CEO Direct Channel Podcast to Industry #13

Hi there,

When I started in this job in September last year, I made a couple of commitments.

One was to communicate more openly and regularly with the fishing community and the other was to make sure that I got out away from the office in Fremantle and I spend as much time as possible on the boat or the jetty, or on the beach talking to fishermen and getting a better understanding of the issues. And look, we can always improve that and I’m making every effort to do so.  At the moment I’m in a car and driving in the rain, which is not unusual of course at this time of year, and I’m heading along the coast to meet with some fishermen over this weekend to get a better understanding of what’s going on.

But today I just thought I’d give you a quick snapshot of some of the issues we’ve been facing over recent times. It’s not going to be a comprehensive list but hopefully it will give you a better appreciation of just where we are and what direction we’re heading in at the moment.

Download the audio podcast here.

I guess the first issue that I’d like to mention is that we’re trying to get a four-year funding agreement from the State Government at the moment and we’re having some pretty in-depth negotiations at the moment and we’re hopeful of being able to get a positive outcome over the next six to eight weeks.  Clearly one of the challenges we have is we have a past funding agreement which was based on the GVP, which is the amount the fishing industry has made over previous years.

That’s done on a rolling three-year average and because of the impacts of COVID that has created some challenges for the funding of WAFIC moving forward – so this current financial year we’ll have more than $200,000 less than what we had last year. And if we roll through the impacts of COVID and of China over the next couple of years it’s going to be a lot more challenging for WAFIC, so we realise the challenge we face and we’re looking at alternatives very closely.

Now there’s some issues out there that I’d just like to discuss and that you’ve hopefully heard us out in the media advocating on behalf of the fishing industry.  Number one is marine parks, we’re still trying to deal with the compensation issues from the Ngari Capes marine park, that’s down around the capes near Bunbury and Augusta.  A number of fishermen are going through that process at the moment to try to get compensation and really it’s been a very big challenge because the legislation which guides the compensation assessment process is clearly flawed, it always has been.

So clearly we need to sit down with government and develop a whole Bill and a whole new Act to put through Parliament to see if we can get a compensation scheme that will work better in the future. In addition we have some issues in the Buccaneer Marine Park in the Kimberleys.  And the State Government has determined that it wants to push ahead with this marine park and already it’s going to have quite a significant impact on the commercial fishing industry and so once again we need to try to make sure that our fishermen are getting a fair outcome from these processes.

Obviously we have concerns over the compensation scheme and we are having in-depth discussions with government at the moment about how we can reach a more fairer and equitable outcome for this – as well as the South Coast marine park, which has been talked about for quite some time.

But it’s a priority of the current government and they’ve decided to push forward at the moment. We have provided a lot of pushback to date, we weren’t satisfied with the level of consultation with our industry and we wanted a seat at the table to make sure that as the marine park developed we were in a position to defend the interests of the fishing industry, because the point that I’m  consistently making is that we are the only stakeholders that stand to lose anything from the marine park, so we’re very much engaged with government over this and this is one of our highest priorities as we move forward – because clearly this goes to the heart of what fishing is all about.

We need to protect our access to the security and fishermen need some sort of certainty so that they can plan ahead with the surety that they know that their business can continue to operate in the future and that they know that their families are best protected – so that’s the outcome that we’re trying to get from that.

Now another issue is one that not many people know very much about and its one that’s really emerging as something of great significance to this industry – and that’s seismic. Seismic surveys are done from boats in the oil and gas industry and they go out there over the ocean and they send out sonic blasts and they get certain echoes back which allows them to identify where potential oilfields are.

There’s an enormous amount of this seismic activity going on at the moment and we know from our fishermen up there that it has a direct impact on the fishing – after seismic surveys go through we regularly hear reports that the fishermen are never able to able to catch the same levels of fish again in the future.  So, it seems that one of two things happens – one is it either damages or kills the fish or it scares them away.

Now the science is trying to catch up on this at the moment, we recently saw a report which came out which was funded by the oil and gas industry of course and it said that there was no impact on fishing and we immediately got up in the media and we countered that report and in fact the interview we did on the radio actually went right across Australia

So we’ve been providing as much pushback as we can, we’ve also been dealing with the Federal Government and with the oil and gas companies trying to develop what is known as an Operational Protocol, which is an agreement as to how the two industries are going to interact now and into the future to minimise any impacts – and in addition we are also negotiating with an Adjustment Protocol which in plain English means a compensation package which also puts us in a position where we can get proper recompense where it can be determined there has been some damage.

Another really important issue that goes to the heart of what we are as a fishing community is the West Coast Demersal industry. Well, it was very clear probably about 13-14 years ago that the demersal stocks on the west coast were under too much pressure. Everybody recognised that and so the scientists and even the recreational community and the commercial industry and WAFIC sat down and we mapped out a way forward and what was agreed to was a twenty year recovery strategy. That started in the year 2010 and obviously at the moment we are around about half way through that strategy.  And at the core of that strategy were Integrated Fisheries Management (IFM) principles which effectively gave an allocation of catch to the commercial sector and an allocation of catch to the recreational sector. Those levels were agreed and all the stakeholders signed off to say that we were going to stay below the threshold catches each year and if we did that for twenty years then the health of the demersal stocks were going to be best protected.

Now where we are at the moment is that we did go over in one of the early years, but we made adjustments immediately afterwards and therefore our average has stayed well below the threshold that was set and this shows that the commercial sector is very responsible in its management of this important fishery.

