WAFIC Chair visits South West fishers

WA Fishing Industry (WAFIC) Chair, Adele Farina, is out today meeting Perth-based fishing businesses and recently caught up with a number of commercial fishers in the South West region, to update them on the latest developments impacting the WA commercial fishing industry, while also seeking feedback on WAFIC’s current performance and future direction.

The South West ‘listen-and-act tour’ included industry visits in key centres, including Mandurah, Bunbury, Augusta, Busselton and Margaret River.

“It’s clear that the nature of challenges currently faced by our industry are unprecedented, so it’s critically important that we continue to listen and adapt to ensure we can best address them,” said Ms Farina.

“While the cumulative issues driving loss of resource access are threatening the ability of our industry to maintain the supply of fresh local seafood to our community, we also have to embrace the broader environmental impacts. This is further challenged as the government is reducing the resources and ability of DPIRD to maintain its core responsibilities, at the same time.

“Unless the Fisheries Minister can glean a proper appreciation of the situation, and work on a longer-term strategic plan for our industry, then WA’s seafood security may well be at risk. We are currently sitting at the tipping point,” she said.

“As a result of this trip, we will be making renewed representations to the Minister in a bid to secure some tailored support for the pathway ahead,” she said.

Ms Farina ensured that WAFIC Chief Executive Officer, Darryl Hockey was in attendance throughout the two-day road trip, with other WAFIC staff also attending targeted meetings.

“One thing I learned from twenty years as a state MP is that you have to meet people face-to-face, on the ground to get a true appreciation of the issues they are facing,” she said.

The visit included meeting with Brian Scimone from SouthWest Fisheries in Bunbury, a vertically integrated operation, and a very popular seafood retail outlet for locals.

“Nobody can say that Brian will ever miss an opportunity to get his point across. He is passionate, has firm, well-reasoned views and will always hold us to account. I’m more than happy with this,” she said.

“The future of his family business is based on his ability to provide fresh high quality seafood to an eager community. He has queues of people at his shop every day, which provides a clear reminder of what will happen in places like Esperance, if the marine park goes ahead in its current form.

“Expansive sanctuary zones will see vital food supply lost and there will be thousands of unhappy locals being forced to buy frozen imports from supermarkets, so it’s critical that WAFIC protects the community’s interests,” she said.

Ms Farina also attended a meeting of nearshore fishers in Bunbury, and sought a greater understanding of the opportunities currently being lost with whitebait and other small pelagic species.

“With just a couple of minor management adjustments ,we can potentially see some healthy new sustainable boutique fishing opportunities, so it’s important that we raise these with DPIRD,” she said.

Ms Farina also visited Augusta to gain a greater understanding of the challenges being faced by south coast abalone fishers.

On the road, Adele also met with Vern Wilde, the President of the West Coast Demersal Fishery, who sells his products through a retail outlet at the Margaret River farmers markets on Saturday mornings.

“I was surprised to see just how much interest and enthusiastic demand is generated for fresh local seafood products. These types of regional seafood processing and retailing are more than just fishing, they are a tourism highlight and a gathering point for locals on the weekend. Most customers that flowed through were well-informed and knew exactly what species they were after, while others were keen to get some tips and suggestions.

“I am concerned that the government doesn’t have an appreciation of the importance of local seafood supply to the community, and its role as a community pillar,” Ms Farina added.

The team also visited the Peel Produce Farmers Market on the banks of the estuary at Dawesville, where they met with the industry stalwart and President of the Peel Harvey fishers, Meegan Watts.

“It’s abundantly clear that the environmental challenges being generated by an ever-growing population and urbanisation are making it more and more difficult for the local industry to be able to continue to do its best,” she said.

“When you look at the popularity of the annual Crab Fest, you can see just how highly the Peel region expects to continue to have healthy supply maintained to those in the vast majority of the community who are not able to fish for themselves.

“The estuarine crab, mullet and whiting culture of Mandurah will forever be lost unless the government takes an integrated approach towards the environmental health of the Peel Harvey. In addition, I’m mightily concerned over the failure of Recfishwest to meet its Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) obligations. The community needs them to step up,” she said.

Ms Farina will be undertaking a comprehensive tour of marketing, processing, post-harvest supply chains and retail outlets in the metropolitan area in the near future.  In addition, she has a visit planned to listen to the views of south coast fishers in Albany, as well as a two-day visit to Geraldton, including attendance at the Blessing of the Fleet event later this month.

“As WAFIC Chair, I see that outreach with face-to-face engagement is a critically important component of WAFIC’s role, and we will continue to maintain close links to the grass roots to ensure that the views of fishers are fully appreciated and our representations to government are fully ground-truthed,” Ms Farina said.