WA Government backflips over rock lobster crackdown

This article was originally published on this site

The McGowan Government has backed down on another key proposal, retreating on its controversial plan to take control of part of Western Australia’s lobster industry after weeks of heated debate and lobbying against the move by fishers.

Key points:

  • The lobster industry debate was marred by a death threat and bullying allegations
  • Lobster fishers claimed the value of cray pots dropped in anticipation of the changes
  • Many restaurant owners backed the changes, saying lobsters were too pricey

Premier Mark McGowan denied it was a major backflip.

“We’ve listened to industry about their concerns,” Mr McGowan told reporters.

“It’s a win for Western Australia, it’s a win for industry.”

Under the proposal put forward exactly two months ago, the Government would have increased the total annual catch, but taken control of 17 per cent.

The planned shakeup was pitched as necessary to boost the number of lobsters available for WA diners.

Compromise after fierce campaign

But the industry mounted a sustained campaign against the move, saying it would place fishers under financial strain and threaten the fishery’s sustainability.

Instead of increasing the catch by a total of 1,700 tonnes, industry and the Government have agreed the annual catch will now be increased by just 315 tonnes, with all or a significant majority of that allocated for local supply.

None of the 315 tonnes will be state owned or controlled.

Western Rock Lobster Council chairman Kim Colero said it was a very good outcome and the industry was happy.

“State ownership is off the table,” Mr Colero said.

Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly rejected suggestions it was a humiliating day for him, and said the agreement to increase the catch by 315 tonnes was a “great outcome” and would provide more lobsters for West Australians.

“Government’s not easy, but we’ve now got a very, very good result,” Mr Kelly said.

The agreement today, brokered in a 90-minute meeting between ministers and industry, incorporated a plan for an annual international rock lobster festival to be held in WA.

An industry and government group will also be set up to examine other ways to grow the industry.

Backflip latest in series of Government reversals

The change in policy comes just a week before State Parliament resumes for the year — when the Opposition would have likely used the issue as a key point of attack against the Government.

It is the latest backdown by the McGowan Government, after it abandoned plans to relocate Perth Modern School, close the School of the Air and stop funding community resource centres.

The Government also faced a fierce grassroots campaign against its plan to close Moora Residential College, which was saved from closure by Commonwealth funding.

And it bowed to public pressure and agreed to trial so-called SMART drum lines to try to reduce the number of shark attacks, after long resisting the technology.

Mr McGowan had previously acknowledged the lobster proposal had little chance of being made into law, as it was highly likely to be blocked in State Parliament’s Upper House.

The Liberals, Nationals, Liberal Democrats, One Nation and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers parties all vowed to veto the plans.

The Government had argued its proposed changes would make more lobsters available for local consumers and create more jobs, with Mr Kelly also proposing to put forward $27 million for industry development.

Mr Kelly had said the fact WA-caught lobster was so difficult for consumers to source in the state, with 98 per cent exported to China, was a situation which needed to be rectified