Rock lobster fishers in South Australia concerned over Western Australia’s Government quota plans

South Australia’s fishing industry is “banding together” to make sure the Western Australian Government’s plan to take control of a portion of the annual rock lobster catch does not also happen in South Australia.

The WA Government recently announced plans which would see the commercial rock lobster quota raised from 6,300 to 8,000 tonnes.

As part of proposed changes, the Government would also control about 17 per cent of the quota once it had been increased.

Executive officer of South Australia’s Northern Zone Rock Lobster Fishermen’s Association Kyri Toumazos said the industry was already in talks with the South Australian Government about the planned changes.

“We’re relatively concerned that type of approach has been adopted politically and it’s something that we have never seen before in Australia,” he said.

Mr Toumazos said there were concerns about both the quota increase — the number of rock lobsters that are legally allowed to be caught each year — and the government-controlled portion of it.

“I am getting a lot of concern from individual fishers because what is happening in Western Australia poses a threat, especially for the older fishermen, who are relatively concerned with their future and their assets,” he said.

Government control plans ‘difficult to understand’

When announcing the policy in December, WA Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly said increasing the catch would generate extra cash for the state and increase tourism.

“[The plan] has the potential to create up to 500 WA jobs, double the value of the industry, and significantly increase the supply of lobsters into the local market,” Mr Kelly said in a statement.

“I appreciate that the existing fishers would prefer to be granted free ownership of the additional 1,700 tonnes of commercial lobster catch, however this is a community-owned resource.

Mr Kelly said the plan would be sustainable and introduced gradually over at least five years.

But Mr Toumazos said some confusion surrounds how exactly government control of 1,385 tonnes of the fishery would work.

“It is very difficult for us to understand how a state is going to be able to operate or run 17 per cent of 8,000 tonnes,” he said.

“We feel it’s an initiative that hasn’t been properly thought through.”

There are no signs that South Australia is considering a similar change in fishery management, but Mr Toumazos said there were concerns a precedent could be set by Western Australia.

Fears about ripple effect on SA lobsters

There are also fears increasing the commercial rock lobster quota in Western Australia will lower the value of lobsters caught in South Australia.

Seafood exporter Andrew Ferguson said even though the two states catch different species — southern rock lobster in SA and western rock lobster in WA — more crayfish in the market has the potential to send prices down.

“It’s very much a supply and demand industry where we’re competing with all species, not only WA, but all species from around the world,” Mr Ferguson said.

“Depending on when that supply comes into the market, it is concerning for us to know that there’ll be higher supply, and if that higher supply lines up with when we have a higher supply that is definitely concerning.

South Australia’s Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone is “talking with industry and other stakeholders about the ramifications of the Western Australian decision”.

“The State Government is aware of the developing situation in Western Australia in regards to management changes for rock lobster,” a state government spokesperson said.

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