23/05/2019 - 17:00

Kelly’s lobster deal sinks

23/05/2019 - 17:00

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The fishing industry says it is disappointed by the state government's backdown on a local lobster supply deal, with a planned international lobster festival to be one of the casualties.

Kelly’s lobster deal sinks
Rock lobster fishers were locked in a heated dispute with the state government earlier this year. Photo: Supplied

The fishing industry says it is disappointed by the state government's backdown on a local lobster supply deal, with a planned international lobster festival to be one of the casualties.

Negotiations to increase the state lobster catch by 315 tonnes broke down earlier this week, Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly said yesterday.

Geraldton Fishermen’s Cooperative chief executive Matt Rutter said the business was disappointed that Mr Kelly had blamed industry for rejecting proposals.

“GFC, and the industry as a whole, has always been supportive of working with government and other sectors to grow the local market for lobster and we clearly stated as much in our recent open letter to the (Western Rock Lobster Council) and government," he said.

“In that letter, we also outlined some of the challenges we saw with a domestic scheme and proposed a process by which to address those challenges."

Mr Rutter said the council and the government had developed a draft deal, but legitimate industry concerns needed to be worked through.

“The feedback from the fishery should not have been terminal to the whole process and it was certainly not presented to the government as such," he said.

"It was our belief that industry consultation was simply an essential step in the process of the government and fishery working together towards a common goal.”

Western Rock Lobster Council chief executive Matt Taylor said the relationship between the council and government had been damaged by a policy change attempted over summer.

“It is disappointing government have ceased discussions but industry remains committed to establishing a pragmatic and sensible solution for delivering more local lobster onto the domestic market,” he said.

“Industry are supportive of an enhanced local lobster program and recognise this will boost lobster related tourism and hospitality in Western Australia.”

Earlier

Mr Kelly said the Western Rock Lobster Council had advised the state it could not agree on a mechanism to deliver the extra catch.

It comes after Mr Kelly and the council had been locked in a tense dispute over summer, with the government planning to lift the state’s lobster catch substantially and choose the mechanism to allocate the permits.

A truce was called in February, when both parties agreed to increase the permits by 315t annually, much less than the 1,700t initially proposed.

Final details were to be arranged by March, but after two proposals were drafted, Mr Kelly said industry had rejected them.

"It is regrettable that the industry has walked away from the agreement it reached with the government to significantly increase the amount of lobster available for the local market,” Mr Kelly said.

"The government's revised plan, endorsed by the Western Rock Lobster Council in February, would have seen no reduction in lobster exports but a threefold increase in domestic supply.

"More lobster for the local market would mean more Western Australians could enjoy this iconic WA seafood.

“It would also be a huge boon for our tourism and hospitality industries.

"In recent discussions with the Western Rock Lobster Council, the government had agreed to a number of compromises designed to protect the interests of existing lobster fishers.

"These included a gradual increase in domestic supply over three years instead of one, annual reviews of pricing and supply chains, and granting all existing lobster fishers a pro rata share of the domestic catch.

"Despite these concessions, the Western Rock Lobster Council rejected two mechanisms for delivering the increased lobster supplies for WA and the proposed international lobster festival after consulting with their members.

"Unfortunately, this means almost all of WA's lobster catch will continue to be exported.

"You can't run a lobster festival without industry support, so the proposed international lobster festival will no longer proceed."

In a letter to members yesterday, Western Rock Lobster Council chairman Terry Lissiman said a survey of the industry had not supported the draft compact the government had proposed.

Feedback from the industry had called for two main changes, he said.

“Industry demands that secure resource rights are guaranteed before industry can agree on a local lobster supply trial,” Mr Lissiman said.

“(And industry wants) the establishment of an expert working group to commence designing a local lobster supply trial, with membership identified and agreed by industry.

“This working group is to be clear and transparent and running parallel to the (existing) premier’s taskforce.”

The draft document, sighted by Business News, showed that the domestic catch target had been dropped further to 275t annually, or 550,000 lobsters.

That would be through consigning supply to registered receivers and continuing the existing tag program.

“The ratio of bulk versus tagged lobster is to be advised by the working group and subject to review by the Independent panel," the report said.

“The first phase will be in place for the 2019-20 summer period, with an intention to at least double the volume of local supply for this period – to between 100t and 130t.

“This will allow more local lobsters to be available for the Christmas 2019 peak period.

“Subject to market demand, the volume of local supply will be further increased through a second phase to approximately 130-200t for the 2020-21 season, and up to 275t as a third phase for the 2021-22 season.

“The phased nature of the trial recognises the need for industry to develop supply chains and ensure appropriate key performance indicators are being met.”

Tourism Council WA was disappointed the fishing industry has not reached agreement, chief executive Evan Hall said.

“Today’s announcement is a lost opportunity for regional tourism and job creation,” he said.

“A small, sustainable increase in the availability of lobsters would have provided for new marine tourism experiences along the coast of WA.”

Mr Hall said it was difficult to use lobsters to lure visitors to regional WA if there wasn’t a sufficient allocation for charter tours or restaurants.

“The proposed lobster festival would have been a great drawcard, enticing locals and out-of-state visitors to Fremantle, Mandurah, Geraldton and other regional destinations in WA,” he said.

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