ECOLOGISTS say the State Government is threatening the health of Victoria's waterways by slashing fisheries research jobs at Queenscliff.
About 60 residents chanted "save the jobs, save the fish" at a rally outside the Marine Fisheries and Research Centre yesterday, where they were told the Government was poised to halve the number of researchers.
"If the cuts go ahead it will leave only 14 researchers to cover all of the marine and freshwater fisheries in the state," fisheries ecologist Joel Williams told protesters.
"There are 30 researchers there now – down from about 100 in the 1990s – and I know they are already struggling to keep up with the work.
"I can't emphasise enough how amazing these researchers are. They are conducting world-leading research into climate change, sustainable fishing and fish species, and their knowledge can not be replaced."
The gathering was told the marine centre was purpose-built as a research facility in 2004 at a cost of about $4 million, but laboratories would be closed and scientists made redundant because the Government did not consider research work "frontline".
However, Water Minister Peter Walsh said last night the Government "remains committed to fisheries science at Queenscliff".
"The Department of Primary Industries is refocusing fisheries research programs to concentrate on core responsibilities … the restructure will see fisheries management and science teams combine at Queenscliff, with some staff relocating to Queenscliff from Geelong and Melbourne and some roles currently based at Queenscliff reduced.
"It is anticipated there will be no net loss of staff at Queenscliff," he said.
Bellarine MP Lisa Neville said research undertaken at Queenscliff had helped save the state's mussels industry, particularly strong at Portarlington, and allowed Lake Connewarre to be regenerated after the drought. She said it was short-sighted of the Government to reduce the focus on research.
"This is absolutely frontline work that is being done here to protect our marine and freshwater environments," she said. "These jobs must stay here and we need to build on these jobs in the future."