Recreational Fishing | MOTION


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 11:46 :55 ): On behalf of the member for Chaffey, I move:

That this house –

(a) notes the economic and social benefits of recreational f ishing to South Australia;

(b) condemns the state government for not undertaking a regional economic impact a ssessment s tatement prior to introducing changes to recreational fishing bag, size and boat limits in South   Australia; and

(c) acknowledges the impact on communities, particularly along the South Australian coast, affected by the changes to fishing 26 species and spatial closures.

This is a motion brought to this house by the member for Chaffey, but I will get the debate started. This is a very important issue for all of us in South Australia, not just MPs whose electorates have coastline as part of their boundary. Everybody in South Australia should be aware of the very important economic and social benefits of recreational fishing in South Australia.

I should also say that it is not only saltwater fishing; there is important recreational fishing in other parts of the state as well, but the regulations that this motion addresses are particularly about coastal and saltwater fishing, and the economic benefits are massive. People think immediately just about tackle shops and boat sales potentially, but this flows through to fuel, accommodation and clothing, and it is not only the coastal communities.

The coastal communities benefit the most, but every single service station in Adelaide would have customers who fill up their car, and potentially put fuel in a boat as well, so that they can then drive to a coastal community to go fishing. Every single part of South Australia benefits from recreational fishing on our coastline and not just from people who particularly actively fish. There are many families who go on holiday to caravan parks or stay in a motel somewhere where maybe half the family are active fishers and the other half might pursue other activities while they are in the region.

There is absolutely no doubt about the economic benefits of recreational fishing. The social benefits are very important. They are much harder to quantify but, without a doubt, anybody who has ever wet a line can attest to the very important social benefits. I do not think it would be too great a stretch to say that there are also personal mental health benefits associated with going fishing. Just the fact that people interact with others from other communities is very important socially as well.

Paragraph (b) calls for the house to condemn the state government for not undertaking a regional impact assessment statement prior to introducing the changes. The opposition is perpetually frustrated and angry with the government about this. The government wants to make changes that affect regional communities. The government has said for many years that it will undertake regional impact assessment statements but regularly does not. In my submission to the Minister for Fisheries, one of the points I made was, ‘Please do a regional impact assessment study. Please share the results of that if, in fact, you have done it.’

It was very disappointing to find out that that has not been done because that must contribute to the thinking of the government when they make these types of decisions. It is straightforward that, if the government want to make changes that will affect regional communities, they must assess the impact of those changes before implementing them. They must assess the impact of those changes when actually determining what changes they really want to make. It is just common sense that you cannot, should not, must not make changes that affect regional communities without assessing the impact of those changes. It is a very straightforward point made by the member for Chaffey.

Paragraph (c) calls for the house to acknowledge the impact on communities, particularly along the South Australian coastline. Every MP who is involved in this issue is very aware of the impact because they engage with their communities all the time and that applies not only to regional MPs. Colton, for example, has a significant amount of coastline, Morphett has a significant amount of coastline, and several metropolitan electorates have coastline as well, but, of course, this is a much bigger issue in regional areas. It is a very big issue in my electorate of Stuart, where we have a very particular marine environment. I know every MP believes that their electorate is special, unique and different, and in most cases that is true.

Let me share this with you. The very top of Upper Spencer Gulf is what is called a hypersaline inverse estuary, and what is unique about that is that there is a marine environment at the top of Spencer Gulf where the water is more salty than in the southern part of Spencer Gulf, where it is warmer than in the southern part of Spencer Gulf and where there are marine animals and plants that do not exist anywhere else on the Australian coast until you start to get up around the mid‑Western Australian coast or the mid-New South Wales coast. It is a very unique environment. It is the only one of its kind in South Australia. In fact, there are not too many of them around the world.

The reason I mention that is the impact of the government’s change to King George whiting regulations in Upper Spencer Gulf. I want to put on the record that I acknowledge that when I made a grievance speech on this topic last sitting week—it was a very short notice opportunity—I actually made a mistake. I said that the government’s regulations had increased the minimum size from 30 centimetres to 31 centimetres. It is actually worse than that: it was an increase from 31 centimetres to 32 centimetres. I needed to correct that error that I made.

What is so important about that change is that Upper Spencer Gulf is considered a ‘gauntlet fishery’. It is a breeding ground for King George whiting. As they mature and grow, they head south and they breed. The fish in the Upper Spencer Gulf are relatively small fish. We do not get the larger King George whiting that are found in the bottom end of Yorke Peninsula, the bottom end of Eyre Peninsula and on other parts of the coast. They just do not exist in our part of the world because, when they get bigger, they vacate. They head south to get on with their lives on other parts of the coast.

