Analysis: NSW commercial fisheries reforms

NSW Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson’s latest press release makes a big claim – “the most significant reforms of the commercial fishing industry in NSW history” – which just might be true if it all works.

I’m just not sure about the line “With 85 per cent of seafood sold in NSW being imported, these new changes are needed to ensure that there is a continued availability of fresh, local seafood.” In this age of overnight air freighting and a global trade in seafood, does it really matter?

Anyhow, down to details. Share managed fisheries were, as the minister states, designed and proposed nearly 20 years ago but for whatever reason never got a run under successive state Labor governments. Speculation as to why might get me sued so I’ll resist the temptation and just say it makes sense to move that way. But the system should support “long-term viability and sustainability of the State’s fisheries resources” better than the current one does … theoretically, at least.

So, does embracing a structural adjustment package based on removing latent fishing effort and making businesses that are left more efficient? Some readers will get thingy about buying out inefficient operators … but fair’s fair, lose your livelihood and you deserve a redundancy, whether you’re a Queensland public servant or a little one-man-band commercial fisho. The fact that the businesses left will see their fees go up might also hasten a few larger operator exits.

I don’t intend to reproduce the 15 page government response to the independent review here but urge you to go to and take a look. Basically, the government supports most of the review recommendations. Here are a few personal reactions, based on 20-odd years of working off and on with NSW Fisheries on various projects and advisory councils:

  • fixing up the proper respective roles of Ministers and agency heads and staff is really necessary (recs 1.1,1.2,1.3)
  • leaving Fisheries under DPI (rec 1.5) is less than ideal but inevitable given cost constraints and claimed economies of scale in sharing corporate support resources like IT and payroll
  • increases in charges (recs 1.6, 1.7) will be hard for all fisheries other than abalone and lobsters but may hasten the structural adjustment process; good luck to the new Ministerial Fisheries Advisory Council (MFAC) that has to develop a cost recovery policy (rec 2.1)….we could never agree on one for aquaculture
  • the new MFAC (rec 2.1) will have an independent chair appointed by the Minister; it’s unclear who appoints the members; let’s hope the rec reps are selected for their strategic and tactical skills rather than their fishing profiles or we’ll get rolled on major decisions….particularly on resource sharing as proposed in rec 4.1
  • the Seafood Industry Advisory Council is being totally disbanded (rec 2.3); it was created by Ian Macdonald when he was Fisheries Minister; enough said…
  • The process to exit businesses from the fishing industry seems fair enough (recs 6.4, 6.5)

Will it all work? Should know by about the middle of 2015, looking at the timeline supplied. Hey, isn’t that after the next State election?

John Newbery is Fishing World’s environment editor.

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