Michelle Lensink

Rock Lobster Fishery

A question put forward to the Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Minister for Forests, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Tourism, Minister for the Status of Women) regarding rock lobster fishery.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Thank you, Mr President. As you yourself may be aware, being a South-East person and—

The Hon. D.W. Ridgway: And a connoisseur of rock lobsters.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: —a connoisseur of rock lobsters on occasion, a number of us on this side of the house have just returned from the sunny South-East and rock lobster fishermen in the southern zone are experiencing their best season in many years with well over half their quota filled in just three months. Perhaps desperate for a good news story, we saw last month this minister lauding her department for the fishermen's success, telling the local paper that SARDI had the luxury of knowing all along that this would be a bumper season. My questions are:

1.  If SARDI had knowledge all along that this season as well as that of 2010-11 were going to be good fishing seasons, why then in 2010 did they give an ominous warning that the industry was in crisis and that, in fact, it was finished?

2.  If the government had the luxury of predicting better than average seasons two years in advance, why then did the minister's predecessor cut the 2010-11 season by two months?

3.  If the government did indeed have this valuable information, why did it withhold it from the fishing industry and instead spin them tales of doom and gloom?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Minister for Forests, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Tourism, Minister for the Status of Women) (15:37): I thank the honourable member for her most important question. Indeed, our rock lobster fishery is a very important part of our fisheries. Both the southern and northern zones are very productive fisheries and indeed are something that most of us enjoy immensely. Part of PIRSA's strategy is obviously to assist in managing the long-term sustainability of these fisheries. It is quite critical that these fisheries, like all of our commercial fisheries, do not become over-fished. Rock lobsters are worth a lot of money and there is a significant attraction to fishing the greatest amount each year as possible.

Fisheries manage the biomass of rock lobster in these waters very cautiously. They have a system and a protocol of assessing what the biomass is likely to be and set limits accordingly. We are very fortunate that the results have been very good to date and we are very pleased with that outcome, and that is a result of the quite amazing degree of cooperation between the fishers and PIRSA. I have to congratulate the fishers. They cooperate greatly with PIRSA in providing us with the information that we need to make those assessments—things like the number of undersized crays that are pulled up in each pot load and other information. That helps us plan ahead. PIRSA attempts to provide accurate information to all fishery sectors in a timely way whenever they can.

In terms of the specific timings that the honourable member has asked for, I do not have those details but I am happy to take those on notice and bring back a response, but I can absolutely assure the honourable member that it is with the high degree of cooperation between very diligent and hardworking fisheries officers and the fishers themselves that we can be very proud of having a rock lobster industry which is sustainable and which is yielding such great benefits not only to the fishers and their families but a lot of those going to export, and they contribute significantly to the overall economic benefit of this state. I congratulate PIRSA officers and also rock lobster fishers.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (15:40): A supplementary question; does the minister commit that, if the department does indeed have predictions of future catches, it will share that information with the industry in a transparent way in future?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Minister for Forests, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Tourism, Minister for the Status of Women) (15:40): I understand that they share all relevant and appropriate information in a timely way at all times.

6 March 2013

In reply to the Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14 February 2012).

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Minister for Forests, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for State/Local Government Relations): I have been advised:

1.Prior to the start of the 2010-11 fishing season, the Aquatic Sciences branch of the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) and Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA) Fisheries, informed industry that the Southern Zone Rock Lobster Fishery had been performing poorly for several years and management interventions were needed to address the problem.

The poor performance of the fishery was based on the following scientific data:

The fishery only caught 1,243.7 tonnes of the 1,400 tonnes total allowable commercial catch (TACC) during the 2009-10 season. This was the third consecutive year that the TACC had not been fully taken (it was missed by 50.4 tonnes in 2007-08 and 362.7 tonnes in 2008-09).

The commercial catch rate (which is a reliable measure of Rock Lobster stock abundance) for the 2009-10 season declined for the seventh consecutive year, to the lowest level ever recorded in the fishery. This reflected a 67 percent decrease from the catch rate of 2003-04.

The declines in fishery performance were not limited to individual locations; the decreases in catch rate during this seven year period were observed across all regions, depth and months of the fishery. Such decreases in catch rate reflected a decline in Rock Lobster stock abundance which in turn reflected low recruitment over this period.

At the same time, SARDI and PIRSA Fisheries also informed industry that indices used as an indicator of future catch suggested that a pulse of just-legal size Rock Lobster would enter the fishery during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 fishing seasons, but it was important that this new recruitment pulse was afforded adequate protection to rebuild the existing stock.

2.The former minister set the 2010-11 TACC at 150 tonnes lower than the previous fishing season (i.e. 1,250 tonnes) and closed the fishery for the months of October 2010 and May 2011 in order to constrain catch and contribute to the rebuilding of the Rock Lobster stock. In quota managed fisheries, it is common fisheries management practice to adjust the TACC level in response to increases and decreases in stock abundance.

3.Each year, SARDI Aquatic Sciences presents a mid-season and end of year report on the status of the Southern Zone Rock Lobster Fishery. In these reports, information on the indices used to predict the future catch of the Southern Zone Rock Lobster Fishery is always presented to industry.

An analysis of all the scientific information prior to the start of the 2010-11 fishing season indicated that the Southern Zone Rock Lobster Fishery had been performing poorly for several years. This information was conveyed to industry.

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