Grievance Debate: Rock Lobster Fishing Industry

Thursday June 06, 2019

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (16:04): I would like to draw attention to an issue affecting one of our state's most valuable industries: the rock lobster fishing industry. Port MacDonnell is known as Australia's rock lobster capital. The town on the South-East coastline is home to one of the largest rock lobster fishing fleets in the Southern Hemisphere. However, it has been 13 years since the harbour was last dredged and now years of build-up of sand and seaweed is causing major problems for the fleet.

The levels are so bad that fishermen are struggling to get their boats in and out of the harbour, they are having trouble refuelling at the designated area and there has been damage to engines. Every time they refuel, fishermen have to clean out their cooling intake filters because they are completely clogged with debris, most particularly seaweed. A number of times, both fishing and recreational boats have had their engines overheat whilst out at sea because of this problem, which is potentially a major safety issue if rough weather were to strike.

Jeremy Levins, who has been a rock lobster fisherman for 30 years, said the problem has been getting worse and worse over the last five years. At low tide, he said that there is barely a foot of water below his boat and that in rough weather sometimes he has trouble actually manoeuvring into his mooring. He is replacing parts on his boat years before he should have to. Recently, there have been meetings to decide what to do about the problem with representatives from the Department of Planning, Training and Infrastructure who are responsible for the upkeep of the harbour. The solution is dredging the harbour, but there are additional issues, such as where to dispose of the waste.

Approval has to be granted by the EPA and studies have to be undertaken to determine the impact on shore and marine life. If it can be disposed offshore, the cost would be around $1 million, but onshore that cost could be as much as $3 million. It could be as long as 12 to 18 months before a decision is made. Since the breakwater was built by the state government in the late 1970s, the fishermen have collectively paid between $60,000 and $90,000 a year in mooring fees for roughly 65 boats in the harbour. The channel was last fully dredged in 2006.

For the last 13 years, Port MacDonnell locals have had to pay close to $1 million in fees to the state government, which ironically is roughly the cost of dredging the harbour. To me, this is a major safety issue. Fishermen need to be able to use the harbour safely. Before this escalates, there needs to be some action by the state government. The town needs a permanent and ongoing solution. The rock lobster fishing industry generates around $280 million for the South Australian economy each year and provides hundreds of jobs, both direct and indirect. Ensuring the continuity of one of our state's most valuable industries should be a priority for our state government.

In metropolitan Adelaide, millions of dollars are spent maintaining what is considered to be vital infrastructure. In my opinion, this is vital infrastructure for Port MacDonnell. The state government has just announced over $52 million in funding to protect against coastal erosion on the state's coastline. Of this, $48 million is going to metropolitan coastlines, including $28.4 million for one project: a sand recycling pipeline from Semaphore to West Beach. By comparison, just $4 million has been allocated for regional coastlines across all regional South Australia.

This is another example of disparity between our metropolitan and regional areas. I call on the state government to support the residents of Port MacDonnell and the fishing fleet of Port MacDonnell and ensure that the breakwater and harbour are dredged free of seaweed so that the rock lobster industry can operate in a safe and effective manner. Any assistance that can be provided to speed up the approval process with the EPA and DPTI would be greatly appreciated by the residents of the South-East.