CEO Message – Minister gets an “F” on his 2022 report card

Well the major decision over the reform of the West Coast Demersal sustainability issue was recently made and the people of Western Australia were left sadly disappointed – not only by the insipid display from government, but also the diabolical performance of Recfishwest (RFW).

You will recall that the Minister, backed publicly by the Premier, had supposedly earlier stood firm and committed that the recreational sector would take a full 50% benchmark reduction, backed by science.  The Minister repeatedly gave this commitment in the media and on the Parliamentary record as well. Well guess what, this was a massive deception as common sense was thrown out the window.

The unavoidable fact is the recreational benchmark is set at 135,000 kilograms per year and it is claimed there are 40,000 active recreational fishers in the West Coast bioregion.  This means that each fisher can safely catch one 3.2kg demersal fish every year. But the new rules now allow a fisher to catch double their annual allocation in just one day – and then potentially do it for up to 177 days each year.

This is the absurdity of the most bewildering policy decision in living memory, where government determines that as long as the maximum number of people are allowed to endlessly hoover fish during school holidays then the stocks will somehow soon recover.  I’m sorry, the government has merely given our children a front row seat to watch the now inevitable demise of their prized WA dhufish resource.

In contrast to the fumbling and bumbling of both the government and RFW, the commercial fishing industry stepped forward from the start and decisively committed to a 50% benchmark reduction, because we knew the seriousness of the situation.  Despite not contributing to the problem, we stood tall and did our part to assist RFW with their problem – one fully of their own creation and construct.  We were clear and crisp – decisive action has to be taken now or the fishery is at risk of collapse.

The Minister waxed lyrical about the can being kicked down the road by weak and irresponsible previous governments – but when this decision needed to be made, he crushed the same can and threw it in the garbage bin.  Perhaps past Ministers didn’t first avail themselves of the facts, but this one has absolutely nowhere to hide – he knew exactly what the situation was, but still wasn’t able to protect the fishery when leadership was required.

Meanwhile we have all watched with some disbelief as RFW has put on a PR display which often danced between vaudeville and farce.  The recreational lobby is somehow claiming that the Minister’s weak recommendations go too far and therefore they officially want to regularly catch way more fish than is sustainable. In effect, they are demanding an unfettered entitlement to destroy a critical community resource.

Using many hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash injected from the bait & tackle shops (BATS), RFW was able to add to their existing over-allocation of recreational licence fees to fund a major exercise in self-promotion.  That’s correct, the money compulsorily paid by mums and dads who expect RFW to actually stand up for the sustainability of the fisheries has effectively been tipped into a slush pool of survival fighting funds instead. This probably needs a probity examination as it might potentially represent a conflict of interest for the expenditure of public moneys.

RFW has consistently said that ‘there must be another way’ but have never once offered to make their proposed solution public.  We’re eagerly waiting for the opportunity to place their calculations under some long-overdue scrutiny.

The RFW position is high on emotion, but low on facts. So, here’s some interesting information backed by fishing records, marine science and fundamental maths. Firstly, three out of every four dhufish currently being caught are by West Coast demersal recreationals. That’s a fact.  With up to 40,000 WCD participants from over 750,000 recreational fishers in total, this means that only about 5% of the entire pool of recreational fishers in WA catch demersal fish in the west coast bioregion.  That’s a fact.

This means that 75% of the state’s dhufish are currently being caught by just 5% of the recreational sector, yet RFW has been out in the media calling for a full dhufish reallocation from commercials to ensure that this small, privileged cashed-up group can get the other 25% as well. This proposal essentially means WA’s dhufish would be the privileged sole property of a small number of cashed-up boaties.

Meanwhile the other 95% of recreational fishers would get zero, and 2,660,000 WA citizens who don’t personally fish for demersals would have no access whatsoever to this unique iconic WA species.

Currently the commercial West Coast demersal fishery provides food for people in all parts of the state regardless of age, health or disability.  Commercial fishing provides access to seafood for people who aren’t fortunate enough to own a boat and catch fish for themselves.  We’re out there fishing for everybody, not just a few. That’s also a fact.

And the absurd thing is that 99% of recreational fishers also buy WA fish provided by WA commercial fishers.  That’s right, if the commercial fishery was closed down then recreational fishers would also be unable to purchase fresh fish from the shops and restaurants, not to mention the bait supplies they need.

It’s also interesting that over 90% of tourists say that they seek out local fish when they travel through a coastal town. They wish to experience local wines and honey and also true local fish cuisine experiences too, rather than the imported ‘cat food’ we are increasingly seeing in shops as a result of poor government decision-making over marine park sanctuaries.

One thing that WAFIC can be proud of is that we have told “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” from the get-go on the WCD issue. We have been 100% honest with the community from the very start.  We have stood up for the interests of the fishery, our grandchildren, recreational fishers, charter fishers, commercial fishers, food security, regional tourism, good government and common sense too.

The bottom line is that the Minister fell over when it mattered, despite his assurances of strength and resolve, he simply wasn’t able to make a strong decision to restrict blatant over-fishing.  And unbelievably, RFW has waded in and openly protested that he is being too strict, while vigorously advocating for even more ‘freedom’ to destroy this unique fishery.

From one end to the other, this has been an exercise in wilful incompetence and frustration.

The other bitter disappointment was the government failure to make changes to the recreational bag limits in other bio-regions to prevent the inevitable displacement of recreational effort from one place to another.

WAFIC has raised this on dozens of occasions with DPIRD and the Minister over recent months and it’s got to be said that even RFW and the BATS were fully on-side with this as well. Support was open and unanimous. The Minister repeatedly advised us that he was going to address this matter, but when it came time for a decision to be made, he flopped over and did nothing.

The bleak future of the demersal recreational fishery in the west coast bioregion is now on high alert with flashing red lights.  The pathway of demise has been turbocharged by the flaccid response from government and the desperate failed PR attempts of Recfishwest to be seen as relevant.  They have sadly let everybody down.

WAFIC will always be the harbinger of truth and continue to advocate for common sense. It’s only a matter of time before the community sees the light.