Lobster grab hit to local economy

• Seafood Industry Australia CEO Jane Lovell addresses the “tipping point” meeting in Fremantle on Monday.

THE McGowan government’s mooted privatisation of part of WA’s lobster fishery may have already impacted the local economy, says the industry’s peak body.

Western Rock Lobster CEO Matt Taylor, a former Liberal politician, told the Herald after a national “crisis” meeting in Fremantle on Monday that the port city would be among the hardest hit because of its large number of small operators.

“There have been cases where people have cancelled new boat orders and some are unclear on whether they will even be going fishing because of the uncertainty,” Mr Taylor said.

“We are seen as a wealthy industry, but same as any industry, there are some who have been operating for a number of years and have developed their capital, but there’s also a huge tail of smaller operators, some who even have other jobs.”

Mr Taylor said the local issue had resonated with fishers from across the country, many struggling with their own access to resources.

“As this meeting has pointed out, it’s not just about the western rock lobster industry, it’s a dangerous precedent for the state of fisheries across Australia.

“This is no different to the WA government going to BHP or Rio Tinto and saying ‘hey guys, we now own 17 per cent of your operations and we are going to determine who you sell to and how much you’re going to sell it for’.”

Mr Taylor said local fishers’ biggest concern was the dilution of the industry’s asset value, which he says is worth between $5b and $6b.

“This political interference has the potential to destroy confidence in the industry.

“Without resource rights the industry relies on confidence and that impacts on increased risk, which can then affect the interest rates from the banks.

“The government should exist to support industry, not undermine it,” Mr Taylor said.

He says WRL had offered to increase the amount of lobster available at local markets and through local festivals such as the Blessing of the Fleet, through a four-phase plan presented to the government 17 months ago.

He says that was ignored by fisheries minister Dave Kelly, and the industry believes that’s because he was already working on his privatisation ban.

Local fisher Fedele Camarda says many lobster fishers are already on the margins because of the high price they pay to lease pots.

“The people that make money are the investors who don’t put a foot in the water; who own a lot of pots and the sit at home and don’t go out on a boat,” Mr Camarda said.

He was critical of how Mr Kelly was trying to sell his plan.

“He is painting us as a bunch of greedy pigs, and we are just doing what we have always done–fishing sustainably and only taking what we need,” he said.

Seafood Industry Australia organised this week’s meeting in Fremantle, calling it “Tipping Point” because of increasing uncertainty.

“What we have seen happen in Western Australia with regard to Western Rock Lobster and the McGowan government’s move to issue licenses to itself, is unprecedented, we believe illegal and condemned by representatives at today’s meeting,” CEO Jane Lovell said.

Mr Taylor said the meeting came out with an agreement to look at the differing rules across the various fisheries around the country to see if there were similarities that could be used to create a national fight against government intervention.

Backing away

WA premier Mark McGowan was reported this week as backing away from the privatisation after saying state ownership of pots was not as important a focus as increasing the availability of lobsters at local markets.

by STEVE GRANT

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