Lobster limit change a
threat to smaller boats

ST HELENS’ businesses are among those concerned for their future under proposed changes to rock lobster fishery catch-limit.

A proposed expansion of the 60-pot catchment area to include waters across the north and east coast has upset smaller rock lobster fishers, including those operating out of St Helens.

Operator of the St Helens slipway Jobi Watts said it was the smaller cray fisherman that were keeping his business afloat. “It’s really the only consistency that I have, we really only do the smaller boats here so if they were to go out of the system it will be everything to us.” Mr Watts said there were about a dozen smaller cray boats operating from the coastal town. He said if they stopped working the effects would flow through businesses.

“They are all the families, it will be an impact on them and the rest of the community too, the shops, the fuel depot, it will probably be straight away too,” Mr Watts said. “If the big boats come in and catch the limit a lot quicker, they don’t get a piece of the pie and then they need to go elsewhere in smaller boats, they might have to go to a unfamiliar areas, hire other people to go with them, it will be less cost efficient and eventually they will stop doing that.”

Mr Watts said the changes threatened the fabric of Tasmania’s small coastal communities. “Unless we want to become a theme park and just have people walking around looking like we are a small coastal town then we have to live it and we have to be able to earn a living here to do it.”

Rock lobster fisherman Adam Johnston has been involved in the industry since leaving high school. He’s worried about what the future might look like. “We’ve seen the rock lobster industry halve in vessel numbers in the last 20 years I don’t really want to see it get any less if we can help it,” Mr Johnson said. “The 60-pot expansion has the potential to force out smaller operators. “It will shorten the time we can fish on this side of the state and force you to fish elsewhere, further away such as south of Bruny Island or the west coast. “Most of us are not overly experienced in those areas so it’s likely to see us shutdown and operate on a reduced income.” He’s urging decision makers to “think long and hard about the effect on towns and businesses.”

Shadow Primary Industries Minister Janie Finlay said the small fishers of Tasmania felt like they were not being heard and that the decision around the 60-pot expansion was to support the larger fishers and investors.

“If the fleet reduces and these fishers are taken out of our coastal communities across Tasmania, this will impact their families, which will have an economic and social impact on communities if their wives or partners work in the local store, the medical centre or the local childcare centre or if their kids play footy in the local club or attend the local school,” Ms Finlay said.

“It is great to have investment and support in our fisheries across Tasmania, it is great that people can make an income across Tasmania. “But it is not okay when the impact of this decision will devastate the livelihoods of local fishers in small communities’ right across Tasmania.”

Primary Industries Minister Jo Palmer is expected to make a final decision on the 60-pot expansion later this year after receiving advice from her department.