Commercial lobster fishermen on Tasmania’s east coast are concerned about a proposal to allow larger boats in more areas
In the coastal town of St Helens, commercial lobster fishing is still a key contributor to the local economy.
- Crawfish fishermen on Tasmania’s east coast are worried about a proposal that would give bigger boats access to more areas
- Fisher Adam Johnson says it could force smaller operators deeper into uncharted and possibly dangerous waters
- Primary Industries Minister Jo Palmer said her department would consider comments from the public consultation before making a decision.
Crawfish fisherman Adam Johnson hoped his children could follow in his footsteps, but a proposed change in the way the industry works has him worried about the future.
“We’ve seen the crawfish industry halve in the last 20 years, I don’t really want to see it go down if we can help it,” he said.
Currently, large lobster boats carrying 60 traps can only fish off the west coast.
The government is now proposing to expand this to include the North West and North East.
Because there are also catch caps, smaller operators with 50 pots or less worry that larger boats – which can operate in tougher conditions – will trigger the cap more quickly.
It could shorten the season, forcing smaller operators to go further at a higher cost, into uncharted and possibly dangerous territory.
Fellow fisherman Daymin Johnson – unrelated – said the change could exacerbate the existing ‘race to fish’ mentality.
“Boats that can carry 60 pots are going to be bigger so they’ll make longer trips, they can work in all weathers, unlike the 40ft and 35ft which obviously as soon as the weather comes up they come in home,” Daymin Johnson said.
The St Helens lobster fleet has already shrunk considerably over the years.
Break O’Day Mayor Mick Tucker is adamantly opposed to the change – in the council’s submission to the government he called it reactive, misguided and unfair.
The former commercial fisherman worries if the change is made as proposed, local industry will shrink further, which will ultimately impact local services and the town’s economy.
“You also have to consider the net economic benefits to a community when we’re talking about a community, a Tasmanian-owned resource,” Tucker said.
The Break O’Day Council called for a thorough analysis of economic and social risks.
Labor MP for Bass Janie Finaly is also worried.
“No research has been undertaken to support this decision, no research has been undertaken to understand the economic or social impacts of the decision,” Ms Finlay said.
“It looks like the outcome of this decision will support big fishers and investors. It looks like there has been no care or consideration for local small fishers.”
Despite concerns raised by smaller operators, the body representing the industry, the Tasmanian Rock Lobster Fishers Association, is pushing for change.
The association’s chief executive, former state government minister Rene Hidding, said expanding the 60-pot area was the association’s official policy.
He said smaller operators enjoyed substantial cost advantages by not employing deckhands and having lower fuel expenses.
“The proposed new rules outcome targets vessels traveling to fishing areas well out of reach of smaller vessels, such as above Flinders Island,” Mr Hidding said.
“These larger fishing vessels are paying high fuel costs for 18 hours of sailing just to get to these fishing grounds.
Primary Industries Minister Jo Palmer said with rules governing the industry due to expire later this year, they needed to be redone.
Ms Palmer said her department was considering feedback from the public consultation and had not yet received any recommendations.
“I will review these recommendations before making a decision on the proposed changes,” Ms. Palmer said.