CEO Message – Fishing is a renewable industry

My parents and grandparents came from the Albany region and we spent a lot of growing up time in and around Oyster Harbour, as well as the King and Kalgan rivers.

Many people are familiar with the ancient stone tidal fish traps created there by indigenous peoples some tens of thousands of years ago, which have been rightfully respected and marvelled by everyone who sees them.  As the tides receded, fish were trapped and then captured to feed the hungry tribal families. Forget solar panels, surely this was the first truly renewable industry in Western Australia.

So, you’d tend to think that there would be a sense of wonder about a renewable, sustainable productive venture with such a noble cause as to provide food security and a capacity to feed those who weren’t able to source the seafood for themselves – the old, young and disabled, as well as the family groups as a whole.

Well, I’m afraid that things have clearly changed a lot since those days.

WAFIC has been locked in marine park discussions for a long time with the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA), which has clearly taken the firm view that fishing for the community is no longer considered as benevolent altruism. Recent discussions have pulled the covers off, and it is now evident that on one hand DBCA is trying to opportunistically align with traditional owners as planning partners, while the other hand is aiming to eradicate commercial fishing.

However, we know fully from our many rewarding discussions with the Wagyl Kaip people that they value their Boodja (or ‘land & sea’ environment) and they know that if they look after Boodja then Boodja will look after them.  You see, we as commercial fishers are very much aligned with these traditional custodians as both of us work hand-in-hand with nature to sustainably nurture and provide for our people and communities.

But DBCA’s unrelenting bias against commercial fishing at the marine park meetings (Marmion and South Coast) is palpable and supported by the glaring inaction from the rest of government.

What the DBCA zealots have clearly missed is that closing out WA’s sustainably managed, light-touch fisheries will not stop consumer demand for fresh local seafood. It will simply transfer impacts so that locals have to buy more low-quality, imported seafood from unsustainable offshore fisheries to compensate for the locked up local product. While the DBCA goal is to create the appearance of a clean front yard at home, in reality they are providing active support for products from damaging practices overseas, which in turn are dumped onto unwitting Australian consumers.

Throughout our extensive representations to Ministers and departmental heads we have raised countless legitimate concerns, which have been repeatedly ignored and downplayed to the extent the interests of those whose livelihoods are at threat have been openly disrespected.

Fishing for the community should be celebrated and protected and held high as a primary community value worthy of protection.  Our indigenous colleagues have this as a core part of their attachment to their lands and waters.  Modern global history has celebrated the reverence and importance of fishing from the Sea of Galilee to the shores of Scotland, to the food bowls of the Mekong and Amazon Rivers.

Seafood is widely recognised as a premium product and an important source of protein with the lowest carbon-footprint impact, so access to the healthy food security provided by Western Australia’s fresh, world-class seafood is a significant priority for many people across the State. Unfortunately, the view for DBCA is completely different.

I’m sorry, but WA cannot afford to have marine parks developed with blind ideology where commercial fishing is seen as nasty and destructive. There has been little opportunity for true and proper discussions from potentially affected commercial fishing families and zero consideration of the cumulative impacts across the state on food security.

The smoking pile from the unresolved mess created in the Ngari Capes, Kimberleys and Buccaneer is clear evidence of ideological environmental evangelism overlaid with plain incompetence. The next few weeks are expected to see DBCA take things to the next level and attempt to drive a stake through the commercial fishing industry, despite being a renewable and sustainable activity, just like the aboriginal fish traps of old.

The Fisheries Minister has promised to protect the fishing industry, so I encourage everybody to come forward during February and identify the key productive areas which you cannot afford to see placed in sanctuary zones.  Then we can do our best to strongly represent the interests of the south coast fishery on your behalf.

Darryl

The indigenous fishing traps around Albany use a rock barrier and the tide to trap fish. A renewable fishing industry tens of thousands of years in the making.