CEO Message – WA communities standing alongside WA seafood

It’s been a really busy time at WAFIC recently, especially with significant travel around the state to engage with fishing families.  While these trips take us away from our core desk duties, they are an important way to learn first-hand of the true challenges being faced and to pressure-test the approaches WAFIC has been taking.

During these visits, it has been encouraging to hear key leaders in regional communities standing up and supporting our efforts. We are hearing affirmations of support in the feedback from not only fishers, but also allied industry sectors which benefit from commercial fishing, such as hotels, restaurants, hospitality, fish & chip shops and tourism businesses. We are also hearing a growing call from locals to ensure we keep providing WA seafood to WA communities.

We saw through COVID lockdowns how important food security is to the state’s food basket, and the need to ensure WA can feed itself in times of need. And it seems regional people haven’t forgotten this, even though some people in government may have.

Our busy travel schedule included a well-attended Sundowner event in Geraldton, where we discussed the emerging challenges of offshore windfarms and seismic testing with attendees from a range of fisheries.  It was also a good social opportunity afterwards to share some stories, sausages, onions and refreshments. We’re certainly looking forward to a follow-up event later in the year.

WAFIC staff also teamed up with Southern Seafood Producers to attend the Albany Maritime Festival, where about 6000 local people came to see and taste some of the amazing fresh local seafood produce which comes from the south coast.  We jointly spread the good word by handing out countless pamphlets talking about the devastating local impacts which are likely to occur if the proposed south coast marine park proceeds under the current design.

Again, it is heartening to receive such an abundant level of positive feedback for the public stance WAFIC is taking against the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions’ shameful behaviour over the proposed marine park. This ever-growing backing is coming not only from commercial fishers – but also recreational fishers – and more recently, from random members of the broader public too.

It’s abundantly clear from right across the full breadth of the community that people are thoroughly fed up with insincere consultation processes, and especially when the government outsources its policy decisions to overseas-funded lobby groups, while ignoring the interests of local WA fishers. Even worse, as they flatly refuse to use DPIRD’s world-leading scientific advice, despite the fishing agency being a (supposed) planning partner. The situation is a complete mess and left unchecked will certainly test the sincerity and integrity of the government in the eyes of the community.

WAFIC continues to undertake a considerable amount of work to support the implementation process for the Aquatic Resource Management Act (ARMA).  This has been a very challenging task, which is being ably supported by a large number of industry representatives, who have volunteered their time to ensure the interests of all sectors are best protected.  Given the timing of these government reform processes is now coming under pressure, it is likely an adjusted approach might have to be taken.  We will continue to liaise with government through the fishing and pearling working groups to drive the best possible outcomes, and keep you updated.

The West Coast Demersal fishery continues to draw public attention, particularly with recent concerns being aired by the charter sector.  From WAFIC’s perspective, we can certainly appreciate that the catch restrictions have caused their sector a whole lot of pain, and we empathise with them.  Likewise, we appreciate that seasonal closures and reduced bag limits have been uncomfortable for recreational fishers.  However, it is important to remember that the commercial fishers have taken their 50 percent cut in full, and in doing so this has generated a considerable level of economic damage to their operations.  They haven’t been out in the media complaining about it -they know the sustainability of the fishery is paramount – and unless all three sectors take complete action to address the overfishing of the past then everybody will suffer further.

It is often forgotten that the commercial sector did not exceed its allocated catches over the past seven years or so, and therefore did not contribute to the sustainability situation the resource currently faces.  However, it’s imperative that everybody, including the commercial sector, does its part to allow the fishery to follow the pathway to recovery.  To be clear, throughout we have stood tall and done the right thing, and any attempts to reallocate fish away from the commercial sector will be vigorously rejected.

Finally, I’d just like to mention that we will be welcoming the CEO of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, Elspeth Macdonald, to WA next week.  With the generous support of the FRDC, she will be here to meet with industry and government to explain the issues and challenges faced by Scotland over the past decade from the imposition of offshore windfarms, marine parks, and oil & gas developments.

They are well advanced in managing the industry co-existence balance and have seen which approaches have worked in industry’s favour and which ones have worked against them.  So we can listen and learn to ensure that we can best position our local industry to prevail through the inevitable challenges and competition for productive waters over coming years.

In this respect, WAFIC is already leading the way for the seafood industry across Australia with regards to windfarms and undertaking extensive international engagement to identify the best models of co-existence.  Our research will also be made available and used to good effect by the other states – as an industry we are collaborating closely.

The fishing industry is certainly facing some monumental challenges that could never have been predicted just a few short years ago, and WAFIC is moving quickly to adapt to this significant change by staying ahead of the game.  Every member of our WAFIC team is working hard and I’m particularly proud of the focus and dedication they continue to commit to try to secure the best outcomes for individual fishers, the industry as a whole, and to ensure the continued supply of quality WA seafoods to the community.