FISHERMEN’S safety will be put at risk during the annual south-west tuna season if Water Police do not patrol due to budget restrictions, it is feared.
Nanjing Night Net

Portland fishing expert Bob McPherson yesterday made the claims and compared a possible lack of a police presence to taking all the police cars off the roads and watching the road toll rise.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman yesterday backed away from the regular stance of saying that unit officers would be visiting south-west ports at Apollo Bay, Warrnambool, Port Fairy and particularly Portland during the tuna season. Instead the spokeswoman said Water Police attended events based on identified need, also taking into consideration cost and benefit.

“This doesn’t detract from the Water Police’s rescue, response and co-ordination capacity,” she said.

Last year, Water Police had four-men crews patrolling the south-west for the tuna season between Easter and the end of June. Mr McPherson, a Portland Sport and Game Fishing Club life member and past president, said that since 2006 the tuna season had built up to a peak of 400 boats a day at Portland.

He said that Water Police presence had also increased and last year officers were almost full-time in Portland.

“We’ve had no guarantees Water Police would be back this year and everyone knows State Government departments have had their funding cut,” he said.

“In the past couple of years we have had Water Police officers here almost constantly checking flares, checking everyone has all the required safety equipment, checking registrations, boat trailers, everything. Now it seems all that is going to change.”

Mr McPherson said informed government department sources had told him Water Police would not be visiting the south-west due to budget restrictions. He said he now held grave fears that standards would drop if boats and equipment were not checked prior to fishermen heading up to 40 kilometres offshore chasing tuna.

“There has been a Water Police boat permanently based in Portland and officers have said that at times this is the busiest port in Victoria,” he said. “What would happen if you took all the police cars off the roads? Everyone would just do what they like. That’s what we are talking about on the water.”

Mr McPherson said just assisting with putting 400 boats in at the Portland port each day during the season peak was a major police operation to avoid boat rage.

“We certainly need a police presence at times like that. The police have made it very clear until now that no one would be booked before they are on the water. Everyone has the opportunity to ensure they have all their safety gear,” he said. “But once on the water everyone is fair game for the Water Police. I don’t want to think about things going pear-shaped when that check system is not in place.”

He said the Portland Coast Guard was kept busy during the tuna season rescuing disabled boats. Mr McPherson said that last weekend 35 to 40 boats put in at Portland and with tuna now being caught he predicted up to 400 boats a day during Easter.

“It’s big business. You are looking at fuel, accommodation and food for all those people coming into town. It affects everyone in Portland directly or indirectly,” he said.

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