South-west fishermen label proposed 600% licence fee increase a ‘cash grab’

A STATE government proposal to increase lobster licence fees by nearly 600 per cent over the next three years is a grab for money on “a soft target,” the Portland Professional Fishermen’s Association says.

Association president David McCarthy said the huge increase in fees was being proposed when the lobster industry in western Victoria was struggling with a restructure and high debt levels.

Mr McCarthy said the proposal would lift the base licence fee, which does not include quota costs, from $1246 in 2012-2013 to $8307 in 2015-2016 between the South Australian border and Apollo Bay.

The proposed fee increases are part of a state government plan to recover 100 per cent of the cost of Fisheries Victoria’s services across a wide range of fisheries that include the lobster industry.

“But this is not the time,” Mr McCarthy said.

“Returns are low. We are laying off the lobsters to let numbers build up. 

“Quotas have been set low.”

Coupled with the low returns were high debt levels imposed by an industry restructure last decade that reduced the lobster fleet from 93 to 42 vessels and the fishing effort by 36 per cent.

Most of the remaining fishermen had bought more quota to stay viable and gone into more debt to do so, Mr McCarthy said.

He said his total annual fees, which included quota fees and other government charges, had gone up from $12,000 last year to $17,000 this year and would rise to $30,000 over the next three years.

Prior to the introduction of the quota system in 2002, total licence fees were about $2000 a year.

Mr McCarthy said there was a perception the lobster industry was much more lucrative than it was.

He also disputes the level of costs the state government wants to recover from the lobster industry.

“The costs are ridiculous, they do not hold water,” he said. “They just want the money. We are a soft target, there are only 42 of us.”

Lobster fishermen were also unhappy with the level of service provided by Fisheries Victoria, the association said in its submission to the state government.

“The agency is perceived as adversarial, recalcitrant, lazy and reckless in its consideration of commercial fisheries,” the association said.

“There is widespread disagreement with management and research practices. 

“There is strong criticism of the failure to set up a Lobster Management Advisory Committee as promised in the fishery management plan and deep concern at misreporting of Rock Lobster Research Advisory Group outcomes,” the association’s submission said.

The association has lobbied member for South West Coast Denis Napthine to delay the fee increases until the end of the lobster stock rebuild in 2021.

The Department of Primary Industries and Environment, which has responsibility for Fisheries Victoria, said the fee rises had been proposed because of a shortfall of about $2 million a year between the costs of its fisheries services and the present levy amounts.

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