STAWELL - A proposal has been put forward by the Lake Lonsdale Action Group to develop waterways in the region as an inland freshwater recreational fishing mecca.
The group, mindful of the pending closure of Stawell Gold Mines and the impact that will have on Stawell, has implored Northern Grampians Shire Council to support the recreational fishing proposal as a means for boosting tourism, which it believes will become one of the region's major industries once the mine does close.
The proposal was presented to council last night by the president of the Lake Lonsdale Action Group, Ray Howard.
Mr Howard said with Stawell Gold Mines now in transition for closure, it was vital for Stawell's future that new industries are now developed and promoted.
He said an inland freshwater recreational fishing mecca would attract tourists from far and wide.
"In our region we have four lakes all within a 20 kilometre drive from Halls Gap, the tourist hub of the Grampians," Mr Howard said.
Mr Howard said all the lakes, Wartook, Bellfield, Fyans and Lonsdale, were rich in fish stocks ranging from rainbow and brown trout to redfin.
He said Lake Lonsdale was a vital link in the tourism chain and he urged council to fight harder to keep a sufficient water level in the lake.
"Lake Lonsdale is the people's lake and when holding water, is by far the most popular lake within the Wimmera region," Mr Howard said.
"Lake Lonsdale caters for families with many safe sandy beaches for swimming. It is also a popular spot for picnics and barbecues. It is the only lake that offers bush camping which is also very popular.
"Lonsdale is very popular with anglers as it provides great fishing and yabbying. This lake needs to be reopened to the public instead of being fenced off and locked up as has happened over the past years."
Mr Howard said the Mokepilly area, once popular with visitors, could also be reopened.
"This was a very popular area for bushwalkers as well as picnickers when the public had access to it," he said.
"A lot of anglers who didn't have boats used to fish and yabby the Moke. Disabled fishing platforms could be erected along the Moke for people with disabilities who like to fish. This has been done in the Wimmera River in Horsham and is very popular. This would also be popular with tourists as well."
Mr Howard said there was a pressing need for council to lobby to have water retained in Lonsdale.
"There are three main concerns that need to be addressed by council. Firstly council needs to secure the retention of sufficient water in Lake Lonsdale to maintain fish stocks as well as the lake's environment," he said.
"With the Wimmera Mallee Pipeline now in existence and with the Wimmera basin having an average annual inflow of 316,000 megalitres, as well as the Rocklands/Glenelg basin an annual inflow of 112,500 ML (a combined inflow of 428,500 ML) combined with our major storages capable of holding in storage approximately 700,000 ML, there is no reason to continually drain Lake Lonsdale (Lake Lonsdale has an annual inflow of 52,000ML).
"Lake Bellfield is also another great concern. Fisheries Victoria are stocking the lake with Rainbow Trout and Chinook Salmon, but there are restrictions that ban outboard motors on Bellfield.
"This is very dangerous as it attracts anglers to fish for these stocked fish using only underpowered electric motors. As the lake is located in a mountain valley, it is open to rough water by sudden gusts of winds. By attracting more anglers to the lake with Victorian Fisheries now stocking Bellfield, which is a very good thing, it is important we get safe boating with outboard motors approved.
"Even if it was as is permitted at Lake Wartook where boating is restricted to an eight kilometre an hour speed limit. This would ensure safe boating for all anglers.
"Finally, past governments have spent millions of dollars in scientific research and in the development of freshwater fish for recreational anglers to enjoy. Fish species such as Australian Bass, Catfish, Golden Perch, Macquarie Perch, Murray Cod and Silver Perch have been propagated and stocked by Victorian Fisheries. Lake Lonsdale could be stocked with any of these species.
"With our four lakes offering anglers such a variety of fishing, it would be a great opportunity for Fisheries to showcase their freshwater recreational fishing program. This would not only give our tourism and economy a much needed huge boost, but also our social and recreational activities as well."
Mr Howard said council now had an excellent opportunity to initiate consultation with all levels of government for support on these issues.
He said the mayor had quite rightly been critical of the support given to Geelong due to the impending closure of the Ford manufacturing outlet, but ignoring Stawell's situation with the pending loss of the Stawell Gold Mines operation.
"Now then is a great opportunity for council to initiate consultation with the State Government and the Labor opposition, as well as appropriate authorities and interested parties to develop this concept," Mr Howard said.
"With Halls Gap being a main tourist hub and being central to our lake system, we already have the infrastructure and excellent amenities to attract the angling public to our region.
"We vitally need to secure water for Lake Lonsdale as well as have safe boating on Lake Bellfield to develop a first class freshwater fishery. Our community deserves no less."