WA Labor’s rock lobster plan criticised

Seafood Industry Australia and the WA Opposition are against the McGowan Government’s decision to take control of more than 17 per cent of the state’s western rock lobster catch. Picture: DPIRD

A NATIONAL seafood body, which also represents fishers operating out of Lancelin, says it is concerned about the McGowan Government’s intervention in the western rock lobster industry.

Seafood Industry Australia (SIA) chief executive officer Jane Lovell said the government’s intervention and claiming of a commercial stake in the western rock lobster fishery had far reaching repercussions for wild-catch fishers across the nation.

Ms Lovell said the decision by the government to take control of more than 17 per cent of the fishery had the potential to dramatically devalue the entire industry.

“While fishers with existing WRL licences will share in an increased allocation of 315 tonne, the government will now have an allocation of 1385 tonne,’’ she said.

Opposition Fisheries spokesman Ian Blayney said the announcement by Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly that the state government would claim 1385 tonne of the annual 8000 tonne commercial lobster catch on behalf of the Western Australian people was unfair, heavy-handed and inappropriate.

“It is obvious there has been no meaningful consultation with the sector on this and no detailed planning,” he said.

“The Minister has given no detail of how he plans to catch, process and distribute these hundreds of tonnes of ‘people’s’ lobsters.

“Does he plan to have government officers intercept every commercial fisherman and seize the ‘people’s’ share of the catch as they come back to harbour?

Mr Blayney said western rock lobsters were a unique WA delicacy and the Opposition supported the development of a tourism industry around it.

“There is no question the Opposition supports efforts to grow the rock lobster industry towards a gross value of $1 billion and the development of an Institute for Spiny Lobster Research but to achieve both these initiatives the Government must support the industry, not undermine it,’’ he said.

“It is clear from consultation I have had with the Western Rock Lobster Council and Western Australian Fishing Industry Council, that the Government did not engage with either of these peak bodies in the development of this policy.

“The sector has also expressed concerns around Minister Kelly’s decision to push the catch quota to the very limit of sustainability.’’

But Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly said the government and the industry’s peak body, Western Rock Lobster (Council) had agreed on an innovative industry development package that would substantially grow the industry to provide more benefits to the Western Australian community.

Mr Kelly said the development package had the potential to create up to 500 jobs and double the value of the industry in WA.

He said it would result in increased revenue from the fishery for investment in essential public services, significantly increased local lobster supply for international tourists and Western Australians, and the first-ever international lobster festival in the Asia-Pacific.

“The state government will also invest $27.5 million over the next five years to develop the industry, which will include the establishment of a new body corporate and an Institute for Spiny Lobster Research,’’ he said.

“The staged plan proposes increasing the commercial catch from 6300 tonnes to 8000 tonnes, well within the sustainable limits of the resource.

“Through this plan, existing western rock lobster licence holders will benefit from an increased catch allocation, with an additional 315 tonnes provided in 2019 and also greater access security.’’

But Mr Blayney said the Labor Government had effectively nationalised a part of the fishery which should ring alarm bells for the entire fishing industry and other sectors of the economy.

Ms Lovell said governments were there to govern, not to become commercial entities competing with business.

“This move by the WA Labor government has significant negative repercussions on property rights nationally, and not just within the seafood industry,’’ she said.