West Coast fishers puzzled and angered by statewide snapper fishing ban

BANNED: Thevenard Fish Processors' Vangie Blums, Maria Faklis and Stelios Faklis are not pleased about the upcoming snapper ban. Picture: Luca Cetta
BANNED: Thevenard Fish Processors' Vangie Blums, Maria Faklis and Stelios Faklis are not pleased about the upcoming snapper ban. Picture: Luca Cetta

Members of the West Coast fishing industry believe the upcoming snapper ban will have a negative local impact.

The state government recently announced a statewide ban last week until 2023 citing a need to ensure a sustainable fishery, however the ban has been met with anger from the West Coast.

West Coast Professional Fishers Association (WCPFA) member and Ceduna fisherman Mark Nicholls said the decision was "really shocking" and not based on any local science.

He said the West Coast had been lumped in with Spencer Gulf snapper fishery and the resulting ban would only make things tougher, with 56 licenced snapper fishers in the area between Fowlers Bay and Coffin Bay.

"It's not good and based on no science - fishers have caught 20 ton of snapper a year give or take off the West Coast for 40 years and it is not necessary," he said.

"The West Coast fishery is very healthy and if managed properly will be healthy for a long time, the closure is based on the gulfs and this will hurt people where there is no issue.

"SARDI [South Australian Research and Development Institute] has done no research in this area, they know little, and they admitted it at the most recent meeting; they haven't got the science to back up what they are saying."

Mr Nicholls said it would be different if there had been a reduction in local numbers, however the ban will put more pressure on blue swimmer crab and whiting numbers.

WCPFA president Jeff Schmucker said of the licence holders, up to 12 targeted snapper and would lose about $200,000 between them each year, but all licence holders would have a reduction of about $500,000 over that time.

He said that was welcomed, however the association was disappointed by the closure.

"The balance is about 10 guys will feel the pain, to some gain for the rest of the 56," he said.

Mr Schmucker said the "lack of science and evidence" was what made the closure puzzling for the West Coast, but felt there could be ramifications had it remained open.

"Perhaps a huge spillover of recreations efforts to come here if we were to remain open and if that were the case I don't think facilities like toilets, boat ramps, caravan parks, would handle the influx, and it's a possibility as to why the Minister [Tim Whetstone] made his decision."

The ban is set to impact all areas of the fishing industry, with the Thevenard Fish Processors losing its ability to sell snapper for the next three years.

Evangelia Blums said it had created a lot of stress.

"It's very upsetting and frustrating that nobody was listening [and] there hasn't been very much science and research in our area," she said.

"It will mean tens of thousands of dollars lost each year it is closed.

"We buy snapper from local fishermen who rely on that income and we also sell it locally, across Eyre Peninsula and into Adelaide, but that is another market gone."

She said snapper was a very popular item for customers.

"A lot of people, tourists and locals, want to eat something locally caught," Ms Blums said.

"It is one of our big three sellers, along with whiting and shark, that is not there anymore."

Snapper fisher and WCPFA member Daniel Hertz of Ceduna said the ban would result in a third of his income disappearing.

"It puts pressure on other species, and I need to make a living so I'll be targeting mainly whiting and crab," he said.

"I was shocked about the ban, there was a poor lack of science involved and they didn't research this area."

Ceduna Boat Charter operator Perry Will has been involved with the fishing industry for four decades and said local snapper fishers took well under what was deemed an acceptable percentage of the biomass.

He said they would have to move their attention to blue swimmer crabs, King George whiting and squid, putting pressure on those stocks.

Mr Will said he was not pleased with the state government's consultation process.

"It's an absolute disaster for our area that we have another man-made imposition on us," he said.

"There was only 10 to 12 days of consultation and we didn't see the snapper report from 2019 until after the ban was announced, and could only work on data from the 2016 report."

He said there had already been indications from charter operators across the state that they would be closing their business, meaning there would be fewer things for tourists to do.