THE peak body for charter boat owners says huge increases in boat pen fees “could be the nail in the coffin” for businesses already struggling through a tourism downturn.
The WA Department of Transport recently told boaties it will double pen fees over the next five to seven years to cover the cost of maintaining harbours, with this year’s hit a hefty 10 per cent plus 1.5 per cent for CPI (“Pen fee outrage,” Herald, June 16, 2018).
The move was greeted with outrage by fishermen and private yacht owners.
Now Marine Tourism WA, which represents charter boat owners, has joined the chorus of complaints, with president Matt Howard saying his members are already struggling with rising costs and a depressed economy.
“Unlike the government, small business tourism charter boat operators do not have the luxury to just pass on these rising costs of 10 per cent a year to our customers; it’s a very competitive market like all tourism businesses are,” Mr Howard told the Herald.
“Combine these increases with the fact tourism charter fishing boats are not allowed to operate for two months of their peak season from October 15 to December 15 between Augusta and Shark Bay and it could be the nail in the coffin for some tourism businesses.”
Mr Howard says if pen fees are going up so steeply, they’d like to see something in return – or instead.
“Government department need to promote marine tourism/charter fishing/eco-boat sightseeing tours in the metro area and regional areas of WA.
“Also the lifting of the two-month fishing ban in peak tourism season for charter fishing businesses would assist immensely.”
Down at Fishing Boat Harbour, Albert Ter Horst and business partner/family friend Carl Richards have been trying to establish a charter business servicing Rottnest Island with their historic eco-yacht Tropic Rover and say the pen increases couldn’t have come at a worst time.
They’re confident they’ll be able to weather the storm themselves, but say they feel for the fishing families and other charter services they know are currently doing it tough.
“People have the wrong concept that everyone who owns a boat is a millionaire,” says Mr Ter Horst.
“We got a shock with the amount. Nobody knows about this stuff until it happens.”
Mr Ter Horst says the state’s tourism industry is at its lowest ebb in a decade, so the fee increase was adding salt to the wound for charter boat owners.
“There are charter boats doing dive charting, but guess what, no body wants to jump in the water anymore because there’s all this talk about sharks, so hang on, the guy still has to pay for the pen fee.”
Mr Richards says he sympathises with fishing families who have put everything they have into their boats.
“A lot of them it’s all they know. If their dad had a boat and they got into it, they’ve got their sons working for them and they’re not killing it, but it’s their livelihood and the best place they can have their boats, so they have to pay.”
by STEVE GRANT
and MOLLY SCHMIDT