ENVIRONMENT: Licence fee allocation questioned

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Ninety percent of the monies collected from NSW fishing licences was supposed to go to projects directly benefitting anglers (image: NSW DPI).

THIS is not intended to be a shot at NSW Fisheries. Rather it’s a lament about broken undertakings given by governments to their constituents, in this case NSW recreational fishing licence holders.

Getting the NSW fishing “licence” into place back in the early 2000s was a tortuous process. It really doesn’t have licence status, it’s a fee to fish. Fisheries needed funds to buy out the pros from the new Recreational Fishing Havens; Treasury proposed a loan to cover this against a new fishing fee system for NSW anglers. The loan of $20 million plus interest has long been paid back from licence revenue.

The minister of the day, Eddie Obeid, and presumably Cabinet, were understandably nervous about the reaction to the introduction of a fee/licence. They agreed that 90% of the monies collected would go to projects directly benefitting anglers; infrastructure such as FADs and cleaning tables, stocking and habitat work, sorely needed research on key rec species, education and enhanced compliance activities. They specified that administrative costs of the licensing system would be capped at 10% per annum of the revenue collected and promised that allocation of core funding for rec fishing management would continue in parallel to the fishing fee revenue stream.

The following data comes from various DPI/Fisheries publications. It’s there for anyone to read.

Annual licence revenue from 2001/01 to 2016/17 has fluctuated between around $4.8 milliom and $16 million, according to DPI’s report Performance, Data and Insights 2018. In 2014/15 it was about $11 million, which let’s assume may have been the figure used to underpin the Recreational Fishing Trusts Investment Plan 2015/16 – 2017/18. Taking a sample year’s planned expenditure figures from that plan…2017/18…the breakdown of expenditure looks roughly like this:

  • Fishing fee co-ordination and payment network: $3,416,102…which would be 31% of $11 million in projected revenue
  • Payment of nine coastal fisheries officers and six inland fisheries officers…with accountabilities well beyond checking rec compliance: $2,014,546…another 18% of the revenue. That doesn’t include another $498,000 for the mobile fisheries officer squads (six officers) which focus specifically on rec fishing regulation compliance.

That’s 49% of the total assumed revenue.

The rest of the planned expenditure was spread between Fisheries run or managed projects, other Fisheries activities, local Councils, the RMS, the Office of Environment and Heritage, other government departments, AFTA, fishing clubs, community groups, schools, universities, research centres and private consultants. Some of the funded projects appear highly appropriate, some quite questionable.

If you take out the projected payments to government agencies and Councils, but leave in universities, research centres, private consultants and providers, fishing clubs, community groups and schools and add up their projects’ value you get $522,031…4.7% of $11m.

So, 49% was planned to go to administration and general fisheries officer payments and 46.3% back to DPI /Fisheries and other government entities. Some fine projects were to be funded and contracts let to external providers, but a lot of money was allocated to core activities already undertaken prior to the advent of the fishing fee funding stream. Things like running fish hatcheries, various staffing costs and in-house research.

The Department of Industry 2017-19 Annual Report shows that there were some variations to the planned trust fund expenditure, as would be expected, but really the licence sceptics’ 2001 fears appear to have been realised. Successive governments have presumably said to DPI/Fisheries “run anything rec fishing related from the licence funds.” Not exactly what was promised or expected, at least by optimists. And we still don’t have a truly representative funded rec fishing body in NSW to champion our interests. We have a 450,000-strong angler data base that appears not to be used for anything other than raising revenue.

You might like to keep this in mind when considering fisheries policies and proposals put on the table by those seeking your vote in the lead up to the NSW state election in March.


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