Rock lobster local supply plan in disarray

Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly says almost all of WA's lobster catch will continue to be exported after negotiations between the McGowan Government and WRL broke down. Picture: DPIRD

THE McGowan Government and the state’s rock lobster fishers seem as far away as ever with the government claiming this week the industry had walked away from an agreement reached in February.

But the Western Rock Lobster council (WRL) immediately hit back saying it had not walked away but had put forward recommendations of their own after receiving strong feedback from council members.

On Thursday, May 23 Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly said it was regrettable the industry had walked away from the agreement it reached with the government to significantly increase the amount of lobster available for the local market.

“The government’s revised plan, endorsed by the Western Rock Lobster council in February, would have seen no reduction in lobster exports but a threefold increase in domestic supply,’’ he said.

“More lobster for the local market would mean more Western Australians could enjoy this iconic WA seafood.

“It would also be a huge boon for our tourism and hospitality industries.

“In recent discussions with the Western Rock Lobster council, the government had agreed to a number of compromises designed to protect the interests of existing lobster fishers.

“These included a gradual increase in domestic supply over three years instead of one, annual reviews of pricing and supply chains, and granting all existing lobster fishers a pro rata share of the domestic catch.

“Despite these concessions, the Western Rock Lobster council rejected two mechanisms for delivering the increased lobster supplies for WA and the proposed international lobster festival after consulting with their members.

“Unfortunately, this means almost all of WA’s lobster catch will continue to be exported.

“You can’t run a lobster festival without industry support, so the proposed international lobster festival will no longer proceed.”

But WRL chief executive officer Matt Taylor said the council was surprised the government had cancelled the festival, the local lobster supply trial discussions and the Premiers Taskforce which was established to address resource access security.

“It is disappointing government have ceased discussions but industry remains committed to establishing a pragmatic and sensible solution for delivering more local lobster onto the domestic market,” he said.

“Industry are supportive of an enhanced local lobster program and recognise this will boost lobster related tourism and hospitality in Western Australia.”

Mr Taylor said the local lobster supply trial discussions with government have been difficult as a result of the damaged relationship caused by the Government’s recent attempt to nationalise the industry.

“The relationship and trust between Government and industry has been damaged.

“This has created a difficult environment for government and industry to achieve common ground on how to implement the most appropriate local lobster supply trial.

“WRL undertook a comprehensive consultation process including a coastal tour and survey of all its members, before providing its feedback to government on what changes would be necessary to achieve an agreement with industry.”

WRL chairman Terry Lissiman said following strong industry feedback WRL wrote to Government recommending two options for moving discussions forward, but that WRL had not yet received a response from the government on those recommendations.

“We did not walk away from discussions but instead put forward recommendations for moving forward,” he said.

“We recommended establishing a local lobster working group to design a local lobster supply trial and commencing the Premiers Taskforce to address resource access security.

“Unfortunately, our feedback to government resulted in the government ceasing discussions that were necessary to achieve these important outcomes for both industry and the Western Australian community.”

Mr Lissiman said that while the government had walked away from discussions, WRL would continue with its industry initiative for increasing local lobster supply and enhance further tourism and hospitality initiatives.

“There is strong industry support and continued requests to increase the current local lobster program, a WRL initiative from 2016,” he said.

“The local lobster program is the cheapest method of supplying lobster onto the local market and involves back of boat sales of tagged lobster to the public and restaurants.”

Western Rock Lobster was the first fishery in the world to be certified as ecologically sustainable by the international Marine Stewardship Council.

“Since the early 1950s, our fishers have been the custodians of a sustainable and iconic industry, which today supports more than 2400 jobs and contributes more than $500 million to Western Australia’s economy annually.

“We want to ensure our industry continues to support our coastal communities and remains sustainable and viable for generations to come.”

The Tourism Council WA on May 23 also expressed its disappointment that the fishing industry had not reached agreement with the government to provide any additional lobsters for the domestic market, including for marine tourism experiences and the proposed lobster festival.