Catastrophic outlook for WA’s fishing charters

MORE than 80 per cent of WA’s fishing charter businesses, from Kalbarri to Augusta, are facing the
grim prospect of going under from 1 July following Government fishery management changes.

From 1 July, 78 charter fishing operators will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost business, with fishers aboard their vessels no longer able to fish for prized bottom fish like dhufish and pink snapper in the West Coast Bioregion (WCB – from Kalbarri down to Augusta).

Charter fishing is responsible for only 12 per cent of total demersal catches in the WCB. Like the
recreational fishing sector though, charter operators have been told to slash their catches. A tag
system has been introduced for the charter sector whereby operators are issued with a limited
number of tags by DPIRD, with one tag allowing the capture of one demersal fish.

The 99 charter fishing licence holders in the WCB recently learnt how many tags they were each
going to get and, therefore, the total amount of demersal fish fishers on board their boats can catch in a year. In a bitter blow, 78 of the 99 licence holders were told they will receive zero tags,
destroying the value of their licence and meaning that in less than four weeks they face the real
prospect of going out of business.

This allocation model will leave popular WA coastal towns like Dongara, Port Denison and many
others without any charter fishing opportunities for locals and tourists and has left 78 families facing an unsure future. Unlike for commercial fishers, the Government has not offered a voluntary scheme to buy back charter licences providing a dignified and manageable exit from the fishery. Instead, the Government is offering those that did get tags up to $20,000 in grants and those that didn’t get any tags a measly $5,000.

“To offer $5,000 is cold comfort when licence values have likely just fallen by ten times that
amount,” said Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland.

“The tag allocation process completely fails to factor in the valuable service provided by the charter sector, getting the most from each fish and doing what’s right and fair.”

“This system is clearly broken – while the Government has told charter businesses to diversify, it is
not realistic or reasonable to expect charter operations to completely change their business model
in just four weeks. With the inevitable cancellations of customer bookings, many family businesses
will not survive. The Minister should go back to the drawing board and give the charter sector a fair

One example of a charter operator receiving the brunt of this decision is Al Bevan, who has operated Shikari Charters out of Perth since 1996 and has been at the forefront of protecting demersal fish.

Al assisted DPIRD with fisheries research for decades. He purposefully aimed to have a low impact
on fish stocks, catered for families and smaller groups of between five-seven fishers and built up a
steady overseas client list who spend thousands of dollars annually visiting WA purely for the safe
and exciting fishing experiences Al provides – yet he received no tags and his business is staring
down the barrel.

“I thought I was doing the right thing with sustainability and following the Department’s guidelines
and slogan ‘fish for the future’ – but it now looks like Shikari has no future,” said Al.
Marine Tourism WA President Matt Howard also attacked the Government’s decision.

“The charter sector has demonstrated excellent economic and social use of the fish they catch
generating significantly more economic activity and employing more people from a relatively small
number of fish than other sectors do from ten times as many fish. The Minister has never provided a reasonable explanation as to why 6,000 demersal tags is an appropriate amount for a sector that
generates such significant social and economic value.”

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