To impose a 32-centimetre minimum size in Upper Spencer Gulf is essentially imposing incredibly unproductive fishing in Upper Spencer Gulf because people will catch fish under that size all day long and very rarely catch fish over that size. Please do not take my word for it. While I enjoy a bit of fishing, I am far from an expert in this area, but I do talk to genuine experts in my area. Some of them, like Mr Robin Sharp from Port Augusta, who has presented to committees in parliament on a range of different topics over a couple of decades, have shared a lot of information with me.

He is probably a bit frustrated that I have not learned it quite as well or as quickly as he would have liked me to, but the information I get from him and from many other people in Port Augusta and around Upper Spencer Gulf with regard to fishing is very valuable and informs the contribution I make in this parliament. To bring together my comments about size limit and the unique features of Upper Spencer Gulf, the government has the state divided with a north-south vertical line on the map into two fishing areas. It is very reasonable that Upper Spencer Gulf should have a zone of its own and it would also be quite reasonable that the Upper Spencer Gulf regulations could be comparable with the regulations in the western part of South Australia.

Only Tuesday this week, a petition was tabled in this parliament, on behalf of several hundred people in my electorate, recommending exactly that. That is a very straightforward and very sensible thing for this government to consider. The very top of Spencer Gulf is, by any definition, a unique piece of water. To impose fishing regulations that mean that people just will not catch fish above the size limit is crazy. What is very important, too, is that this is not about saying, ‘It’s hard to catch big fish, so just let them catch little fish, and bugger the environment.’ It has nothing to do with that at all.

The reality is that the people of Upper Spencer Gulf are incredibly concerned about their environment. There is a really strong community of people in Port Augusta particularly, and certainly in the surrounding area as well, that is very concerned about the environment. What has happened is that this minimum size has been increased regularly over time in an effort to help larger fish to be in Upper Spencer Gulf. It is just not working. There is a low minimum size limit and you are only catching fish up to 31 centimetres, so they increase the minimum size limit, and you are still only catching fish up to 31 centimetres. They increase it again, and you are still only catching fish up to 31 centimetres.

This mechanism is not working to try to get larger King George whiting in Upper Spencer Gulf. The reason it is not working is that those fish just do not stay in that part of the world. Those fish move out of that part of the world. There is no shortage of those smaller fish in Upper Spencer Gulf. People should be allowed to catch them. History has proven that perpetually increasing the minimum size limit is not doing anything to get larger King George whiting in Upper Spencer Gulf, because those fish just do not stay there. I support the people of my electorate very strongly on this issue.

I would also like to say that I am particularly concerned that the Minister for Fisheries says that he has been advised by his staff and his department that people who attended the public meetings to discuss this topic are comfortable, in the majority, with these regulation changes. I have to tell you that, in my experience, that is not true, so I am very concerned about whether the minister was given all the information he needed to be given before he made this decision to change the regulations. I appreciate the fact that the Minister for Fisheries met with me and Mr Robin Sharp, and his wife, Christine, to discuss this issue. It was really good of him.

I have found him to be open and willing to engage in topics I have taken to him. He did say that he had been told that people are comfortable with this change. I went to the meeting in Port Augusta and I can tell you, absolutely without any shadow of a doubt, that people there are not comfortable with this. They are not comfortable with it now. They were not comfortable with it at the meeting. Overwhelmingly, they opposed this change.

I also went to a meeting in Glenelg because it happened to be a sitting week and there was a public meeting on this topic being held there. I thought that I would try to learn a bit more about it, go to a different community that I am not particularly connected with and see what they thought. I can tell you that at that meeting they were not comfortable either, so I am concerned about the information that has gone to the minister. Where do we go from here? The regulations have been imposed.

The Legislative Review Committee has said that it is not going to seek to have them changed. I find it particularly unusual that the Legislative Review Committee has said (and I am paraphrasing here) that it is not going to seek to change the regulations because these are the regulations the government wants to put in place. The purpose of the Legislative Review Committee is to second-guess the government’s decisions, to consider whether what the government wants to do is appropriate. For them to say that they are not going to do it because they do not want to cross the government seems to me to be the Legislative Review Committee dodging its responsibilities to a certain extent.

This is an important issue. We all know that we need responsible regulations in place that protect fish and other marine species throughout the South Australian coast, but I can tell you that the benefits and the costs associated with this on South Australian communities have not been fully considered. I can tell you that the government did not take seriously any request for them to undertake a regional economic impact assessment study. I can tell you that the impact on regional communities is much greater than they realise, and it is very great in the Upper Spencer Gulf, which is the part of coastal South Australia I represent. I ask the government to reconsider these regulations.