CEO Message – Industry facing serious resource access challenges

Over recent times the WA commercial fishing industry has stared down the barrel of a number of issues which will have significant short, medium and long term impacts. Not only on the livelihoods of fishing families and the coastal communities who rely on them, but also the state’s seafood supply.

The draft management plans for the proposed south coast marine park, released for four month’s public consultation by the government, have 25 per cent of the marine park locked away forever into no-take areas.  The Environment Minister says that there’s still 75 per cent left for fishing, but as we all know, the selected 25 per cent will actually impact more than 70 per cent of production for some sectors.

There is absolutely no science to support the maps, the public consultation process has been awful and the socio-economic assessment an embarrassment. In fact, the well-respected Esperance Shire Council described it as ‘pitiful’.

The scary thing for our industry is that the government has prioritised the views of overseas eco-evangelists such as Pew, while disregarding the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s (DPIRD) internationally respected marine science.

Despite the WA fishing industry being sustainable and having the lowest carbon footprint for food protein – and a truly renewable industry in a world which is desperately seeking renewable solutions – the government is prepared to disrespect WA fishing interests in favour of overseas lobby groups who do not care a skerrick about the social, economic and cultural interests of local people.

The recommendation is for 3,300 square kilometres of productive waters to be taken away without due reason or scientific backing.

Then we have the Commonwealth recommending over 7,600 square kilometres of water to be placed into a marine zone located between Cape Naturaliste and Dawesville for offshore windfarms.  There will be just a two-month consultation period to decide upon the long term future of fishing in this key area.

If our industry is disrespected like we have been in the marine parks, then we are facing the further loss of large tracts of important fishing grounds and the cumulative negative impacts upon seafood security will be unavoidable.

At around the same time, the Fisheries Minister made an extraordinary decision to reallocate 20 tonnes of west coast demersal (WCD) fish from the commercial sector to the recreational and charter sector.

There are some higher order issues at play here, none more so than the absolute commitments given to WAFIC that this would not occur during the management plan changes for the fishery.  In fact, we were told that no reallocation would occur unless both WAFIC and Recfishwest came to the Minister with a jointly signed request!  Obviously this didn’t happen, so it seems that supposedly rock solid commitments are instead made of fairy floss.

But also, what does this mean for the fisheries management structures which have been carefully built over many years?  The concept of Integrated Fisheries Management has been the foundation stone of the policy environment for more than a decade.  Over recent years Harvest Strategies have been developed to provide a clear structured approach towards dealing with sustainability matters, and jointly developed Management Plans have provided a clear framework for all stakeholders to respect.

Yet now, all of this has been opportunistically thrown out the window, so we are entering very dangerous territory when government picks and chooses when it might follow its own guidelines, or listens to its own department.

Furthermore, for much of the past ten years, the Aquatic Resources Management Act (ARMA) has been seen as the best way forward to provide stronger security of access for the fishing industry.  The Act had finally passed through Parliament and things were deep into the implementation phase.  Last year the government called the various sectors together and urgently asked whether we wished to proceed.

WAFIC coordinated a joint commercial response which advised that we still supported the principles, however some of the implementation methodology needed to be adjusted to overcome some of the flaws which had emerged.

Here we are four months later and haven’t seen an outcome, all we know is that Recfishwest (RFW) said they simply can’t be bothered and therefore want all the hard work discarded. This is the very same RFW that has abandoned Marine Stewardship (MSC) certification in the Peel-Harvey blue swimmer crab fishery, at the same time that the Mandurah Council has pleaded with government to halt the flood of unsustainable recreational activity.

WAFIC has recently been inundated with many people who are seriously concerned about the future of the commercial fishing industry, and this includes some who have invested in retail seafood outlets in the metropolitan area and are seriously worried that erratic government decision making will cause further damage to their businesses.

And it’s even more concerning when the commercial WCD industry has already taken its full 50 per cent reduction, while the recreationals have been set free with crazy bag and boat limits, without compulsory real time data reporting to measure what is being taken.  It’s simply a recipe for disaster.

Across the board, the alarm bells are loudly ringing.  The message WAFIC is clearly receiving from its members is that as an industry there is no choice but to stand up and defend the interests of fishing families, coastal communities and WA seafood consumers.

Darryl Hockey
Chief Executive Officer
WA Fishing Industry Council