Rock lobster fishers fear for their futures amid sweeping changes to WA industry
Geraldton fisherman Jake Suckling says he is concerned for his 19-month-old son Hale’s future. (ABC News: Chris Lewis)
Western Australia’s lucrative rock lobster fishery has already lost value due to uncertainty over the Government’s proposed industry shake-up, fishermen have argued.
- The WA Government is planning a phased increase to commercial rock lobster quotas
- Fishermen fear the shake-up could lead to a possible glut and more changes
- There has also been a dispute over who is consulting industry on the plan
Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly announced sweeping changes to the industry in early December, which included a phased increase to commercial quotas for the lucrative western rock lobster.
The changes will see the current total allowable commercial catch increased from 6,300 tonnes to 8,000 tonnes.
But as part of the move the Government will directly control 1,385 tonnes — or more than 17 per cent — of the catch.
Rock lobster fishers claim the planned changes, which are yet to come into effect, have already cut the value of their pots, and they fear further falls if the proposal goes ahead.
Geraldton fisherman Jake Suckling downsized his boat prior to the decision to free up capital to buy more pots. It is a decision he is now questioning.
“We recently just purchased 25 A-zone pots in the industry [and] we stand to lose a million dollars overnight if this is implemented,” he said.
“It’s also very nerve-wracking for the two guys I employ. They’re family people and their jobs aren’t safe at the moment.
“They’re good friends and it’s a bit scary.”
Mr Suckling said the changes could lead to a possible glut that would not only damage the value of the pots, but also the catch.
There are also concerns the Government could expand its plan down the track, sending jitters through the banks, with some reportedly already hesitant to lend money to rock lobster fishers amid the uncertainty.
“It’s very hard to borrow against something that is so risky especially now it’s known the Government can just create pots, which is totally against what a limited fishery is,” he said.
“The loss of value is a very concerning one because that’s what we borrow against, without borrowing we can’t go ahead.
“We’ve got a young son here who we are hoping will fish one day as I did for my family.
“It just makes it very concerning for his future.”
Mr Suckling says it is also a nerve-wracking time for the people he employs. (ABC News: Chris Lewis)
Boat builders also feeling the pinch
It is not just the rock lobster fishers feeling the pinch.
Geraldton boat builder Peter Ellis from Xtreme Marine said he had seen many ups and downs during his 37 years in the industry, but this was one of the lowest points.
“This decision has cost us a contract worth $3 million,” he said of the Government’s proposal.
“It was a 10-month job which would have engaged over 30 contractors and local people around town, and a lot of suppliers local and state.
“We had 2019 already planned out and now we’ve got nothing after March.”
Mr Ellis said the effects of the proposal would be felt across the Geraldton business community.
“There’s so many people that rely on the industry and make a living out of the industry,” he said.
“The service providers, the product suppliers, there’s so many businesses in town that rely on fishing and most of the small towns up and down the coast rely on the fishing.”
Consultation confusion muddies the water
The industry wants more time to air its concerns about the plan, which it claims is integral to ensuring the sector — WA’s most valuable fishery — remains viable.
A consultation period over the lobster fishery changes will end later this month. (Supplied: WA Fisheries)
However, an issue making the stoush even messier has been the recent dispute over who is responsible for consulting industry on the changes.
The Western Rock Lobster Council (WRLC) told ABC Rural it had only found out last week — halfway through the consultation period — that it should be leading and facilitating on behalf its members.
WRLC CEO Matt Taylor said the council found out after it made contact with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development to ask why the draft management plan amendment was not on its website.
“I would have thought that if a department truly wanted to get feedback on what it was proposing that it would very openly put it on its website and seek public comment,” Mr Taylor said.
“But it seems like they have sort of supplied it to us, not told us it was our responsibility and done it over a festive season.
“You know it’s a pretty good plan if you were trying to minimise the feedback.”
Dave Kelly says the WRLC is “well aware” it should’ve been facilitating the consultation. (ABC News: James Carmody)
But Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly said he could not understand how the council did not know that facilitating the consultation was its responsibility.
“That’s their job,” he said.
“They are paid by the Government to facilitate industry consultation so they were perfectly well aware that that was their role, because that’s always been the role of the Western Rock Lobster Council.”
Consultation will finish at the end of this month with the Government showing no signs of backing down on its plans.