, with slippery jacks (Suillus luteus) and saffron milk caps (Lactarius deliciosus), otherwise known as pine mushrooms. With the long term continuation of dry weather, which now appears to have become a permanent feature, mushrooms of all descriptions are getting harder to find - just like the fish which were once so plentiful in Western Port.
Faced with declining fish stocks and pressure from amateur angling bodies, after a previous voluntary buy-back, the government has compulsorily acquired the last of the netting licenses for Western Port.
The latest acquisition hasn't affected Henry - he sold his license voluntarily when the realisation hit that the fish which formed his livelihood wouldn't come back because of the degraded state of Western Port. The seagrass beds, 70% of which were lost between the mid seventies and mid eighties, that were home to many of the commercial species like King George whiting, garfish, leatherjackets, calamari et al, have mostly died off and huge numbers of fish that relied on them have disappeared in an environmental disaster.
When I was a young lad watching forty years ago, Henry used to stand on the bow of his father's fishing boat as it worked up the extensive channel system of the bay and call out the fish he could see, through 20 feet of crystal clear water. Nowadays, one would be lucky to see the bottom through 5 feet of murkiness.
If this had happened in Port Phillip, there would have been outrage, enquiries and commissions, but Western Port has long been the poor cousin, to which the government could only muster the lame response of a licence buy-back in the hope that fish stocks will recover. But let me say this Mr Brumby, you could ban all fishing in Western Port, professional and amateur alike and the fish still won't come back - not until their habitat is restored.
Before, it was too easy to blame the pros, now you can't. But we can certainly blame you for not acting to take up the challenge of saving and returning to its former glory, what was once Victoria's finest fishery, bar none. Henry will help, he's got nothing else to do.