Bumper lobster season unlikely

WA’S lobster season opened yesterday, with fishermen preparing for a tougher season after the recent record haul in what is considered Australia’s most valuable fishery.

For the State’s 596-strong fleet, the 1999-2000 season amounted to a bumper 14,000 tonnes, a record catch which is unlikely to be beaten this year which has a forecast 11-12,000 tonnes.

Largely export-based, lobster was worth about $370 million to WA for the year ending June 30.

The WA Fishing Industry Council played down any concerns about the lower expectations because forecasting meant fishermen had been well warned about last season’s windfall and this year’s fall.

“It’s still going to be a very good year and we expect to generate around $320 million in export income,” WAFIC chief executive Brett McCallum said.

“The other good news is that our research shows significant increases have been achieved in the breeding stocks which is the basis of a sustainable fishery.”

Western Rock Lobster Development Group chairman Tony Gibson said beach prices were expected to be around $27-$28kg, bettering last year’s prices.

Mr Gibson said some rival regions such as New Zealand and Mexico were experiencing big falls in catch levels and buyers would look for alternatives even though the varieties were different.

In addition, inventory levels are down in major markets such as Japan and Taiwan, opening the opportunity for a price increase early next year as Chinese New Year celebrations generate high consumption.

But there were a few issues, which could disrupt the season’s buoyant outlook.

“While we have the expectation of a good start there is a big unknown,” Mr Gibson said.

“There is general disquiet that a change of government in the US would flow on to interest rates and tighten the US economy.”

“That would impact us.”

Mr Gibson said WRLDG would continue to publicise catch forecasts, despite some criticism from industry members.

“We have adopted the attitude that an informed market is a good market.”

“In the longer term if they (buyers) know what our catch patterns are they can gear their sales and marketing accordingly.”

Fremantle Fishermen’s Cooperative president Vito Paparella added that the even the minimum expectation this year

was above the average catch of 10,500 tonnes.

Mr Paparella said that the industry was prepared for seasonal variations and expected another record haul within a few seasons.

“The reason this industry is in such good shape is because of the department (Fisheries WA) and because fishermen are not what people perceive – we have embraced change,” he said.

Mr Paparella heads one of the largest processors in WA which has itself had to embrace change after a tough restructuring about five years ago.

He said the cooperative would continue to assess the viability of constructing a new facility after declaring an ex gratia payment which largely matched that of other southern fishery processors.

“There is no reason to build it today or this month. The best thing about a strategic plan is it is not set in concrete,” he said.

Rivals Lobster Australia and Kailis Bros did not respond to Business News’s efforts to confirm their bonus payment arrangements.

Northern fishery player MG Kailis paid a bonus of $1.50kg on its 1750 tonne production.

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