South-west lobster fishers are hoping a new management plan for the lobster fishery will deliver a more “sensible” approach in determining the lobster quota.
Victorian Rock Lobster Association president Markus Nolle, of Apollo Bay, said he hoped the new plan would take the “heat” out of the quota setting process that had been the subject of differences in opinion between lobster fishers and the Victorian Fisheries Authority (VFA) in the past.
Mr Nolle said the new management plan would use historical data on how the lobster fishery responded to various harvest rates to determine future quotas,
He said it would replace the previous “black box” method of determining quotas that had involved “some arbitrary biomass rebuild targets.”
The previous quotas had varied from year to year without lobster fishers understanding why, Mr Nolle said.
It was hoped lobster quotas would increase in future because there had been an improvement in lobster numbers, he said.
Mr Nolle said the new management plan also had a “continuous improvement mechanism” that allowed it to take in many factors, such as any impact of climate change or market changes, to set more effective quotas.
VFA chair Gail Owen said rock lobsters were one of Australia’s most highly prized seafood delicacies and Victoria’s most valuable commercial fishery with a landed catch value of $25 million a year.
“The commercial rock lobster industry supports fishing and processing businesses across the state, providing valuable jobs in regional ports such as San Remo, Queenscliff, Apollo Bay, Port Campbell, Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Portland,” Ms Owen said.
“Rock lobsters are also very popular with recreational fishers right along our coastline.
“It is vital we continue to look after this important fishery by ensuring it remains sustainable.
“Key components of the management plan are new rules that guide the setting of commercial catch quotas each year using the best available science.
“The new plan is the third for the fishery and builds on the excellent work undertaken previously to enhance the sustainability of rock lobster stocks and make the commercial fishery the most valuable wild-caught fishery in Victoria.
“The new plan was developed through intensive consultation and guided by an independently chaired, stakeholder-based, steering committee,” Ms Owen said.
She said the plan included the three-year tagging trial that will, for the first time, help estimate the overall annual harvest of rock lobsters by recreational fishers.
“The tagging trial, which began last year, is an Australian-first that has been embraced by recreational rock lobster fishers with more than 4800 people signed up via the new ‘VicRLTag’ app and website.
“Over summer, fishers have reported using more than 5000 tags on recreationally caught rock lobster with many more expected through Easter and autumn,” Ms Owen said.