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Seafood industry has no confidence in DAF and calls for inquiry into fisheries management.

6/August/2021

The Queensland Seafood Industry Association (QSIA) asserts that the seafood industry has lost confidence in the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries’ (DAF) after years of mismanagement and have set up a petition to call for a full inquiry into fisheries’ management. 

The Queensland Government’s Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017-2027 has been hailed as the reform that will “pave the way for world-class fisheries management”, yet fishers say the reforms will destroy small family businesses while driving seafood resources into the hands of big business, making seafood harder to access and more expensive for everyday people.

The reforms, which introduce sweeping changes across most Queensland fisheries, will be enacted without any regulatory impact assessments, no cost-benefit analyses, and no measures to address impacts to fishers, wholesalers, or retailers, with most measures set to come into force on  September 01, 2021. 

Individual Transferable Quotas have recently been allocated to the mud crab, sand crab, and inshore net fisheries, which cover iconic fish-and-chip species like Barramundi and Whiting, with many operators alleging that they are not obtaining sufficient quota to continue their businesses or use their licences, effectively sending them broke and leaving them with stranded assets. 

The flow-on effects could leave fish and chip shops and restaurants empty-handed. 

There is also a reallocation of trawl effort units, which will impact where and when trawlers can work and will effectively reduce the amount of wild-caught Queensland prawn on future markets. 

The QSIA alleges that the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) grossly underestimated the impacts on commercial fishers. 

Allan Bobbermen, local Cardwell Commercial Fisher and President of the QSIA said, “I have spoken to members and Commercial Fishers across the State. Every day, hardworking Queenslanders expect to have access to fresh, local, seafood. What we are going to see under these mindless reforms is less locally caught seafood, fewer local family-owned businesses, and a massive influx of investors from the big end of town.”

“This so-called reform process will increase seafood imports, as quota managed fisheries’ caps (with no justification) affect our ability to fish and utilise a resource that we access on behalf of the community in a sustainable way.”

Mr Bobbermen also stated, “Queenslanders, who think that this does not affect them, need to read the fine print in the actions of this Government on such a valuable industry. There is nothing more certain than that this current Government are business and job destroyers.”

Greg Jensen, a Commercial Fisher from Cardwell advised that the impacts on Fishers will be felt across Queensland communities due to reduced access to seafood and higher prices. His retail business, Coral Coast Seafoods, will close in September this year as a result of the reforms. 

“High-value fisheries, like mud crab, will end up in the hands of big companies and just become export products. It might take ten years, but that is what will happen. Small businesses who don’t get enough Quota will be forced to sell out, and other small operators cannot afford to pay them what it’s worth. They are talking prices like $60,000 per tonne already. Only the big boys can afford that. I believe that it is safe to say that Queensland fish will no longer be owned by the people of Queensland; it will be owned by the highest bidder,” said Mr Jensen.  

In a media statement in March this year, the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Mark Furner, said, “Both the commercial and recreational fishing industries are important contributors to the Queensland economy, and these reforms are an investment in those industries to ensure they can continue for our children and our grandchildren.”  

However, Fishers argue that this “investment” has not occurred, with no money having been spent on either assessing impacts or addressing them. Instead, a new cash-grab in quota fees, which begins in 2022, will be an additional expense for those Fishers who survive the reforms. 

“How can you deliver the biggest fisheries’ reform in Queensland and not even look at the impacts? How can they do this and completely ignore the consequences for consumers? And then dump new fees on top! It’s ridiculous to say that this is cutting red tape,” advised Mr Jensen. 

Coral Trout and Crayfish are two high-value species that are already under Quota management in Australia, with around one-third of Queensland’s Coral Trout exported. Regular reports received from Western Australia advise that locals cannot find a crayfish to buy because they are all exported. 

There have been many difficulties for seafood outlets and Commercial Fishers in Queensland, with the white-spot outbreak, the Gladstone Port saga, several slow tourist seasons, the disastrous rollout of the Vessel Tracking systems and now the Covid-19 pandemic. Many retailers in our region have either closed or changed their hours of operation, including Mission Beach Seafoods, Timmsey’s Seafoods, and now Coral Coast Seafoods is also set to close. 

Michelle Jensen who works at Coral Coast Seafoods said, “When the industry first started trying to get better outcomes for Fishers, the idea was to keep everyone in a job, keep them doing what they love, and keep supplying the best seafood in the world to local markets.” 

“Now it’s clear that around one third or more of our industry will be left in the gutter, and the worst part is that the Government won’t even acknowledge that it is happening. It’s an absolute disgrace that hardworking Queenslanders could ever be treated like this. The stress and emotional damage that this is causing on families is tremendous,” stated Mrs Jensen. 

A Post-Implementation Review will begin within two years, which will assess the impacts of reforms following their implementation. 

Mrs Jensen opined, “It is too late once the businesses have already gone. You can’t undo Quotas, once they are in, they are in for good.”

The QSIA petition can be viewed and signed on the Queensland Government website at  www.parliament.qld.gov.au/work-of-assembly/petitions/current-epetitions

www.parliament.qld.gov.au/work-of-assembly/petitions/current-epetitions

Mrs Jensen advised, “Please sign the petition. We need public support more than ever and we cannot get an inquiry without your help.”

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