Fishing reform

THE commercial fishing industry is heading for its biggest reform for years, following the announcement of the state government’s $24,5 million Marine Scalefish Fishery reform package.

The package, that will be fully implemented by July 1, 2021, includes the introduction of four regional fisheries management zones and a total allowable commercial catch for priority species (including key species of snapper, southern garfish and calamari, and King George whiting), an allocated quota to fishers to manage commercial catch limits, cap fee increases for four years, cutting fishing red tape, and a voluntary buyback of up to 150 commercial longline, line and net fishing licences.

The Marine Fishers Association (MFA), which represents the interests of more than 300 commercial local fishers in the state, responded ‘with trepidation’ to Minister Tim Whetstone’s announcement of the reform package, but said it ended more than two decades of uncertainty for the industry.

Port Wakefield fisherman, Bart Butson, welcomed this reform announcement saying it was a step in the right direction and was ‘cautiously hopeful’ of the package, but was waiting on further details.

“We’ve had lots of small adjustments to fisheries in the state over the years, but it needed an overhaul not just tweaking,” Bart said.

“Sweeping reforms are needed, as government reports have shown around 75 per cent of the state’s marine scale fishermen aren’t financially viable, so we are trusting the government will work with all stakeholders in the industry.”

Mr Butson, who has been part of two committees over the past six years that fed into this reform, said the government is obliged to make changes for sustainability of fishing zones, that are ‘public resources.’

“It has been an exhaustive process, with the consultation program made up of fishers, economic experts, scientists, fisheries management,” he said.

While Mr Butson hopes more information will come to hand shortly, up to 150 licences have been offered to participate in the ‘buyback’, starting on Monday, May 25.

“The government has been lobbied to provide money for the exiting of the industry, and each licence will be assessed on its own merits, but I think this will be the last buyback for marine scale fisheries,” he said.

“For those who stay, an allocation panel will determine a method of quota allocation for each species, and each fishing business will then have to adjust their catch to suit their business needs.”

“We need to protect the industry, particularly the four key species as they are bearing the brunt of the fishing pressure, an example of such pressure resulted in an unprecedented three-year snapper ban.”

“We need to make a living but also protect stock, and in the past, there were probably too many fishing licences.”

“I’m hoping the remaining businesses can thrive, reduce red tape, and know absolute sustainability of the fisheries is safe.”

Graham Harrowfield, chairman of the MFA and an industry veteran, also noted the lack of detail in the reform package.

“Licence holders are being asked to make decisions about their future and whether they will participate in the licence buy back without any knowledge of proposed levels of allowable catch or the impacts of the recreational catch,” he said.

Acting CEO of the MFA, Dr Gary Morgan, said an urgent reform of the recreational sector was also required, along with PIRSA who collects funds from the industry through licence fees to fully fund their fisheries research and management activities.

“The current reform package does not include a cap on recreational fisher’s catches, only commercial catches, and without a cap on recreational catches, the current reform package is a huge step backwards from that proposed 30 years ago and will do little to ensure the long-term sustainability of fish stocks,” he said.

Mr Butson said recreational fishing surveys are periodically undertaken, but there could always be ‘more data’ on this.

“I know fishers are anxious about the reform, but hopefully it can provide an assured system of fisheries management,” Bart said.

“We want fish and fishermen to live in harmony.”