18/01/2019 - 15:27

Report reveals further details of Kelly, fishermen's feud

18/01/2019 - 15:27

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Lobsters were sold for as little as $30 per kilogram under an initiative to encourage domestic supply, according to an unpublished government report which found the Local Lobster Program at least partially met two major objectives but also raised numerous concerns.

Report reveals further details of Kelly, fishermen's feud
The state government argues the existing program for domestic lobster reservation is ineffective. Photo: WAFIC

Lobsters were sold for as little as $30 per kilogram under an initiative to encourage domestic supply, according to a draft government report which found the Local Lobster Program at least partially met two major objectives but also raised numerous concerns.

The state government reviewed the Local Lobster Program, a mechanism to supply lobsters into the Western Australian market, in November.

That was just a few weeks before Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly announced an increase in the output cap of the Western Rock Lobster fishery, from 6,300 tonnes to 8,000t.

Roughly 17 per cent of the new total is to be allocated by the state into a domestic reservation scheme.

The November report, sighted by Business News, said the average price of local lobster during the program had been $30 to $34 per kilogram, much lower than the beach price for exported lobsters of $63/kg.

That meant one of the three major objectives of the program, to ‘improve affordability and supply of lobsters in the local market’, had been met, according to the report.

Another objective, to ‘increase opportunity for residents and visitors in regional towns having access to fresh lobster’, was partially met, the report said.

The department was unable to assess a third objective, ‘boosting tourism and regional development’.

But the report also had concerns about the program.

“Benefits to the state from the program (such as increased employment) have been negligible, given the temporary nature of the program,” the report said.

“Given the administrative arrangements, there has been very little additional revenue to the department from the program, and the costs of supplying the tags and administering the program have to date been borne by the department.

“The administrative costs of the Local Lobster Program have been relatively high.

“The program required the development of a separate quota management system to be implemented and managed.   

“The administration was labour intensive, particularly in relation to tag allocation and acquittal and the separate, paper based catch reporting mechanism, with associated manual data entry.”

The state had nonetheless approved a fourth phase of the program from December 1 last year to April 30.

The Western Rock Lobster Council had been urging an increase in the number of tags available in the program, from 50 per vessel to 200.

Personal consumption

Earlier today, Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly had said the review had found the program too small and inaccessible.

Mr Kelly expressed concern that a big slice of the lobsters tagged under the program had been consumed by fishermen themselves.

Crayfishers must report through the program who buys or eats a lobster, and the government’s numbers show 27 per cent had been used for personal consumption in the first phase, 25 per cent in phase two, and 12 per cent in phase three.

The data shows up to 33 per cent of the third phase went to restaurants, or roughly 2,500 lobsters.

"More rock lobster for WA means more jobs and opportunities for locals, especially in our tourism and hospitality sectors,” Mr Kelly said in a release today.

"The previous government's Local Lobster Program has not achieved its objectives.

"This is because at the time the program was introduced in 2016, no rules were set to ensure everyday Western Australians had the opportunity to access the lobster.

"A review found that in the first two years of the program, more than one quarter of the lobsters that were reserved for Western Australians were actually kept by the fishers themselves.

"At about 15 tonnes per year, the review found the Local Lobster Program is too small and too inaccessible to the local public or local restaurants.

"While the McGowan government has introduced a number of new rules to ensure the Local Lobster Program was more effective in providing lobsters to Western Australians, we believe more can be done."

But sources within the industry say the high level of personal consumption simply reflected a laxity among fishers to properly record where lobsters were sold.

Smokescreen

Masterclass Nautical owner Roger King, also the spokesperson for Fishing Families WA, said the industry had long been advocating changes to the Local Lobster Program.

“(Mr Kelly has) got a report that no-one else has ever seen saying the Local Lobster Program is a failure,” Mr King said.

“Newsflash, we already know that, we’ve been asking the government for 16 months to work with us to get a program together to get more lobster into the local market, that's an industry initiative.

“His cheap cray mantra is a thin veneer and a smokescreen for what his real agenda is, which is to grab 17 per cent of the fishery because it's doing well.

“We’d love to supply more lobster locally but the red tape put in place … is preventing that.

“You don't need to grab 17 per cent of the fishery to increase local supply, that can happen anyway by reducing red tape.”

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