CEO Message – Denying science not the answer for sustainable fisheries

Well, it’s been a big few weeks for the WA fishing industry with a wave of information being generated from the recreational sector over the 50 percent benchmark reductions for the west coast demersal fishery.

We were quite amazed to see public claims that the Minister himself had instituted the 50 percent reductions, in turn saying they were not needed and unfair.  Well, the truth is that in December last year Recfishwest co-signed with commercial fishing representatives a letter to the Minister accepting the science and calling for a minimum 50 percent reduction for each sector. We retain a copy of this letter. Advocates for the recreational sector have since unfairly publicly criticised the Minister, and the Premier has had to weigh into the debate.

Certainly the Government’s position is clear: both the recreational and commercial sectors must take a full reduction and there is no possibility of this position being reversed. WAFIC is still working with government to make the commercial package more workable, but we do not question the science – nor importantly the integrity of the WA scientists in Hillarys whom we admire for their amazing commitment and professionalism.

Despite the extremely unfair criticisms of government, it is heartening to see a Minister stand up for what is right and be prepared to defend the correct headline decisions being made on the basis of science. There are not too many politicians ever prepared to put their heads up and we commend Minister Punch and Premier McGowan for making seemingly unpopular, but correct, decisions to ensure that our children can still catch a fish. This is nothing less than courage under fire.

The performance of the past five Ministers has been forgettable given there were indications that the sustainability of the fishery was at threat.  Industry groups have an important role in the stewardship of the resource and WAFIC has been the lone voice throughout calling for decisive action.  The recreational fishers who are currently making so much noise on social media are justified in their displeasure. Unfortunately, they didn’t even realise there were any sustainability concerns at all because they were always led to believe otherwise, and they are now rightfully upset that these cuts have been dropped upon them without notice.

In addition the bait and tackle shops have waded into the debate, claiming they will be wiped off the map by having just a three month demersal season.  One would have thought a highly profitable opportunity would have been created to sell products to fishers to target other species. They have even threatened taking the WA Government to court with a class action.  Well good luck to them taking on our Premier, Mark McGowan in the courtroom, we feel that the interests of the taxpayers of WA are in good hands.  Our only suggestion for the bait and tackle shops is that they should be collaborating instead of litigating.  And perhaps they should have a think about what the health of their business would soon look like if there were no fish left.

Some have been lobbying to have the commercials removed altogether from the west coast demersal fishery, so that the recreationals can hoover up the remaining fish all for themselves, with no iconic WA species like WA dhufish or pink snapper available for families who don’t own a boat and 4WD, or live away from the coast.

We can expect that the issue will not be going away in the short term and the information being spread will unfortunately not abate. It’s an indictment on those generating fake news, so it’s important that the commercial sector sticks close together and stays unified. WAFIC has placed the facts on the website and we have seen much positive feedback from the broader community.

Yes, we all get frustrated when we see and hear things being circulated which are false, but we need to ensure that our responses are always balanced.  We are monitoring things closely and standing up for not only our sector, but the interests of the whole community.  Importantly we are calling for a balanced approach towards fishing, with the recreational, charter and commercial sectors all having an important role in ensuring the community gets ongoing access to their resource. One sector cannot operate to the exclusion of others, we’re all in this together.

The commercial sector remains extremely proud of the role it plays in our community and the food security we provide and we hope that this becomes increasingly appreciated throughout the course of this debate.

Best wishes