Article sourced from ABC News - https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-19/fears-of-corporate-take-over-of-sa-fisheries-after-quota-reforms/12260584
Fears of corporate takeover as SA Government seeks to put quotas on fisheries
ABC Radio Adelaide / By Malcolm Sutton
The SA Government has already put a three-year ban on snapper fishing.(ABC News: Brittany Evins)
Converting commercial fishing into a quota system could leave the industry open to corporate takeover, industry stakeholders fear, as the State Government seeks to tighten the net on fisheries with major reforms.
The SA Government wants transferable quota system in place by July 2021
Industry spokespeople fear corporate takeovers of a proposed non-transferable system
Major reforms on fisheries exclude recreational take by anglers
SA Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone this month outlined key goals of a $24.5 million Marine Scalefish Fishery reform package he hoped to have in place by mid-2021, which would allocate transferable quotas to commercial fishing licenses.
It followed the introduction of a three-year ban on snapper in late 2019 due to what Mr Whetstone called "dire, decimated" stocks.
Marine Fishers Association executive officer Gary Morgan said the industry was made up of small local fishers who supplied local markets.
If allocated quotas were not large enough for them to run a viable business, he said, "the majority wouldn't have the money to buy additional quota" and could sell up.
"Already, there have been companies sniffing around wanting to buy large chunks of quota," Mr Morgan said.
"Inevitably, this transferable quota system that the Government's suggesting, will mean that not too far in the future, perhaps in a year or two, you're going to get all of that quota for major species owned by corporates."
The State Government also planned to introduce a Total Allowable Catch [TAC] limit for priority species, which included King George whiting, snapper, southern calamari and southern garfish.
"If you're out fishing for other species because you've already filled your quota for those four species, but you accidentally catch a whiting in the process anyway, then you'll have to throw that whiting back and it will be dead already," Mr Morgan said.
"There's also going to be a lot more pressure put on other species other than those four."
Corporates have 'no stewardship'
West Coast Professional Fishers Association (WCPFA) president Jeff Schmucker did not want quotas falling into the "hands of corporate bodies", which had no "stewardship over the fisheries".
"For example, the holder of one of the largest gummy shark quotas in Australia, he lives in Sweden, yet the only time he sees any fish is probably down at the golf club when he goes for dinner," he said.
WCPFA has proposed a different approach to the Government, called Individual Transferable Efforts.
This would still set a limit for commercial catches, but instead of measuring it in catch units, it would be measured in the amount of time and the equipment that could be expected to catch an amount of fish.
"The effort units are owner-operated, and they stay with the fishers," Mr Schmucker said.
"If you don't use them, they go back into the pool, and if the fish don't get pulled out of the water, the units don't get transferred.
"Corporate bodies won't get hold of the units."
'Too few fish'
SA Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone said the reforms were aimed at increasing industry profitability and stock sustainability because "for too long there had been too many fishers and too few fish".
"Through the reform consultation it was clear that many marine scalefish fishers want the fishery to remain an owner-operator fishery without large and foreign corporations purchasing up all the quota," he said.
"The Marshall Liberal Government will work with the industry to entrench, as the enduring foundation of the industry, our small, local family fishing businesses."
Mr Whetstone said he would establish an Independent Allocation Advisory Panel that provided "recommendations about the allocation of quota to licensed fishers", which was expected to give its recommendations by June 30 this year.
Recreational fishers excluded
Mr Morgan also questioned why a cap on recreational fishing was not included in the package, which he said lacked detail.
He pointed out the last survey on recreational take was undertaken back in 2013–14 and there had since been a significant increase in the number of registered boats for anglers.
"I think the Government wants to keep recreational fishers on-side, the problem is, if you're only addressing one part of the industry, you'll leave the tap open at the other end," Mr Morgan said.
Mr Whetstone admitted that "conflicts of interests" between the two sectors had "not always been well managed".
He said a cross-sectoral Seafood Council would be established to "restore a sense of cooperation" through a "united effort to improve fishing opportunities and catches in the long term".
Exit packages offered
The Government has offered to buy back up to half (about 150) of the state's longline, line and net fishing licences from those who wanted to exit voluntarily.
An independent assessment on licences had been conducted by the international business advisory firm BDO, which determined they were valued between $150,000 and $211,000.
Mr Schmucker said it was not enough.
"Don't forget, that's someone's life," he said.
"I've been fishing for 35 years and they want to buy out my licence for $150,000?
"I've $300,000 to $400,000 worth of boats."
Mr Whetstone said fishers would be able to put forward a price for consideration in what was a "voluntary tender process".