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Relief Needed for Rock Lobster Fishery

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MORRIS (Mornington) (22:57): (2699) I raise a matter for the Minister for Fishing and Boating, and the action I am seeking is that the minister provide significant financial relief for holders of rock lobster fishery licences.

Those licensees have been significantly disadvantaged by the coronavirus pandemic, and they are now facing ridiculous hikes in their licence fees.

By way of background, a lobster fishery access licence, which is what is required to commercially fish, is considered to be a cost-recoverable service. That means the levies are set in line with Department of Treasury and Finance (DTF) guidelines. The annual levy is imposed at licence renewal time.

Now, the licence itself is not a catch control tool. That is based on a catch quota, but the quota is not issued until a licence has been obtained or is renewed. It is a two-zone fishery with an eastern zone and a western zone.

The eastern zone has only 1000 quota units, while the western zone has 3633.48 quota units—I love the ‘.48’ there. There are also conditions relating to the number of pots per boat, but they do not bear directly on the matter I am raising this evening.

Quota units are transferable. They form the basis of dividing up the total allowable commercial catch. Quotas are believed to be the most effective way of managing this important resource sustainably. That may be true; I cannot confirm that but I do not contest it either at this point.

What we do know is true is that the cost of a licence is to rise significantly; I am aware that the cost of one licence in the eastern zone is going to rise by one-third this year.

I am also advised that the total allowable commercial catch in the eastern zone has declined by a third over the last four years, so the cost is going through the roof without explanation.

By way of a sidebar, I would urge the minister to consider improving transparency beyond simply providing an explanation that costs and therefore the fees have risen in line with DTF guidelines. I think that would be a significant improvement.

Costs have gone through the roof while the available catch per licence has reduced significantly. The principal markets have not been available for some months and exports appear to be off the table, no pun intended.

Even without the impact of the pandemic, rapidly rising costs and a rapidly reducing availability of cash surely justify financial relief. Under the current circumstances that really is essential.

I urge the minister to act immediately to provide significant financial relief for this important industry.

Legislative Assembly 18 June 2020