This project will document and acknowledge the contribution and social-cultural history of Australia’s oldest small-scale commercial fisheries which have operated since the 1800s. The Australian commercial fishing industry which is now valued at over $1.5 billion, was built on these original small-scale fisheries operating in the bays, inlets and estuaries. However, with increasing population, development, and competition for space and access increasing in recent decades, these original fisheries and the associated ways of life are disappearing all around Australia.
In Victoria, eight out nine Bay and Inlet fisheries have been subject to closures over the past 20 years. The Gippsland Lakes commercial fishery is the most recent to face closure. The fishery began in the 1870s and formed the basis and beginning of a number of fisheries which now operate from the largest fishing community in Victoria, Lakes Entrance. In 2018, the remaining ten Gippsland Lakes commercial licenses were informed they would be compulsorily acquired, ending a multi-generational and historically significant fishery.
This project will document and present the social-cultural history of the last ten Gippsland Lakes fishing families, their journey and stories, their connection to the land and sea, and their contribution to fishing communities and the Australian fishing industry as a whole. The project will use oral histories, audio recordings and photography which will be collated by the National Library of Australia, and publicly exhibited in Lakes Entrance, Melbourne and online. While it is important to record this important pioneering fishery for the East Gippsland communities and Victoria’s social and cultural history before it disappears, this project will also contribute to public acknowledgment of the importance of small-scale near-shore fisheries around Australia and provide a tested template for other fisheries to tell their rarely-heard stories.