The 2010/2011 total allowable catch (TAC) for the west coast rock lobster fishery indicates a 100 ton decline in the TAC from the previous season. In 2009/2010 the TAC was set at 2393 tons; in 2010/2011 the TAC has been set at 2286 tons. While the overall decline is hardly newsworthy, what is of considerable concern is the manner in which the hopelessly flawed and mismanaged interim lobster relief is being accommodated.
Firstly, the interim relief quota of 200 tons (an increase of 20 tons over the previous season) is made possible by reducing the deep-water commercial lobster and recreational quotas. The recreational quota has been reduced by limiting the daily take limits and the length of the season. This curtailment is particularly problematic as the department failed to consult with the sector as is required by law. The departmental TAC document (which Feike has) records a number of concerning comments from the department's own senior managers. Some of these are as follows:
"I am concerned though that we do not have an idea as to what extend the season for recreational fishers should be amended to. We may also not have sufficient time to consult..."
Another senior official noted as follows:
"The report regarding the level and accuracy as well as the malpractices associated with interim relief catches is concerning and must be properly addressed."
This latter statement is of particular interest. The report referred to has not been made public and the reference to "malpractices" and the lack of accurate information pertaining to catch data are of grave concern. Yet, the department sees fit to increase the interim relief quota without in any way first addressing the "malpractices" and the lack of reporting. DAFF has effectively taken to punishing those that comply with the law (the commercial and recreational sectors who are the most law abiding of the lobster sectors) and rewarded the most deviant.
The second concern is that by allocating the "interim relief" lobster fishers quota in deep water areas, DAFF is merely supporting the creation of paper quotas as small scale fishers simply cannot fish these deep waters with a little row boat and hoop nets.