Port Phillip Community Shellfish Reef Project

The Port Phillip Community Shellfish Reef project is a three-year project (2020-23) that will contribute to the restoration of the functionally-extinct shellfish reef ecosystems in eastern Port Phillip Bay. This will be achieved by working with recreational fishers to deploy recycled shell substrate and live shellfish from recreational vessels at priority locations.

Shellfish reef habitats are one of the most threatened marine habitats on earth and Port Phillip Bay is an important spawning and recruitment area for many fish species. The Shellfish Reef Restoration project is in response to the historically-destructive dredge fishing that caused loss of reproductive oyster biomass within Port Phillip Bay and the removal of hard substrates required for the settlement of shellfish. This activity began in Port Phillip Bay in the 1840s and was not totally closed until 1996.

The project builds on the great work already underway in Port Phillip Bay as a result of similar large-scale restoration efforts, and techniques will be adapted from these projects to deliver best practice methods for recreational fisher engagement and fish habitat restoration.

The project will develop environmental stewardship and fisheries science literacy within the local recreational fishing community through the delivery of events, forums and on-ground participation, with a focus on clear, engaging science communication related to restoration ecology.

Project partners

  • OzFish
  • The National Centre for Coasts and Climate
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
  • Parks Victoria
  • Mornington Peninsula Shire

Project priorities

  • Contribute to the restoration of subtidal reef substrate in Port Phillip Bay and assist fish habitat recovery
  • Improve the health of fish communities and water quality through the restoration of benthic habitat and the provision of ecosystem services (such as water filtration and productivity by shellfish populations restored at the sites)
  • Increase fisher knowledge and building their capacity to actively contribute to a resilient fishery in Port Phillip Bay
  • Build capacity for future restoration programs
  • Contribute to the achievement of the Australian Government’s Fisheries Habitat Restoration Program outcomes

Project updates

2020-21

2020-21 was the first year of the project. PPWCMA entered into a sub-contract agreement with OzFish to coordinate the restoration and community engagement activities.

In June 2021, PPWCMA and OzFish spent a day on the water with local fishers searching the seafloor for future restoration sites using a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV). Like a high tech underwater video game, the ROV allowed them to get a fish-eye view of coastal fish habitats and get a better understanding of the benefits of habitat restoration in real-time.

In 2021-22, the project’s restoration sites will be identified and the project will begin to work with recreational fishers to prepare and deploy recycled shell substrate and live shellfish from recreational vessels.

Funding acknowledgement

The Port Phillip Community Shellfish Reef project is supported by Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority, through funding from the Australian Government’s Fisheries Habitat Restoration Program.