(Op Ed – West Australian Newspaper 30 November 2023)


Fresh WA seafood will be the highlight of many family gatherings this Christmas. West Australians can buy or catch some of the world’s best seafood, especially unique local species. This diversity and accessibility is only possible from decades of careful science-based, sustainable fisheries  management, supported by the leadership and inclusion of commercial and recreational fishers.

But the future of our local seafood industry is at threat from the cumulative impacts of massive industrial developments, marine park sanctuaries and poorly planned offshore wind farms. Implemented sensibly we can easily have a healthy shared future, but without careful planning the risks are alarming. 

Concerningly, government is approving large-scale coastal industrial developments which wreak damage on the marine environment and seafood supply, while elsewhere fishers are arbitrarily excluded from key areas which remain plentiful after generations of careful fishing. 

As we all discovered during COVID closures, food security is critical to the people of our State.

Currently, 70% of seafood consumed in WA is imported frozen from often unsustainable, unethical or environmentally damaging sources.

Unless action is taken soon, Premier Roger Cook’s legacy may be to allow this imported figure to rise to 80% then 90% or more.

A proposed south coast marine park with oversized sanctuaries which exclude commercial and recreational fishing is the latest and most alarming threat to our local seafood industry.

Planning has been a complete fiasco, marked by a lack of scientific rigour, the exclusion of local voices and a long string of broken commitments.

The Government has outsourced its policy making to foreign eco-lobby groups like the US Pew Charitable Trusts, which is funded by overseas oil billionaires.

The south coast fishing community is not against marine parks with sensible sanctuary zones, so given no scientific rationale has ever been offered and the Government has been unable to deliver an agreed outcome, we have now developed a local plan which meets the community’s environmental expectations, while still retaining seafood supply.

Our proposal has been carefully curated using the unique knowledge of underwater habitats gained by fishers over many generations. It has also been independently assessed by leading scientists to ensure it addresses established marine park conservation planning principles.  

This is the first time in the world that a fishing community has proposed an enormous area of water for permanent exclusion.

Our plan offers 10.7% of the south coast marine park to be declared as permanent sanctuary zones. This is an area of 1,300 sq kms, equivalent in size to the Optus Stadium playing surface 60,000 times over.  

Combining our proposal with existing offshore Commonwealth marine sanctuaries will see sanctuaries equivalent to 3.3 million Optus Stadiums along the coast east of Bremer Bay.

Locking away 10.7% of state waters will still cause significant hardship to the fishing families and the communities which rely upon them – and it will affect fish supplies to the broader community – but we know that the community expects to see some sanctuary zones, and we respect this.

However, anything more than 10.7% would be absolutely devastating to towns like Esperance.

The supply of fresh local seafood to the WA public is central to the State’s cultural heritage and to deliver food security. Fishing is also a core part of our maritime history and the unique freedoms we value as West Australians.  Our farmers need to keep farming and our fishers need to keep fishing.

We offer an open invitation for the Premier to join us in Esperance at any time to listen to the proud, local commercial fishing families who are dedicated to supporting fresh local seafood supplies for the WA community, especially during the festive season. 

Darryl Hockey