30/07/2009 - 00:00

Fishermen’s puerulus fight

30/07/2009 - 00:00

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IN a packed room at Fremantle Sailing Club last week, 200 people with a stake in the future of Western Australia's rock lobster industry all agreed further catch restrictions would cause considerable pain.

IN a packed room at Fremantle Sailing Club last week, 200 people with a stake in the future of Western Australia's rock lobster industry all agreed further catch restrictions would cause considerable pain. They disagreed on everything else.

In one corner, state government representatives and various industry participants were convinced an unprecedented low count of puerulus, or juvenile lobsters, means strict limits needed to be implemented to protect the industry.

In the other corner, a vocal group of fishermen and industry backed by political voices such as Fremantle mayor Peter Tagliaferri, rebutted the science being used to more than halve the harvest from its long-term average of 11,000 tonnes to 5,000t.

Dexter Davies of the Western Rock Lobster Council welcomed guests to the two-day conference on Friday morning, after earlier quipping he would wear a flak jacket to the event. He handed over proceedings to Fisheries Minister Norman Moore, who was bold in front of the divided crowd.

"We'd rather have you singing our praises than writing us nasty letters. Hard decisions were called for and hard decisions were made," Mr Moore told attendees, concerning restrictions made midway through last season.

"Some of you will reject any attempt to reduce fishing."

Mr Moore, who reminded the fishermen no-one questioned the science during record catch years, was relatively well received. Or perhaps the crowd hadn't warmed up yet.

Department of Fisheries chief executive Stuart Smith took the microphone, and soon became the most unpopular man in the room.

"In the next few years it's going to get more difficult," Mr Smith said, attracting comments from the crowd. "We believe we're going to have to reduce it further in the couple of years after that."

One fisherman called out: "I think we've had enough." Another said: "Hurry up."

With the price of boats and pots ravaged in recent years, and debts and repayments piling up, all agreed the restrictions would put many out of business.

Mr Moore is considering implementing a three-day fishing week and a substantial cut in lobster pot numbers, with a decision due in August or September. He said the federal government should consider emergency payments for rock lobster fisherman forced out of the industry.

Fremantle fisherman Carlos Salvador Jnr, who has just invested $60,000 in equipment along with his father, said the restrictions would make life very difficult to run a business.

"We'll have four days off a week to find a new deck hand," Mr Salvador said.

Carlos Salvador Snr asked WA Business News: "Where am I going to get a job at 60 years old?"

Fishermen like the Salvadors say there are breeding stock in the water not taken into account by the puerulus count.

Mr Tagliaferri fully supports the Fremantle fishermen.

"The science isn't stacking up and that's what they are saying," he said.

American scientist Walter Stark argued more data needed to be collected before such restrictions were put in place, warning the limits would lead to severe hardship on communities.

He said the banks would pull their loans and the industry risked being handed over to financial interests.

"It's going to push a lot of fishermen over the line," he said.

About a quarter of the 200 attendees gave the scientist a standing ovation

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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