Lobster men lobby for pots of money

THE hiatus between rock lobster fishing seasons is traditionally more than just a time to hang up the wellies or give the boat a fresh lick of paint.

It is a period of horse-trading and intrigue as processors try to lure new boats into the fold, offering a variety of incentives, from additional pots to cash.

This year, however, is more interesting than ever before.

The amount of activity among the pro-cessors can only be described as frenetic and many in the industry believe those jockeying for position are preparing for big changes in the intensely competitive sector – with rationalisation among the 26 processing licence-holders likely.

Fisheries WA is thought to favour a shift from input controls to output controls, basically creating a quota system that would be easier to manage and may result in more efficient use of the rock lobster resources.

There is much concern that this could significantly alter the culture of the industry, pushing out the smaller fishermen who have dominated the industry, often as shanty dwelling millionaires.

It is, though, not surprising that many on the processing side of the business are getting ready for this potential upheaval – which starts in a small way from July 1 next year when the 150-pot-per-boat rule is removed – following recommendations after a national competition review.

Few believe this will be the end of change. After dipping below $20,000 a couple of years ago, pot licences are understood to be selling for as much as $33,000, as industry players seek to take control of their destiny.

Pot licences are seen as critical for processors in attracting fishermen. In order to create throughput for their expensive factories, processors offer incentives to lock fishermen in as suppliers. Some will pay cash to have fishermen move across and many will pay bonuses after the next season has started to reduce defections; but offering to top up a fisherman’s pot holdings and therefore increase their boat’s earning power is seen as a powerful lure.

That is understood to have been the purpose of a $4.3 million private capital raising by small processor Cervantes Lobsters, which is believed to be following that with plans to list on the stock market.

Cervantes Lobsters is the trading name for Tarana Corporation Pty Ltd, a company with strong Singaporean and Malaysian links on its register.

A year ago, Cervantes Seafood Limited was established, with former State politician Barry MacKinnon and corporate adviser Anthony Ho installed as directors.

While Mr MacKinnon did not wish to comment on Cervantes Seafood’s plans, a spokesperson for the company said a float was planned for the near future, with a further $1.5 million in funds being sought from the market.

It is rare to see the private world of fishing exposed to the harsh light of the markets, and few have made the transition successfully.

The spokesperson said the funds were intended for vertical integration and there were plans for acquisition to improve the economies of scale of its core business.

Another focus of speculation in recent weeks has been Kailis & France-owned Lobster Australia, where former Bluewave chief Glen Bosman has confirmed he has taken a consulting role.

Bluewave president Vito Paparella confirmed the former Fremantle Fishermen’s Cooperative had filled the vacancy in-house, promoting Rob Rose to the position after a lengthy executive search by KPMG.

The departure of Mr Bosman, along with former Bluewave operations manager Steve Fairclough, has created significant interest because he had developed links with several industry investors during a failed attempt to raise about $5 million at the start of the year to pay for a new factory.

Mr Bosman was tight lipped about the depth of his involvement with Kailis & France, while Lobster Australia general manager and director Peter Fraser was also reticent to talk about Mr Bosman’s role at his company, except to deny that Lobster Australia was being prepared for sale.

“The situation is we are not for sale,” he said.

Mr Fraser said there had been confusion in the market since Kailis & France renamed its lobster division, but the company was planning to expand the lobster processor.

But the confusion may remain, with Mr Bosman being linked to two intriguing and vastly different players in the lobster business.

One is Tim Roberts, son of Multiplex construction magnate John Roberts. He holds a commercial fishing licence and has a reasonable investment in the fishing side of the industry, mainly up in the Abrolhos where those envious of his well-constructed fishing camp have dubbed it the Taj Mahal.

But Mr Bosman said his last contact with Mr Roberts had been several months ago and the construction executive was not a party to his current activity.

“He doesn’t factor into this,” he said.

Another figure linked to Mr Bosman is George Stavrinos, a big operator in New Zealand who has had considerable success in WA, winning over fishermen whose catch is processed through Bluewave’s operations.

Mr Stavrinos was coy about detailing his dealings in WA but denied he had any intention of ending his arrangement with Bluewave due to Mr Bosman’s departure.

“I stay as long as I am happy,” he said.

“I am very happy with the co-op at the moment.”

Mr Stavrinos said he controlled more than 1600 pots in WA but he had no plans to move into processing directly, after a failed attempt about eight years ago. He said he preferred a fleet management role.

Mr Stavrinos claimed his involvement in WA was simply to ensure that his customers – to whom he exports about 400 tonnes of live New Zealand lobster each year – were reliably supplied during the New Zealand off-season.

Mr Stavrinos’ activities, particularly in the northern fishery, are believed by many to have prodded WA’s biggest processor, Geraldton Fishermen’s Cooperative, into a recruitment drive in the southern region.

This is a controversial step that is expected to have significant repercussions. It is not known whether this move had anything to do with the departure last week of GFC general manager Derek Smith after two years at the helm.

GFC chairman John Newby confirmed Mr Smith had left the organisation but said it was too early to discuss the cooperative’s expansion plans.

“We are not in a position to make any commitment about whether we are going to go south at this stage,” Mr Newby said.

Add your comment

BNIQ sponsored byECU School of Business and Law


6th-Australian Institute of Management WA20,000
7th-Murdoch University16,584
8th-South Regional TAFE10,549
9th-Central Regional TAFE10,000
10th-The University of Notre Dame Australia6,708
47 tertiary education & training providers ranked by total number of students in WA

Number of Employees

BNiQ Disclaimer