Fishers fear impact of SA Government snapper ban on charter tour operators and regional towns

ABC Radio Adelaide

Posted Thu 8 Aug 2019, 1:03pm

A fishing tour operator says he will be forced to close his business if a ban on catching snapper is introduced in South Australian waters.

For 17 years, Ray Cook has operated charter tours in Gulf St Vincent out of Wallaroo, but now fears that could come to an end in October if a statewide ban comes into effect.

The proposed prohibition, until February 2023, is part of a consultation paper released by Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone.

Mr Whetstone said there had been a “huge reduction” in snapper populations throughout Gulf St Vincent, Spencer Gulf and on the state’s west coast.

However, Mr Cook, who runs Captain Cook Fishing out of Yorke Peninsula, is now preparing to shut down.
“As far as our business goes, it will cease probably as soon as the ban comes in,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide.

“It’s devastating. Over the past 10 years they’ve been talking about snapper depleting but they haven’t really fixed the problem.

“When they decimate the bottom of the seabed with trawlers, there’s nowhere for fish to congregate or breed.”

Snapper fishing is a major drawcard for coastal communities on Eyre and Yorke peninsulas, and Mr Cook said there would be major flow-on effects for regional tourism.

He said he had recently spent about $100,000 on two new boat motors, which now felt like a wasted investment.

“I’ll sell the boat, I suppose. That’ll be the first thing. And then seek compensation. They’re taking our livelihoods away,” he said.

Mr Cook’s concerns were echoed by Steve Storic, who runs a fishing charter business in Australia’s so-called “snapper capital” of Whyalla.

Mr Storic said a ban would be “catastrophic” and rejected suggestions that snapper fishers should simply recalibrate their businesses to catch other fish.

“I’ve basically structured my business to target snapper, so for me to go out and structure to target other species — obviously there’s more cost and outlay involved in that,” he said.

“People are paying my service to come here and catch Whyalla’s famous big snapper, not the other species.”

Compensation question remains unanswered

The State Government said stocks have declined by 87 per cent in Gulf St Vincent, and 23 per cent in the Spencer Gulf.

The Government proposal includes the possibility that a limited season could be opened in the south-east, to offset some of the impacts elsewhere.

Mr Cook questioned the research, saying it was only based on a sample of gulf waters.

However, Mr Whetstone said a stock assessment was undertaken late last year by the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) using new scientific methods.

“They used a new procedure to put dye in the water and turn specific snapper eggs a colour, and that gave them the opportunity to adequately assess the collection of just snapper eggs,” he said.

“What we’ve seen is a huge reduction in both of the gulfs and we’ve also seen a reduction right around the state. “In South Australian gulfs and the west coast they are not sustainable.”

Asked whether fishers would be compensated, Mr Whetstone said he would “continue to work through how we go out there and keep those businesses afloat”.

“Snapper is just one species, it is an iconic species, but we have many under-utilised species in our waters,” he said.

“I would urge all fishers of commercial or recreational type to give consideration to sustainable fisheries. We don’t have to go out there and fill a bag up with every fish we can put on a hook.”

Labor MP Eddie Hughes, who is based in Whyalla, agreed there needed to be “strong action” but said there was also a need for compensation.

“There are going to be significant financial impacts on some sectors and those people need to be looked after,” he said.

“The ban on snapper will have an impact on commercial fishers, obviously, and also the charter industry. There’s a number of charter operators who work out of Arno Bay, Cowell, Whyalla who will be heavily impacted.”

Flow-on effects predicted throughout retail chain

Fishing co-op manager Ian Mitchell, who works at SAFCOL fish market, said allowing snapper numbers to bounce back would increase the risks to other species.

“It’s a double-edged sword, it really is a double-edged sword,” he said.

“If we don’t take snapper out of the water and we allow them to breed to the extent we need them to breed they will devour other species, which could put pressure on your crab fishery, your prawn fishery, your squid fishery.”

While Mr Mitchell conceded something needed to be done, he said the ban would hit the snapper market hard.

“It’s going to affect freight, it’s going to affect many, many different sectors, tourism, recreational fishing, I think a lot more discussion needs to come into it,” he said.

“It’s going to hurt retail, [we’ve] sort of got to hope we can import snapper from New Zealand, which we do at the moment as it is because of the depletion in snapper stocks but, we are going to be asking for a lot more quota from over there.”

Not all fishers, however, are opposed to a ban on snapper fishing.

In June, a group called RecfishCENTRAL, which was set up to oppose the official Minister’s Recreational Fishing Advisory Council, urged Mr Whetstone to act.

“He must put aside politics and act to save this iconic species,” convenor Les Rochester said.

“A lot of discussion needs to go back into this before we actually set it in stone, because we need to know the ramifications of what this closure will do.”