FISHING restrictions may have been lifted, and the fish are biting, but that has sparked concerns about a possible influx of out-of-towners to the region.
Dozens of boats have been out on the waters off Portland since the ban on recreational fishing was lifted midnight Wednesday, and news of some big tuna being caught appears to have spread quickly, leading to more arrivals and boats.
Among those was a 127.2kg barrel caught on Wednesday.
As part of the easing of some of the coronavirus pandemic restrictions, the Lee Breakwater has been fully reopened by the Port of Portland, with social distancing rules still in place, and Glenelg Shire Council has also reopened the Local Port of Portland Bay boat ramps, gantry and fish cleaning tables, with strict hygiene and social distancing measures in place.
Portland Bait and Tackle’s Ben Johnstone said while the first day of fishing, Wednesday, was relatively quiet, with mostly locals out on the water in less-than-ideal conditions, he expected that to change by the weekend with more out-of-towners likely to head down.
“There’ll be a few more boats out with the weather a bit calmer and the weekend will be pretty busy with a few chasing it,” he said.
The first day saw a few big tuna caught and plenty of school fish about, while there had been “a fair few people coming through” the store, Mr Johnstone said.
It has been a similar story at Compleat Angler, with owner Bruce Elijah saying “its been a sensational turnaround”.
That had also largely been local buying bait and gear, but Mr Elijah said he expected more out-of-towners in as news spread about the big fish.
“The beauty of living in Portland is that country Australia has been as safe as you can probably be,” he said.
“We will get a few people from Melbourne but as long as they observe our rules, go home of a night, I don’t think it’s going to be a bit of a worry.
“You’ll need to wear gloves when filling up at the service stations and we’ve got all the safety things in place, the distancing, no more than six in the shop and sanitiser at the front door.”
Portland District Health chief executive Christine Giles said out-of-towners visiting Portland for fishing was “my biggest concern” – she did not believe boaters could drive here from Melbourne, fish, then go back the same day.
“I think the boat ramps are going to be interesting this weekend,” she said.
“But the message is don’t be complacent. I don’t have a problem them being here but please remember to keep your social distance, hand washing and all those hygiene measures.”
State Member for South-West Coast Roma Britnell said she had been contacted by several locals concerned about an influx of out-of-towners.
“The community are really nervous,” she said.
“It is fishing season and we welcome visitors when we are able to, but people have worked so hard (to comply with the restrictions) we don’t want to undo what we’ve done.”
Ms Britnell said there needed to be more clarity for both locals and out-of-towners – if one of the latter was tired driving back home and pulled over on the side of the road for a nap “are they then considered camping?”
She said she had written to Boating and Fishing Minister Jaala Pulford asking what had been done to ensure people abide by travel restrictions, particularly in the Portland region.
The Observer understands fisheries officers have been monitoring boats, especially those from out-of-town.
Anyone travelling to Portland will need to go home the same day as overnight travel is still not permitted and accommodation providers can only open for certain clientele, such as workers and at-risk people.