An update on the west coast demersal scalefish issue

Yesterday (30 August) Recfishwest Chief Executive Officer Dr Andrew Rowland wrote to our members via our Members First e-newsletter to provide them with an update on the west coast demersal issue. We’ve published the newsletter in full below.

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The Minister for Fisheries announced on Tuesday  that he would extend the consultation period on the Government’s proposal to implement bans on the west coast demersal fishery back out to six weeks.

This extension comes after we wrote to the Minister seeking a reinstatement of the original agreed timeframe. We welcome the additional consultation period.

We continue to meet with senior members of Government to advocate on this issue to make sure your interests are being represented at the highest level.

We are committed to making sure decision-makers recognise there is a better way to speed up the recovery of these fish without destroying fishing clubs, businesses and all the benefits our sector provides to the WA community and economy.

Hopefully, this latest development allows time for the Government and Recfishwest to have a proper discussion on the package of recommendations developed through our Expert Working Group process that was presented to DPIRD (Fisheries) in July.

We firmly believe each element of our package when combined can meet the catch reduction targets required while avoiding the catastrophic loss of value under the current DPIRD proposals.

We want to walk DPIRD through our recommended package and have a detailed discussion around our calculations, which we haven’t been given the opportunity to do to date.

In case you missed it – former Recfishwest CEO Frank Prokop and Ash Ramm from Tackle World Miami discuss the proposed nine-month ban on Channel Seven’s Flashpoint Show.  

Truth a casualty in this process

Last Friday, DPIRD’s Catch e-newsletter sent out to tens of thousands of recreational fishers stated:

“DPIRD has considered feedback and preferred management tools from Recfishwest, the WA Fishing Industry Council (WAFIC) and Marine Tourism WA, and developed targeted management packages for the recreational, charter and commercial sectors.”

We have had clear feedback and concern from our members that this statement implicates Recfishwest in providing support for the current proposed eight or nine-month demersal fishing bans.

This is simply not the case and we would like to set the record straight.

Recfishwest, with the considered input of our Expert Working Group, provided a set of 17 recommendations in July to help inform the current consultation process.  An eight or nine-month west coast demersal fishing closure was never part of these recommendations.

As we have publicly stated a number of times, we believe, as a package, our recommendations will meet the catch reduction targets without the devastating social and economic impact the current DPIRD proposals will have if implemented.

Recfishwest expects all dealings with Government departments to be transparent and, in accordance with this principle, we’ve published all the outcomes of our engagements along the way.

Recfishwest hopes to continue to have an open and trusting relationship with Government stakeholders to protect the interests of the recreational fishing community. Our autonomy on these matters is not negotiable – we operate in these processes in good faith and we will not be pushed into choosing between two unacceptable options.

Stewardship of our fisheries – a shared responsibility between Government and the fishing community

Under the current collaborative co-management model, certain responsibilities for supporting great fishing outcomes are shared between DPIRD and Recfishwest.

Under these arrangements, accountability and responsibility for outcomes is also shared.

Recfishwest, fishing clubs, the fishing trade, the boating industry, and marine tourism businesses do much of the heavy lifting in creating better fishing opportunities and delivering stewardship programs.

In recent times, we have found ourselves frustrated that DPIRD’s regulatory and management functions often do not understand or support the needs of the recfishing sector.

If we are truly to progress with modern recreational fisheries management, it’s time for DPIRD to look at the way they allocate their available resources and provide recreational fishers with support commensurate with our $2.4 billion sector which directly involves a third of the WA community.

Blunt tools

In the current situation DPIRD has simply reached for the bluntest tool in their management toolbox. Given the catastrophic impact a nine-month ban will have on so many families, tackle stores, charter operators and local businesses in popular coastal communities, we are surprised we cannot see any apparent consideration of these impacts within the development of these management proposals.

We believe the current proposed bans tick every box for an assessment through the Government’s Better Regulation Program. A simple Regulatory Impact Statement would highlight other management options that can provide the same protection for fish stocks while delivering a greater net benefit to the community.

Understanding the true impact of these proposals is a critical step in informing the Minister’s decision.

There is a better way to speed up the rebuilding of these fish stocks, which are not in ‘decline’ as has been suggested in the media, but ‘recovering at an acceptable rate’ according to the Government’s own fisheries experts.

We are pleased to see the Minister take measures to begin to resolve this issue and we look forward to discussing reasonable and more innovative solutions that will achieve the required outcomes with much less economic and social damage.

Given the level of angst in the fishing community at the prospect of the damage caused by a nine-month ban, some members of our sector have started a petition to Parliament calling on Government to review DPIRD’s proposals. You can find the petition here.

To all the fishing clubs, tackle stores, charter operators and boating businesses who have reached out to us over the past week with fears that these proposals will force you to shut your doors for good – stay strong. We’re in your corner.

Dr Andrew Rowland
Recfishwest CEO