THE viability of the NSW commercial fishing industry has declined due to a range of reasons.
Current management arrangements based on historical controls are inefficient, traditional fishing areas have been reduced by the creation of Marine Parks and Recreational Fishing Havens, costs for petrol and fees have risen and competition from cheaper imports have led to consumers purchasing volumes of imported products.
The NSW Liberals and Nationals committed prior to the last election that we would deliver the change this industry needs to ensure its long-term sustainability. We commissioned an independent review – involving a team of highly respected fisheries management experts from around the country.
The reviewers consulted with industry and confirmed the situation, finding “an inflexible and inappropriate management system burdened by excess allocation of access rights (too many fishers for too few fish) continues to prevent industry self-adjustment”.
One of the biggest problems facing the NSW commercial fishing industry is the fact that in 2007 the former Labor Government issued shares to fishers, which were misallocated.
As a result, they have little value as they are not linked to effort.
In other words, once you hold above a certain number of shares you can either fish a small amount or a great deal as there is no benefit in holding any additional shares because it gives you no greater access to the resource.
Everyone is restricted by historical controls which limit fishers’ efficiency. These require updating.
We also have a major problem with inactive (latent) shares. About 64 per cent of shares, on average, in the different share classes are not being used.
That is fine while they remain unused, but a problem occurs because they can be activated at any time when prices are high or fish abundant, when a large number of fishers converge on the same area so there are fewer fish for a larger number of commercial fishers.
This threatens the viability of the commercial fishers who struggle through the lean times, as they don’t get any benefit for the extra effort through the leaner times.
It also makes managing the sustainability of the resource difficult as we must be sure that the activation of latent effort doesn’t cause harvest levels to threaten the sustainability of fish stocks.
The Commercial Fisheries Reform Program is to provide meaning to the shares so that fishing effort can be efficiently managed.
The program is designed to assist the transferral of shares from those who aren’t using them into the hands of more active fishers, to solidify a positive future for commercial fishers who rely on this industry, and the broader industry as a whole.
As part of this reform program, the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) – in conjunction with industry – has spent the past 18 months developing a series of options papers out for public consultation.
It is important to note, despite a lot of talk by some, that no decisions have been finalised.
The options papers currently out for public consultation are just that – options.
What is evident, and reinforced by an independent review which I commissioned in 2011, is that there is a clear need to reform this industry to ensure its economic viability and longevity into the future.
The NSW Government has allocated $14 million to a structural adjustment package, to which industry has added $2 million, part of which will be used to provide exit grants.
This exit grant program will allow those fishers looking to exit the industry to do so with dignity, while allowing others to set up their business for the future.
That is why the consultation process is so crucial – fishers need to carefully examine the options on the table and make a submission before 5pm Friday 30 May.
Should commercial or recreational fishers, or other members of the community, not think the identified options are workable, I encourage them to tell us in their submissions how they can be modified or improved to help deliver a stronger future for the industry.
At the close of the consultation process, an independent Structural Adjustment Review Committee will carefully examine all submissions.
Once combined with advice from the DPI, the NSW Government will finalise its way forward for the NSW commercial fisheries sector.
For more information about the reform program, and to make a submission, visit www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/commercial/reform