10/12/2018 - 15:59

Lobster intervention a spiny issue

10/12/2018 - 15:59

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The state government has assured fishing industry representatives it has no plans to change how it determines catch limits across the sector after a surprise move last week to create, and take control of, new licences for local lobsters.

The rock lobster sector is estimated to be worth half a billion annually to WA.

The state government has assured fishing industry representatives it has no plans to change how it determines catch limits across the sector after a surprise move last week to create, and take control of, new licences for local lobsters.

It comes after a decision by Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly on Friday to raise the Western Rock Lobster catch limit by 1,700 tonnes to be 8,000t per annum, with the government to command about 80 per cent of the additional capacity.

That sparked concerns among commercial anglers of sovereign risk issues and property rights infringement.

The complaints were twofold.

The first was that the state government was taking a stake in the fishery, according to Western Australian Fishing Industry Council Inc chair Ron Edwards, which he said was a serious attack on access rights.

The second was that some industry figures believed it marked a shift away from setting capacity at the maximum economic yield, accepted as the most economically efficient level, towards a policy based on maximum sustainable yield.

Mr Edwards told Business News he had received assurances today that the existing economic yield principle would continue to be in place for other parts of the fishing sector.

“(The change) will be quarantined to rock lobster,” he said

“I’m pleased that the minister understands that the knock on effects from the lobster decision would be challenging for the rest of fisheries if that were (not) to be the case… there'd be some fisheries in which investors would begin to worry about the future management of the fishery.

Mr Kelly told Business News no changes would be made to other commercial fisheries, and that the new policy did not reflect a move to sustainable yield.

“We haven’t moved to the maximum sustainable yield, which is approximately 10,000t,” he said.

“The move to 8,000 is a conservative figure and the catch will only be increased gradually over the next five years, subject to ongoing scientific reviews.

“There will be no other similar changes made in any Western Australian commercial fishery.

“This is a lobster specific development plan in response to unique circumstances in that fishery.

“An ACIL Allen report commissioned by the Western Rock Lobster Council validated a commercial catch of 8,000t as a legitimate development scenario.”

In a release on Friday, Mr Kelly said the lobster fishery was a community owned resource.

“Existing operators in the industry fish about 80 per cent of the sustainable catch, leaving 20 per cent of this community-owned resource currently unfished,” he said.

“I appreciate that the existing fishers would prefer to be granted free ownership of the additional 1,700t of commercial lobster catch.

“Sharing the new tonnage - 315 to existing fishers and 1,385 to the state government on behalf of the Western Australian people - is a fair result.”

The extra catch would increase supply for locals and tourists, Mr Kelly said, with about 95 per cent of the existing catch exported.

New units would be transacted by the government to meet specific targets, and are to be released over five years.

WAFIC’s Mr Edwards said concerns about the impact on the lobster sector would continue, however.

“Industry appreciates certainty in the rulesb... (investors) need to know that the rules are not going to be changing quickly overnight,” he said.

It would risk market stability and the security of property rights, Mr Edwards said.

Rock-star lobsters

On Friday, Mr Kelly said the changes to the lobster catch limit were part of a broader plan to double the value of the industry to $1 billion by 2028.

Additional components of the plan included $27.5 million over five years to establish a new body corporate for the sector, an Institute for Spiny Lobster Research and an Asia-Pacific lobster festival.

Tourism Council WA chief executive Evan Hall backed the plan as a way to attract seafood lovers to the state.

He said lobster tourism would deliver better economic outcomes and more jobs to Western Australia than selling rock lobsters on the export market alone.

“The most valuable rock lobster is the one a tourist has spent thousands of dollars travelling in WA to catch themselves or eat fresh while visiting our amazing coast,” Mr Hall said.

“It is better for our economy that we bring the international lobster foodie to WA, rather than just take the lobster overseas.

“Premium seafood experiences are particularly valuable in attracting lucrative Asian markets, especially China, as visitors from that region love unique seafood and will spend around $5,000 per trip in Western Australia.”

Strzelecki Group, which operates tourist precincts including Hillarys Boat Harbour, was also pleased with the change, according to chairman Greg Poland.

“Premium seafood, especially WA crayfish, is a major drawcard for lucrative Asian markets, especially for Chinese tourists who make up the fastest growing international sector - but supplies to the local market are currently restricted,” Mr Poland said.

“West Australians are faced with eating imported crayfish from Queensland, Chile and even Canada, because there is not enough local supply.”

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