A petition to address “loopholes” in the South Australian Government’s Marine Scalefish Fishery reforms has been launched by stakeholders who believe the changes will render the majority of local commercial fishers unviable.
- An industry group warns of corporate takeover under a new quota system for marine scalefish
- A government voluntary licence buyback scheme closes at 5:00pm on Friday
- Fishers are being encouraged to simultaneously apply for exceptional circumstances allocation
With just four days until the Government’s licence buyback scheme finishes, the Marine Fishers Association (MFA) has warned licences are at risk of being bought up by corporate traders who will accumulate too much quota.
“This has already happened in other industry species; offshore and interstate investors already control over 65 per cent of our rock lobster industry.”
The reforms aim to manage four priority species: snapper, southern garfish, southern calamari and King George whiting, under what the Government calls Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQ)— except on the West Coast where whiting was last week removed from the ITQ system.
MFA executive officer Gary Morgan said it was working with the Government to address “ongoing issues, particularly around keeping the fishery local so that it continues to contribute to local communities and economies”.
The Government has previously said it wanted to work with industry to entrench small, local family fishing businesses as the “enduring foundation of the industry”.
Primary Industries Minister David Basham said the Government was not proposing to change existing owner-operator provisions for the fishery.
He said 88 fishers had so far applied to surrender their licence under the Government’s $24.5 million reform package.
“This will be the only licence surrender process, so for those still considering their future in the fishery, time is of the essence if you are considering taking advantage of this offer,” Mr Basham said.
The ITQs are being distributed from 20 per cent of a zone’s total allowable commercial catch, with the remaining 80 per cent calculated by an individual’s catch history between 2010 and 2016 — leaving many fishers with unviable allocations.
Spencer Gulf licence holder Hamish Ward bought in recently with his cousin to continue family tradition and to set up an income stream while he looks after his son, who has mitochondrial disease, in coming years.
He said they had been penalised under the 20:80 model after being allocated just 76 kilograms.
He said the Government had not listened to feedback that gave several different approaches to managing fisheries.
This included an adjustment period of between three to five years that would allow fishers with higher quotas to adjust down, and those with low quotas to regain the position they started from.
It also suggested a method, based on the SA Northern Rock Lobster Fishery, to give recent and new entrants into fisheries an industry average quota upfront that ensured they were not disadvantaged.
“It explained those methods and gave examples of how it has worked in other industries, but the Government has not followed it up,” Mr Ward said.
He said fishers were also annoyed by the Government’s last-minute decision to give long-standing fishers with un-amalgamated licences — worth half the cost of an amalgamated or full licence (about $140,000) — the same quota as amalgamated licences.
“The Government’s just making up the rules as they go, from what I can tell.”
Mr Basham said fishers, who had been allocated significantly less quota than they believed viable and were considering surrendering their licence, should also apply for an “exceptional circumstances” process for their quota allocation.
He said the Government had run “extensive consultation” and had received “significant input from fishers, including 69 written submissions and over 250 attendees at meetings.
“We asked for feedback on reform, and we listened and acted to that feedback as well as the scientific data.”
This included removing whiting from ITQs from the West Coast zone last week and instead choosing to manage it under an increased Total Allowable Commercial Catch of 473 tonnes for the 2021-22 season.
It was a move embraced by the MFA, which said it was based on science undertaken by the SA Research and Development Institute.
Mr Morgan added that recent claims made by some fishers that it would lead to conflict if those hit hard by ITQs elsewhere in the state relocated to the West Coast to fish whiting were “alarmist and without foundation”.
Fishers have until 5pm Friday to apply for the voluntary licence surrender program.