This week’s THINKING ALLOWED is by JAMES PARATORE, a second-generation rock lobster fisherman whose family have operated out of Fremantle Port since the 1960s. He is concerned about the state government’s plan to nationalise 17.3 per cent of the Western Rock Lobster Fishery.
WE have been operating a small family fishing vessel from the beautiful port of Fremantle since the 1960’s.
With the imminent arrival of the third generation (baby on the way), we reflect upon the implications of this callous announcement on the fishing families that are part of the backbone of Fremantle’s society.
Ten years ago the Western Rock Lobster Fishery faced the greatest challenge the industry had even seen.
The fishery was in collapse, suffering from an unforeseen environmentally driven event.
This challenge was met by major changes, at a high cost to fishers.
Halving the long-term catch and an introduction of quota management saw fleet rationalisation with many long-term participants being forced to sell out.
No substantive government subsidies or assistance were provided. We were on our own.
In the wake of this turmoil, the industry began to rebound. Firstly, from the benefits of a gradual increase in stock abundance from reduced fishing “effort”.
Secondly, from a growth in demand from China. The industry is now worth over $450 million and Australia’s most valuable fishery.
With this recent success came increased confidence and investment by the remaining small family fishing businesses as they looked to their future.
Responsible and conservative commercial catch settings supported by the industry have led to major wins by recreational fishers with many now “bagging” their limits.
So it is with horror that we look upon the recent government announcement to effectively undo all of this.
We ask why the government is hell bent on increasing catch levels so it can issue itself new units into a limited entry fishery. The government’s more aggressive and risky approach to the lobster fishery will make it harder for all of us to catch lobster, whether recreational or commercial. Their policy risks the long-term economic and ecological sustainability of the resource (including an increase in our carbon footprint and whale entanglements).
And worst of all, the government is opening up the sale of rights to overseas interests.
How could the government be so poorly advised on the largest single policy change to affect the Western Rock Lobster Fishery?
Perhaps the answer revolves around the lack of consultation and due process – industry has been left in the dark.
The government has apparently decided it knows all the future consequences of its actions, without speaking to those closest to the fishery. And it is not just rock lobster that has been affected. The policy change has the universal condemnation of the entire Australian fishing industry. The eyes of the world are watching us.
How can the “world’s best managed fishery” unravel into a candidate for the worst managed in such a short space of time?
The Marine Stewardship Council, our independent sustainability certifier, is on notice.
Our fishing families are part of the social fabric of the Fremantle community, and we ask for the community’s support as the “voice of reason” to get ministers Dave Kelly and Simone McGurk back to the negotiating table with industry, in meaningful and proper consultation, so that we can get the best outcome for the fishery, the industry and the community.