CEO Message – Industry must unite before it is too late

It’s been a very challenging period for WAFIC over the past nine months or so and there are few signs of improvement.

The need for a strong and unified industry body has never been greater with major strategic issues being relentlessly flung at us. Whether it’s marine park after marine park, or oil and gas seismic surveys damaging valuable fishing grounds, or 3000 oil wells now needing to be decommissioned (with the resources sector wanting to leave them littering the ocean floor), or the EPA approving dredging in a world heritage listed marine park, or coastal salt projects which will damage fish or prawn nursery areas, plus a wave of offshore wind farms coming our way. Then we have the massive Westport development set to impact Cockburn Sound which brings its own unique challenges.

The point is that the commercial fishing industry is being swamped by impacts from multiple small forces. When viewed in isolation, none appear too overpowering, but as a collective, they are devastating and signal the start of a classic ‘death by a thousand cuts’.

And this is before we include the relentless wave of operational changes to marine safety and employer responsibilities, which are further burdening our industry participants.

It’s an immensely difficult situation for WAFIC, when our Gross Value Product income is going southwards and the ‘back to the future’ Rayns Review has sadly embedded further fragmentation, segmentation and misalignment to our industry.  It has moved us backward, not forward.

Prior to the Rayns report, WA fisheries had made effective progress and were finding efficiencies through the pooling of services and collaborations within our sector bodies, and now this report has thrown us back to the former days of duplication, segmentation and waste.

Rather than saving money, the report recommendations stand in the way of a collaboration option which could remove unnecessary administrative duplication and deliver overall industry savings of $350,000 per year.

More obviously, it supports wasteful day-to-day duplication where people from different sectors are required to attend the very same meetings over and over.

We need to keep pushing against our challenges, and this will most effectively come from a unified industry that represents the broader industry goals and priorities – where an impact forced on one sector is an impact forced on all.

Through unity we can collaborate to achieve truly great outcomes – or we can be picked off one sector at a time – like hyenas preying on a withering herd.

Since I started in the CEO role 18 months ago I’ve been out on the boats, the water, the jetties, the beaches, the delivery trucks, the processing facilities, the retail stores, cafes and restaurants and fish & chip shops, as well as the bars and kitchens and loungerooms and back verandahs of fishers in every corner of the State.

I’ve listened intently to what the grassroots wants – and I’ve fully heard their message.  It’s absolutely clear. The industry wants unity and focus with simple “no-bloody-bullshit” leadership. They want to have a say at a State level through a strong and unified voice that will keep the packs of circling hyenas at bay. Without that, the fishing industry will go the way of forestry and many other industry sectors.

It’s surprising how quickly we forget how COVID times have shown the necessity for WA to have security over its food independence – and that includes seafood. When the borders shut, or we need to bunker down, Western Australians need food security and only the commercial sector can provide this – in terms of seafood.

The other forgotten fact is that commercial fishers are fishing for everybody. We are supplying sustainable seafood to those who don’t, or can’t fish. We supply the hospitals, aged care, restaurants, cafes, fish and chip shops – everyone – so without an effective and supported fishing industry, local people won’t be able to access local seafood. WA seafood will be the exclusive preserve of those with big boats and big wallets and their immediate circle of family and friends.

The overwhelming option for the industry’s future is to shake off insular views and lock tightly together to drive our status up to where it truly deserves to be. To do this, we can’t have one sector operating at the expense of another. We’ve got to do this together.

With the crushing WAFIC budget cuts on the horizon, we have a choice.  Firstly, we can maintain the status quo and work through a “steady as she sinks” approach, as WAFIC quietly withers away – or we can consolidate our efforts and step forward as a united body of more than 9000 seafood workers and tackle the challenges facing our industry.

Like any family, I’m sure there will be plenty of arguments happening behind closed doors as we work this out, but when we step out, we need to step out with one clear voice.

As the saying goes: “united we stand, divided we fall”. This has never been truer for the fishing industry, and the clock is ticking.

I’d certainly appreciate the opportunity to directly hear your views, concerns and perspectives on this critically important matter, my email address is [email protected]

Best wishes