CEO Direct Channel Podcast to industry #8

Hi there, well here we go again, another lockdown but hopefully it’s just for these five days and no longer.

But what it does reinforce is what I’ve been saying for quite a while – we can’t take anything for granted – and we need to remember what a perilous position our world now finds itself in.

We’ve been so lucky over the past year here in WA and haven’t been exposed to the pandemic health impacts like other places have.  But many within our industry have been affected in various other non COVID ways – including trade and markets.  For instance, rock lobster sales to premium markets have been greatly reduced and we’ve seen the impossible – a flood of lobsters in the supermarket freezers retailing for as low as $16 each.  This has hit our producers very hard.

Other sectors of the industry who are reliant on overseas trade have also been affected.

But I’d like to point out that every other person in the commercial fishing industry is potentially vulnerable to the broader impacts of what is going on.

Within Australia we’re presently supported by a welfare bubble which is keeping the economy ticking along – and in many ways we’re currently in a comfort zone – but all of that will stop in the foreseeable future  – many people in the industry are now heavily reliant on JobKeeper, but this will all cease in two months’ time.  And we can expect that the government will then want to stop being so generous – they’ve already blown a quarter of a trillion dollars of borrowed money and they’ll soon need to stop spending and start getting it back.

And when this happens, the impacts on us and those around us will be inevitable.

Meanwhile overseas, the pandemic graphs are horrifying – the second waves going through countries in Europe, Africa and North and South America clearly show that we are nowhere near the peak.  It’s absolutely inevitable that a large number of countries will have a financial collapse (something like Greece went through a few years ago) and this in turn will have a direct impact on world markets – the uncertainty will impact upon stock markets, foreign exchange rates, superannuation funds, interest rates, bond rates, and institutions like the EU, World Bank and Asian Development Bank will have their resources severely tested.

All of these issues will roll over and impact upon us here in Australia – it’ll impact our banks and our fishing industry – as well as us as individuals.

So right now we’re living here in WA in an artificial incubator – even though we’re getting a gentle reminder with a five day lockdown just now – but in so many other ways we are significantly dissociated from the realities of the global COVID curse.  But it will force its way upon us sooner rather than later – not necessarily the health effects but absolutely most certainly the economic realities will come down upon us – and I’m sorry but it won’t be pretty.

As such, your industry representatives need to be strategic and working with government to identify how we are going to get our industry through the inevitable wave of emerging challenges we face.  We need to get a true understanding of the impacts on various fishing sectors, we need to identify what critical supports they require, and then engage deeply with government to lobby for interventions and better outcomes.

And not only that, we need to start to shape a new way forward – there’ll need to be a significant amount of structural adjustment required.  What that’s going to entail we won’t yet know – but I’d envisage that there’s a whole lot of trade and market development work required by export focused sectors like rock lobster and abalone – but within these industries there’s also all sorts of impacts likely – for instance in rock lobster whether the leasing model used by some will stack up in the new world that we’re entering.  It’s food for thought.

There will be equivalent challenges for other sectors in WA – one way or another we must craft a new way forward which is positive, we must be on the front foot, we must be agile and innovative, and we must ensure we’re getting the biggest bang for the buck from R&D – and through this we’ve got to drive improved industry outcomes for the short, medium and long terms.

For instance – I’d love to think that our shark industry will be prepared to take the leap and go hard at getting MSC in place.  The reality is that global environmentalists are spreading false rumours about shark finning and flake news about sustainability in general – and we quickly need to establish a point of difference in the marketplace – to win the fight we really do need to prove up our credentials for consumers – and there is a huge incentive waiting for us to sell MSC certified shark meat to restaurants and fish and chip shops – and importantly, MSC certified shark fins to Asian markets – the extra premiums for this product would be really significant – that is, higher prices for producers.

And I’m therefore placing this opportunity on the table for the shark fishermen of this state – the choice is to quickly grab the initiative and control the way forward – or to keep doing what we’ve always been doing and get over-run by the relentless efforts of environmental activists who (quite unfairly) have our local industry in their sights.

So the point is – we’ve got to focus on creating a new future which addresses the uncomfortable realities – whether it’s sharks or any other fishery – we can’t talk about the past and get involved with internal bickerings.  The challenges facing our fishing industry are enormous – so as an industry we must come together tightly, we must be clear and unified, and we need to embrace the challenges – and the traditional role of sector groups may well need to change as well.

What I can promise you is this – WAFIC will show the leadership and fortitude required to take the industry forward on this journey.  And yes, we may progress faster than what some people might find comfortable – but we simply don’t have the luxury of whistling and waltzing along and saying she’ll be right.  Because she won’t be right – our industry is in need of a major overhaul.  We simply don’t have the choice any more.  So there are going to be some changes coming – that’s for sure.  But they will be the changes that are genuinely required.

So I’d encourage you to embrace the challenges we face with optimism and a willingness to support new changes, even those which may initially look a little daunting.  Unless we get on the front foot and create a new future for ourselves by ourselves, otherwise we’ll soon get our future created for us by somebody else.



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