Tasmania’s rock lobster fishermen fight a wave of red tape

The Australian, September 26, 2016:

Tasmania’s rock lobster fishermen are a hardy bunch, weathering everything from wild storms to toxic algal blooms, but they have been blindsided by a wave of costly red tape.

Third and fourth-generation rock lobster fishermen who have built an $85 million-a-year trade, mostly via exports to Asia, say new regulations at both state and federal levels threaten chaos.

Changes to state regulations proposed from March next year will force rock lobster fishermen to unload their catch in the same area it is caught.

While designed to prevent fishermen taking extra lobsters from capped catch areas on their journey home, fishermen say the rule will force them to unload hundreds of kilometres away from their home ports and buyers.

Like other fishing industries, they also face massive hikes — up to 116 per cent — in marine safety compliance fees, due to a federal takeover of the role by the ­Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

Fishermen feel betrayed and are demanding a rethink from Liberal governments in Hobart and Canberra. “The Liberals promised to cut red tape but they’ve done the opposite,” said fourth-generation rock lobster fisherman Chris Parker.

They believed the state change was a lazy means of making policing easier for fisheries management. “We are not criminals and we shouldn’t be treated like criminals,” said Mr Parker’s brother and fellow rock lobster fisherman, John Parker. A submission by the Tasmanian Rock Lobster Fisherman’s Association describes the state changes as “overly bureaucratic, burdensome and punitive”, as well as unjustified, given there was no evidence of a compliance problem.

“We have been doing this for hundreds of years, so why should we stop just because someone in an office wants to take more control?” said third-generation fisherman Peter MacKenzie.

The Tasmanian government said it was open to consultation. “The government encourages public discussion on these important amendments, and all submissions received throughout the consultation process will be considered,” a spokesman said.

Fishermen are also gearing up to fight fee hikes linked to the AMSA takeover from next July.

A Tasmanian Seafood Industry Council analysis shows the new AMSA system will see annual fees rise by up to 116 per cent, while offering a reduced level of service to that already provided on a cost-recovery basis by Marine and Safety Tasmania.

Some one-off fees will also drama­tically rise or be imposed for the first time, such as a $158 AMSA fee for changing ownership, currently provided free by MAST. Fishermen fear boats will be grounded for weeks while AMSA in Canberra processes paperwork to remove prohibition notices — similar to car defect notices. Currently, these are resolved instantly at MAST offices. Federal Transport Minister Darren Chester defended the AMSA takeover, saying it had been agreed by all states in 2014 and would see the cost of compliance nationally fall from $40m to $23m. His spokeswoman said some fees would fall in Tasmania, and services would be provided via two AMSA offices, as well as via post offices, the telephone and internet. “A nationally consistent ­approach … will also enhance on-water compliance and enforcement activities,” she said.

The Hodgman government said it was pushing Canberra to reduce AMSA fees.

“We are concerned at the potential cost impacts for some Tasmanian commercial vessel operators as a result of the shift to AMSA,” a spokesman said.