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Conditions on the permits require that sales are local either directly from fishing boats or to fishing co-operatives, cafes and restaurants. The two-year “small sales” program is already running in Apollo Bay and San Remo, but its implementation has been delayed in the bushfire-ravaged town of Mallacoota.

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Jason York, owner of Mallacoota Fishing Charters and Tours, has received a permit and expects to begin operating next month.

“I am constantly asked where people can buy fresh locally caught seafood. It will definitely put fresh seafood on local plates,” said Mr York, who is also an abalone and sea urchin diver. “It will also create more revenue for local communities, and with small sustainable annual quotas, it could last forever.”

The state government says it will consider applications for additional permits from coastal settlements that have infrastructure suitable for the sale of fresh fish. Fishing and Boating Minister Jaala Pulford said Victorians wanted to buy local fish and seafood when they visited the coast. She said the trial was about connecting consumers directly to the fisher and supporting local jobs in coastal communities.

“The new permits are about trying something new and giving opportunities to people in the industry and to people who want to enter it,” she said.

The Andrews government fishing industry policies have tended to back recreational over commercial fishing, including through the closure of Port Phillip Bay to commercial net fishing. It is now sensitive to criticism that its closure of commercial fisheries has led to shortage of supply and contributed to spiralling prices for fresh local fish.

"It will definitely put fresh seafood on local plates," says Mr York, who runs a fishing charter and tour company.

“It will definitely put fresh seafood on local plates,” says Mr York, who runs a fishing charter and tour company.Credit:Rachel Mounsey

As The Age reported on Saturday, fish supplies are also coming under pressure from climate change and rising ocean temperatures.

The new policy, which is carefully calibrated to avoid upsetting the commercial fishing industry and wholesalers, is probably too niche to put any downward pressure on prices for fresh seafood.

The combined catch for all the 24 permits issued to date amounts to less than 50 tonnes of seafood a year, the equivalent of less than five days’ fishing for Victoria’s commercial operators.

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Paul Mannix manages the San Remo Fisherman’s Co-operative at the pier opposite Phillip Island in South Gippsland. The co-op prides itself on the fish and chips made from fish – gummy shark (flake) in particular – that is landed at the doorstep.

The permits are already contributing fish for local sale.

He said the support for the recreational fishing sector was positive for the economy and for Victorian anglers who have the means and skill to land their own fish.

“But there needs to be support for commercial fishing too – not only to support commercial fishermen and their families, but to bring fresh local seafood to the broader community who don’t fish themselves.”

He said the line-caught trial permits were a step in the right direction. “We are really pleased with the granting of these small-scale trials, and we really hope that VFA will support us to grow and catch more sustainable seafood for Victorians in the future.”

Chris Vedelago is an investigations reporter for The Age with a special interest in crime and justice.

Royce Millar is an investigative journalist at The Age with a special interest in public policy and government decision-making.

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