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Exports of western rock lobster are worth between $400 million and $500 million a year.

Craying foul: fishing sector pays for past policy mistakes

Opinion: Upheaval in a key fishing resource highlights how policymakers need to build flexibility into their approach to regulating industries from the start.

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The idea of a time limit on state licences, balanced with enough time to allow private capital to invest, is a bit like communism – great in theory but not workable due to human behaviour, as has been shown by the government's announcement to take a portion of an established industry. For private capital to invest it needs the security of tenure; a farmer establishing a new farm would invest little if his title were to expire. If the state believes it has a right to take revenue from licences created, then the simple form is a form of income tax to levy the industry. That way the state shares in any upside and collects nothing when the industry is not making profits. I have worked in the rock lobster industry and others and have seen many new ventures (eg swimmer crabs north of Carnarvon, deep sea crabs Geraldton to Carnarvon) undertaken by private capital. Significant sums were invested, most failed, some had success. Private capital needs the successful ventures to fund the failures. Another interesting point that has not been heard in this debate is the rock lobster industry is self funded – the state contributes nothing to running the industry. The annual fees collected by the state cover all costs. Not sure many other industries can say the same.

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