The closure of Melbourne Wholesale Fish Market in Footscray could see the fish industry paralysed for six months, a Melbourne fishmonger says. Con Melis, who heads up 40 staff as Managing Director of Ash Bros Seafood, said Victoria’s seafood industry will grind to a halt if fishmongers are turfed out of Melbourne Wholesale Market six months ahead of the new market being ready.

“We have nowhere to go,” Melis told Neos Kosmos. “The council knows that, some are ready to move, but about 90 percent are not ready,” he added. Vendors were informed one month ago that they had until the end of this month to vacate the Footscray premises, Melis said.

“We’re wholesalers, some have been here for 50 years, you can’t just throw people out on the street; it’s a whole industry. Why can’t they just give us another five or six months?” he asked.

Melis, who has been at the market for 22 years, said fishmongers are looking for a solution, which may include negotiations with VicTracks who will take over ownership of the site next month.

“Hopefully we can find a solution with them and we can stay here and pay them rent or whatever they want until the market in Kensington is finished, and then we give the land back to them,” Mr Melis said. “If we don’t get a decision in the next few days we will appeal to the Council.”

The market’s closure poses significant threats for the Victorian seafood industry, with a growing possibility of boats remaining docked, with no market for their catch. Suggestions that Victorian seafood catch could be freighted to Sydney does not add up, Melis said.

“It’s a big industry, where are you going to bring the fish to in Sydney? You’d be bringing in 50,000 or 60,000 kilos of fish,” he said. In a normal day up to 100 tonnes of fish comes into the Melbourne Wholesale fish market, Mr Melis said. “We’re the biggest market in Australia; it’s going to have a big impact on the fish industry, a lot of people will lose jobs” he said.

“It’s going to be a chaos, an absolute distaster”. Customers will ultimately be the hardest hit as a result of the six-month market closure, owner of Melbourne’s Tank Fish and Chippery, Bill Makris, said.

Makris, whose main supplier operates out of the Melbourne Wholesale Fish Market, told Neos Kosmos that without the Footscray market the morning auctioning process between fishmongers and suppliers would be diminished.

“The biggest thing that will drive prices up is the fact that there’ll no longer be auctioning of fish each morning,” he said. While some suppliers are relocating, this is a luxury not all can afford, he added. “For small players it’s going to be difficult, they either have to spend a lot of money relocating or not relocate and cut a lot of jobs”.

City of Melbourne CEO Dr Kathy Alexander said the Fish Market’s board and Council have taken a “reasonable and fair” approach regarding the closure of the Melbourne Wholesale Fishmarket, which due to its deteriorating state has been an issue for over a decade. “We believe we have given traders a significant amount of time to find new premises, providing numerous licence extensions since 2006 when the Melbourne Wholesale Fish Market Pty Ltd resolved to sell the market site,” Dr Alexander said, adding that “council supported this decision”.

Since 2006, the Melbourne Wholesale Fish Market Pty Ltd worked with traders by first offering them the market site to purchase and then when that fell through they extended their licences several times to allow them more time to relocate or build a suitable alternate site, Dr Alexander said.

“There are a number of existing sites in Melbourne which already have significant capacity to temporarily facilitate the remaining traders while their Kensington site is being completed,” Dr Alexander said.

The most recent license extension was in December 2010 when Melbourne Wholesale Fish Market Pty Ltd, with the support of Council, extended the trader’s licenses again from 30 December 2010 until 30 June 2011.