The WA state government’s ill-conceived plan to nationalise the crayfishing/lobster industry has finally been canned.  The original idea to gift themselves 17% of the annual quota through the issuing of licences that could be fished or auctioned off to other parties, was dreamt up by the Fisheries Minister, Dave Kelly.

When announced in December 2018, the fishermen and craypot investors were rightly furious.  They banded together to oppose this audacious cash-grab and on Friday January 8th, the government announced they would not proceed with the idea.

The compromise will see existing licence holders allowed to collectively catch an 315 extra tonnes of crayfish which will largely be kept aside for local consumption; a win for all parties.

The government called for feedback from the public on the matter after announcing their intentions in December and one of the most compelling responses came from Lancelin fisherman Clint Moss.

“My name is Clinton Moss, I am married with two children and I am a Western Rock Lobster fisherman from Lancelin.

I am writing to you, to present my dismay and absolute disgust in Minister Kelly’s plan of quota dilution, reallocation and theft from the commercial fishermen.

The entrapment of the WRLC is the first item that should be investigated. When does a Minister acting in good faith have to stand over his/her managers and force them to sign a document in fear of large reprisals if the document wasn’t signed, including forfeiture of their licenses or to have all licenses put up for auction.

That is just the start of the ambush. Next to create a fictional quota of 8000t on paper that does not exist, and then create units based on this same fiction, is the basis of this whole ruckus.

How can there be an 8000t quota without the fishery participating in consultation and due diligence made of the science and markets. It can’t, 8000t is the “back of an envelope” quantum which doesn’t exist, as the only fishery to allocate to is the Limited Entry Western Rock Lobster Fishery that actually exists. Any other allocation, or dilution of quota is unjust as the Western Rock Lobster Fishery has been built upon the original Limited Entry Pot License model created in the 1960’s and any and all quota increases must be distributed to the current units.

Yes there are additional lobsters available in the biomass but that is for the fishery to decide how the catch and distribution is done, not the whim of a Minister who is trying to confiscate and sell off 10 years of our work rebuilding the fishery from recruitment failure to the highest bidder, more than likely international ones.

The fishery is returning its highest income ever to the State and is doing so because of its own good management, massive investments and research into lobster transport and marketing.

The planned bi-annual increase of the commercial quota to 6615T should have been approved in November 2018. If this Minister had any inkling of how to manage the Fishery at the Maximum Economic Yield for the people of WA and the State, and also for its responsibilities to the Federal Government, then this would have already been done. All Minister Kelly had to do is sign off on the allocation recommendation, and the fishery would continue to grow and do its very best for the WA economy.

The Industry is also a very great supporter of the Local Lobster Program, that can and should be expanded. This program by all accounts is an excellent example of everything we are hearing from the public that they want, which is direct access to lobster at a fair price.  Handled correctly, the LLP can run as a side act to our commercial activities but will not head or alter them, so the costs of the commercial catch, do not have to be passed on to the LLP and we can supply lobster to the local market in far larger volumes than is currently allowed, should the program reach its potential.

What do we face instead, we get given a carrot and a stick.

Should the fishery accept the 315T commercial allocation increase on offer we would then forfeit all and total access to the natural quota increase we expected as professional fishermen from 10 years of work rebuilding the fishery. Having had everything cut in half in 2009, we again face losing the expected growth of the fishery to the government with this blatant theft of our quota future by Minister Kelly’s plan.

No thanks and No way sir.

The large biomass of lobster that currently sits in our ocean, is the buffer to our recruitment troubles and has been created by us NOT taking the resource to the brink of further management intervention.

That buffer gives us the ability to catch larger lobster that are worth 5 times that of the smaller grades per animal, and is the backbone of the marketing and export plans that attain the income values for everyone to share.

Leaving Lobster in the water is NOT a loss to the State, but in fact is what is creating its value in the first place.

I am very disappointed with Minister Kelly’s stark disregard to generations of hard working families that created this fishery and that the Minister has not taken any notice of the advice from the WRLC or WAFIC and in the future governance of this fishery.

Mr Kelly’s plan is straight theft of the quota future of the fishery, not just from the commercial operators but also its recreational users. It will lead to degradation and imminent sustainability issues that, if the Minister had done his homework, shows that our current recruitment cannot supply the growth of the commercial quota over 7500t. Once the commercial catch passes this threshold it actually results in a decline in the breeding stock, which is the absolute worst result when recruitment has not returned to normal with the climate change issues we face due to the warming of our coastline.

Taking the 1385t from a “back of an envelope” calculation and creating 16277(10) whole units to then sell and lease as the Minister pleases, totally destroys any faith in the values of the units and creates a precedent that any Minister can then change the allocations any time they like.

Forcing an additional 350t and 4070 units into the fishery every year for 4 years compounds the catch to the market too fast, lowering our returns and therefore the commercial value of the units, compounded again by the Minister forcing more and more units into the fishery for sale.

So there is NO growth in GVP of the Fishery, the Royalties the Fishery pays to the Government drop and you dilute the value of the units every time you sell more.

So from 2020 Minister Kelly’s plan will  lower the price of the lobster, halve the value of the quota units and force into severe financial stress myself and every other fisherman who is leveraged with the banks at sub $60,000 valuation per unit of quota.

So you bankrupt the fishery and set it up for a hostile takeover by international investors.

For a Minister who prides himself on a fair go, looking after the little guy and all the rhetoric, I am aghast at what the Minister cannot see and just who the little guys are.

I implore all the Ministers of Parliament to please engage with Minister Kelly and have him remove the dilution and reallocation of the Western Rock Lobster Fisheries quota units from his future management plans and let the fishery itself achieve the perceived goals and ambitions of the plan without destroying all the Fishing Families on the way.

Selling the fishery out from underneath the people who created it is an unthinkable act.

I cannot and will not accept dilution and reallocation of the fishery for no better reason than a chunk of money that will disappear in no time and leave the best fishery in the world a wreck of bankrupt families.”

Clint Moss