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Mark Pownall: Editorial

Chance move a good sign
IT is good to note that Fisheries Minister Kim Chance is taking a close interest in the rock lobster industry, one of our most successful niche exports.

The industry has been hit hard by SARS and there has been a lot of concern about the impact of prices that have plunged from $36 a kilogram at the start of the season to as little as $5 a kilogram according to some reports.

While SARS is tragic, it has not caused the problems in the rock lobster industry, just exposed them for all to see.

As I have stated before, those problems are structural and will not be solved under current circumstances. That is, a big number of fishermen committed to an industry through inefficient control mechanisms and an under-standable lifestyle distrusting a handful of processors in cutthroat competition with each other.

The current price might seem shocking but it was equally ridiculous at the start of the season when processors outbid each other to pay well over the odds – a price they will be paying for today.

Next year a record harvest of 14 million kilograms is forecast, a situation that could cause greater problems than this year even if SARS is behind us.

The point is the industry needs to change attitude if it is going to better survive the volatile times that hit commodity markets, even niche ones.

WA’s crayfish, the Western Rock Lobster, is regarded as the best on offer, yet the industry is still to band together to promote this to its key markets – Asian consumers.

Instead, they have a seasonal structure that ensures their overseas buyers (the middlemen) know when volume is coming, so they can play commodity suppliers off against each other.

I don’t suggest the government intervenes at any pricing level but it could certainly start getting these parties to talk together to ensure an industry-wide marketing strategy – as well as helping sell this concept to distrustful fishermen.

There is also the issue of the current management system that controls what equipment fishermen can use, rather than how much they can catch.

Of course, I am not an expert but I can assure you the experts are all talking about this – they just find it hard to say it in this competitive industry.

That is where government can play a role, by listening to sensible voices and guiding people towards common goals.

Yet another cowboy falls
SO “Waterwheel” John, Rene “The Pilot” Rivkin and the AMP gang have joined the One.Tel Twins, Ray “Hit ’im High” Williams and Rodney “The Kid” Adler with their reckless attitude to dealing with the investment community.

From my point of view, at least the cowboys have found their natural home in the east.

Let’s hope it stays that way.


Wood to speak

FAR from being a cowboy, Dr Fiona Wood is an example of something we do want in the West.

The only rules Dr Wood has broken are those unwritten ones that stipulate that WA, as an isolated outpost too far from anywhere to count, should not be allowed to lead the world in burns treatment.

She is speaking next week at a WA Business News breakfast – the first speaker we’ve had who has admitted that business was not really their first love. It was just something she had to learn about to make sure her research was being funded as well as it could be.

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