On Friday December 7th, 2018 the state government delivered a broadside to the commercial lobster/crayfish industry, the primary industry in Lancelin.
Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly announced that the annual catch will go from 6,300 tonnes to 8,000 tonnes in 2020. BUT, existing licence holders will only be allowed to catch an extra 315 tonnes of that increased quota, the remainder (1,385 tonnes or about 17%) will be owned by the government.
In one stroke of the pen, the Fisheries Minister has effectively wiped 10-20% off the value of every pot licence in the state. Fishermen or investors who’ve borrowed to buy licences may well have to provide more security or pay down their loans given the value of their assets will be savagely devalued following this move.
Last week you could have bought a craypot licence from a broker for about $80,000. That gave you the right to catch just under 90 kilos of crayfish/lobster per year. Many small investors buy these licences as investments and then lease out the entitlement to fishermen or fishing companies. This year the return from an $80k licence would have been around $5,500.
Chairman of Western Rock Lobster, Kim Colero, said while the Government had agreed to a range of long term initiatives to underpin the sustainability and growth of the fishery, its direct intervention was not supported by industry. “The Government will take ownership of 1385 tonnes of the total allowable commercial catch and this is something our fishery has never seen before,”
It’s fair to say the industry was blindsided. They were pushing for the quota to be upped by just the 315 tonnes and having another 1,385 tonnes flood the market will cause huge turmoil in the industry.
Whether this leads to more product in the local market is questionable as the Chinese typically are willing to pay much higher prices than what the Australian industry can offer and given fishing is a business, the catch will almost certainly go to the highest bidder.
There is much concern in Lancelin and Cervantes about this announcement and while the industry will be talking to the minister over the coming weeks it is looking to you for support by writing to your local minister and generally spreading the word about the negative impact this will have on our regions.