Pen fee outrage

LOCAL fishers, charter operators and pleasure cruisers have reacted angrily to a “money grab” by the state government, which plans to double their mooring fees over the next five years.

Late last week registered boat owners were told by the Department of Transport their fees were going up by 10 per cent plus CPI this year. Similar increases are to be imposed in the next few years, which the department says will allow it to recoup the full cost of running boat harbours across the state.

Local cray fisherman Fedele Camarda says his small family operation was already hit with a 150 per cent fee increase last year because of an upgrade to Fishing Boat Harbour’s jetty 2, and the new fees are going to hurt.

“We are obviously very disappointed,” Mr Camarda told the Herald.

“This will push businesses over the edge.”

He says the first his family heard about the increases was reading it in the paper over the weekend, and if there was more advance warning they might have considered moving to a cheaper, older jetty. That would be a seismic shift; the Camardas have been tying up at pen 203 since the 1950s; Fedele’s father Jim taking over the lease from an uncle back in the ‘70s.

These days Fedele and his brother Joseph run the boat, each with a son as deckie.

Mr Camarda says there’s a misconception cray fishermen are floating in cash following a recent report about the flesh fetching $100 a kilo at market. But he says that was a fleeting boom in the off-season and within three days the price had dropped by 30 per cent.

“We do OK, but the costs are pretty high.”

• Cray fisherman Jim Camarda and his sons Fedele and Joseph on their boat Neptune 3. Photo by Harriet Burrows

Mr Camarda is also vice-president of the WA Fishers Federation and says he’s been fielding calls from fellow members groaning that the new fees will make it hard to survive.

A Freo local who’s got an interest in a charter boat but didn’t want to be named as the issue was getting a bit “political” says the timing from the McGowan government couldn’t be worse.

With the state’s tourism sector in the doldrums and fuel prices on the rise, he said the extra fees will be crippling for some operators.

“What will happen is it will destroy our charter boat industry,” he says.

Matt Howard from the Marine Tourism Association of WA told the Herald he’d only just got back from a trip and was just coming to grip with the news, but noted there hadn’t been much consultation before the announcement.

But the president of the Hillarys Boat Harbour Pen Holders Association, Evan MacRae, let rip in a letter to transport minister Rita Saffioti and her department.

“On behalf of the HBHPHA may I say we are absolutely gobsmacked by the magnitude of recently announced fee increases for 2018 – 2019 and beyond,” Mr MacRae wrote. “The reasons stated are that currently marine facilities are only recovering approximately 50 per cent of costs incurred.

“I would argue that the DoT is therefore excessively top heavy in management as other facilities run privately generate surpluses and maintain facilities whilst charging less for facilities than the WA state government.”

Mr MacRae says despite previous fee increases, facilities at Hillarys are in such disrepair that jetties are breaking away from their mountings.

Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt took a jab at the McGowan government after councils were told by local government minister David Templeman to “show some restraint” when they set rates this year.

“I appreciate they have to strike the right balance between keeping the fees affordable while also raising enough revenue to properly maintain these facilities, but I am concerned that these increases will make life harder for those Fremantle businesses that either use the boat pens directly or rely on the boating industry for their livelihood,” Dr Pettitt said.

“I’ve had operators contact me already concerned about the potential impacts on the viability of their businesses.”

by STEVE GRANT

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