Unfortunately the recreational sector though has gone over each and every year and that’s been quite concerning for the industry for quite some time – but what we’re going to see soon is a new stock assessment coming out. DPIRD has it at the moment, it’s all been finalised and we expect that some time over the next 3-4 weeks or so these numbers will be made public.  We expect the numbers to be quite alarming and therefore we will be pushing very hard for some action to be taken because we do not want to see the sustainability of this fishery put under threat.

Clearly we’ve done the right thing right from day dot and we’ll continue to do the right thing. And it’s really important that finally the recreational community sector comes forward and plays its part and takes some action to make sure their harvests stay below the target levels.

So this is an issue to watch in the near future and I think it’s important to say that as a whole fishing industry, we need to be united behind our west coast demersal fishermen and to make sure that we support them and that we’re making the right comments on social media and we’re also telling all of our friends in the community the importance of getting this particular fishery right.

Also more of a housekeeping matter, I just want to mention something about fee relief. You’d remember at the beginning of COVID that a deal was done with government to give a waiver of licence fees – now I know that there’s a bit of confusion between deferrals and waivers, but if I can just explain that – the licence fees were waived for a period of twelve months (they weren’t quite waived 100%, they were reduced to one dollar). And the access fees were deferred for 12 months – deferral meaning that at the time DPIRD had an expectation that they would be repaid.

Now here we are 12 months down the track and that matter has never been properly resolved.  I recently wrote to DPIRD and I’ve asked that the original working group be reconstituted and we’ll be sitting down over the next week or so and going through this issue.  Now I don’t want to raise expectations, because obviously we’ve got to be able to win the argument on the merits and if you look at the GVP data over the past year or so in fact almost every fishery in this state improved, of course the Western Rock Lobster industry through the trade issues that they faced  have suffered unfortunately a significant reduction in GVP – it was around about 33%. But as I said most of the other fisheries actually increased their value of production during this period.  So we do have to mount an argument on the basis of financial hardship and we’ll do that where it can be established that fishing sectors, or zones within those sectors, have been adversely impacted and we’ll be able to put forward some sort of an argument.

I think it’s also worth saying that one of the other things that we’ve tried to do more of over the last 9 or 10 months has been to get our faces and voices out in the media a lot more. And we’ve been doing that – we’ve been regularly on ABC statewide radio in particular – we recently did that story on seismic which went national.

You may have seen one or two of the stories that we’ve done on ABC TV Landline, which is normally played on a Sunday and repeated once or twice during the week. There’s been some good stories there and there’s another 4-5 stories still to come over the next couple of months, so we’re regularly getting our face and our voice out in the public domain.

We’ve also got some other film opportunities coming up on ABC TV which you hopefully will see over the next 4-6 weeks as well – so we’re pushing really hard to make sure we get our profile up and to make sure we’re getting our arguments out there in the public domain.

We’re always trying to re-educate the community where we can, because clearly it’s difficult. I mean I deal with government all of the time I think there’s a lot of stereotypes in people’s minds as to what the commercial fishing sector is all about and so I guess it’s always a challenge to try to re-educate people. But we’re doing our best in that regard and we’ll continue to do that as well and all I can ask for is that each and every fisherman in this state does everything they can to promote the social licence of the industry and they are showing that they are really good members and citizens of the community and that people can then appreciate the importance of this industry.

This industry is not only important from an economic and commercial perspective, but also from a social and cultural perspective because it’s the backbone of many coastal communities in this state. And we should be proud of the industry that we’ve got but we’ve got to realise the challenges we’ve got and we all need to be really good, strong positive ambassadors for our industry.

Just a bit of news from within WAFIC at the moment, many of you will remember Mannie Shea. Mannie’s been around for years and is an absolutely passionate supporter for the fishing industry. She’s quite tireless and was always pushing for the best outcomes for our fishermen. Mannie’s decided to retire after five years with WAFIC and so of course we’re going to miss her, but we’ve been really, really lucky to find a more than able recruit in Carli Telfer. Carli recently joined us and she’s already added a huge amount of strength and drive and ability and expertise to our team and we really love having her onboard.

There may be one or two other changes soon, when they become official I’ll be able to tell you about them but we will definitely be having another new person starting in the next few weeks and when you find out who it is you’ll be really encouraged. So you can see that your WAFIC team is growing and adapting to make sure that we properly meet the challenges that we face.

In conclusion, there’s one other thing that I’d just like to add and that on Friday 13th August, that’s Black Friday which of course is a lucky day for our industry, we are having the State Seafood Awards again.

We didn’t have them last year due to COVID, so this is an opportunity to go out there and just enjoy ourselves and celebrate being the fishing community that we are.  We’ve got 10 of the best chefs in the metropolitan area. These are leading chefs from some of Perth’s best restaurants who are coming to cook on that Friday night – it’s going to be held inside the Esplanade Hotel and it’s going to be a complete smorgasbord of the very best of the seafood that we have in this State.

It’s a stand-up affair, people can graze, it’s a great opportunity to mix and meet, the Minister will be there to open it, and we have a number of seafood awards to recognise the best of the best in the industry.  I really encourage you to come along and join in.  Friday the 13th, what could go wrong, nothing really.  So, let’s just celebrate the challenges we have been through and I look forward to seeing you there, in the meantime I’ll get back to you in the near future with another podcast – thank you.