23/07/2009 - 00:00

Lobster industry faces overhaul

23/07/2009 - 00:00

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THE state's iconic rock lobster industry faces a structural overhaul as the state government seeks to sustain future catches in the troubled sector, historically worth $300 million a year.

MANAGEMENT: Sustainability has been an ongoing problem for the lobster industry, which is worth $300 million to the state each year.

THE state's iconic rock lobster industry faces a structural overhaul as the state government seeks to sustain future catches in the troubled sector, historically worth $300 million a year.

Two government-commissioned reports concerned with the management of the sector are certain to be the focus of discussions at important industry talks in Fremantle late this week.

The release of the papers follows the state government decision earlier this year to place tight restrictions on commercial fishing of western rock lobsters mid-way through a season, which included a limit on the number of pots. The decision was made after a record low count of puerulus, or juvenile lobsters, which is an indicator of future catches.

Interested parties earlier this week suggested to WA Business News an overhaul of the highly valuable sector was certain, and that the new structure could be a quota management system (QMS), whereby limits are placed on how many kilograms of rock lobster a person can catch.

The current structure - an input control management system (ICMS) - seeks to control the industry through limiting the number of licences, pots and fishing days allowed to be used to catch lobsters.

Changes are expected to halve the annual catch from a long-term average of more than 10,000 tonnes, threatening jobs across the industry, including fishing fleets and lobster processors.

One of the Rock Lobster Industry Advisory Committee reports detailed suggestions for a quota system, arguing the new structure would provide better business security, as it would be easier to predict annual catches.

On the flip side, the committee said a new system would bring transition issues and result in a redistribution of income.

"The panel stressed that the issues involved in moving from an input-control system to a QMS are often considerable, particularly those issues that revolve around initial quota allocation," the report says.

"The panel also considered the time needed for moving from the current input-control system to a QMS and suggested that a period of two to three years from the time of the announcement of the move should be sufficient."

The QMS is widely touted as a way to reduce compliance costs, although the committee didn't necessarily agree.

"QMS is often no easier to administer than an input-control system - it's the type of administration that is needed that changes," the report says.

The committee said quota should be freely tradable within and between seasons and be able to be purchased or leased.

Opposition fisheries spokesman Jon Ford said he supported a quota management system and that there should be an adjustment package to help affected operators transition.

"It's inevitable and in fact good for the industry to go to quota," he said.

The other structure considered by the committee was an improved ICMS, which recommended changes to season dates, the restriction of pot lifts and adjustments to the number of fishing days.

A congress convened by industry group Western Rock Lobster Council meets on Friday.

The states have been grappling for some time over the best way to manage the sector, with tighter restrictions becoming the norm.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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