CEO Message – Nothing but the truth

Since the day I started as CEO of WAFIC, I’ve been in lock-step with Chairman Murray Criddle in having honest and truthful conversations regarding the interests of the WA commercial fishing industry – with our fishers, stakeholders, Minister and the general community.

We have both had long careers in the public domain dealing with complex, difficult and controversial issues and have seen the sad consequences when truth becomes a casualty.  Our industry simply cannot afford this, so we have looked every single issue in the eye and our dialogues and exchanges are always frank and honest.

The narrative peddled by the recreational lobby over the west coast demersal reforms was centred on trying to convince the government that fishing restrictions equate to lost votes.  However, I’m happy to challenge this skewed notion, because the feedback that I get from the general public is that if a government doesn’t take the necessary action to ensure the sustainability of the fishery then they will be held to account for a lack of stewardship.  As a broader analogy, remember our State’s COVID closures when we saw how popular our Premier became by listening to the science – making hard but responsible decisions, holding the line and ignoring the criticisms from the cheap seats.  The public recognised that short term sacrifices were required for the greater good.

My views on this issue from a fishing perspective are not a construct of opinions formulated from office echo-chambers and shiny corridors, they come from the real world.  Part of my regular weekend adventuring involves loitering around fresh seafood shops, fish & chip outlets, restaurants, cafes and even mobile fish vans.  I have conversations with the owners to get a true feeling of how their businesses are going and the feedback they get from their customers.  I watch and listen as members of the public make their purchase decisions and often directly engage with the customers, introducing myself to seek open and frank perspectives of what they feel about the seafood industry.  In addition, our Chair, Murray, is also always out and about on the road and he talks to real people all over the State.  Last year, with Deputy Chair Adam Radford, we all undertook a coastal tour and engaged with people at every level – in shops, on footpaths and on jetties – and the nature of the feedback was fascinating.

Just a few weeks ago I attended a seafood dinner with about 100 guests and wandered from table to table, talking in-depth with the patrons and answering their questions – and asking plenty of questions of them as well.  And then last weekend, the fabulous Team WAFIC was rostered on duty for three long days at the Fremantle Seafood and Boating festival, where we had many hundreds of close one-on-one engagements with members of the general public.

It’s absolutely clear out there in the real world that the commercial fishing industry is genuinely appreciated and warmly embraced by the community of WA – and people certainly expect the flow of seafood to continue to provide sustenance for the public platter.  Fish is not considered as just a protein, like lamb chops or T-bone steaks, but is instead seen as a treasured part of our culture.  Seafood dinners, or even fish & chips near the beach at sunsets, are memory-creating events and are often the times we come together as a family. It’s emotional and communal and are the times that our children will recall years later with deep fondness.

However, the thing that has surprised me the most is how WA people at street level regard the preservation of seafood supply so highly – much more than I ever envisaged.

The arguments peddled by lobbyists about recreational fishing being worth more than commercial fishing certainly do not stick with the people we have been listening to.  In their eyes the recent demersal debate was uncomfortably dysfunctional and the public didn’t want to see and hear this. All they ever wanted was for the right decisions to be made to provide a sustainable future for their seafood supplies and this needed to be inter-generational.  They saw that the irresponsible yapping and barking of the recreational lobbyists led the fishery to a sub-standard outcome, and if given the opportunity, the community would have copped much harder management arrangements to actually secure the sustainability.  Importantly, the public certainly does not want one sector to take a cut at the expense of another. They want to see a balanced outcome for all.

The other aspect is that from the feedback I have received, the community feels the facts about recreational over-fishing had been irresponsibly with-held for many years. While stock numbers were known to be in decline, recreational fishers had been encouraged to go hard and competitively chase trophy catches and Instagram posts.  The reason that the recreational community was so unhappy about the initial proposals for long seasonal closures is because they didn’t know that they even had a problem that needed fixing.

Over the past seven years, not once did their representatives ever share the concerning catch data, or encourage some sensible moderation in fishing pressures.  As a result the whole west coast demersal fishery is now in trouble and all sectors are unnecessarily feeling the pain. The reason that a number of recreational fishers are unhappy about the seasonal closures is because nobody ever once advised them that west coast sustainability was under pressure from their overfishing.  So it’s a bit like your doctor undertaking annual health checks and not giving you the results, and then advising you one day that you need some limb amputations. Of course, you’re going to feel that you’ve been dudded.

You can be assured that using the facts, WAFIC will continue to truthfully defend higher-level community interests, which includes a healthy coexistence for each of the recreational, commercial and charter sectors.  And in doing so we will rightfully fight off any attempts to reallocate seafood availability away from the general public and divert supplies into the stashed freezers of a minority.

WAFIC remains committed to arguing for what is best for the community as a whole and we will continue to tell the truth, even the uncomfortable truth, as we’re fishing for everybody.