This case outlines the current small family business operations of Neil and Leanne Green based out of Alva Beach in the Burdekin region of Queensland. It has been prepared to demonstrate the impacts of the Sustainable Seafood Strategy of a quota managed seafood supply on small regional businesses. This is their story as a commercial fishing family.
The Green family’s seafood business – Multi-endorsed fishers
Neil has been a commercial fisher for the past 45 years. We are what is referred to as multi – endorsed fishers. We own a primary commercial fishing licence with attached endorsements to operate in the commercial net, crab and line fisheries.
Our fishing income has financed the purchase of a home and fishing equipment (e.g. boats, trucks, workshops, fishing nets and associated equipment) with upgrades for environmental and fishing efficiencies.
The Next Generation
Our 21 year old daughter, Sienna Green, is now a licenced commercial fisher operating out of Alva Beach and is a third generation fisher. Sienna spent her childhood on the waters of Bowling Green Bay, in the Burdekin district. Sienna has completed her open Coxswains certificate and is now a fully qualified commercial fisher.
The Impacts of Quota on their business and their future
If capped quota allocation is introduced as proposed in the fisheries reform discussion paper, our business of 45 years will not survive under its current structure. It will initially see us sustain a minimum loss of $27,000 per annum from the mud crab income and a further 50% from the inshore net fishery in productive years.
Our business plan and capital investment aimed at future proofing our business for a peaceful retirement has become redundant. Simply we would be rendered unviable at 60 years of age after a lifetime career in the seafood industry.
As a primary industry and a food producer, it is essential we have the ability to harvest for financial sustainability. With the good seasonal conditions mitigating the periods of low income when less productive conditions prevail.
The basis of a multi-endorsement is to work according to seasons.
A methodology of sustainable fishing taught to settlers by Traditional Owners along the coastline, is regarded as forming the foundation of sustainable food producing. Much of today’s inshore net and crabbing can be identified as these learning of centauries.
Our multi endorsements underpins the fishing operations of 60% mud crab fishery, 20% net fishery (barramundi), 20% line fishery.
Weathering the Storm
Building resilience and a plan for succession, over the 45 years we have adapted our business by diversifying into a range of fisheries including reef/line, Spanish mackerel, mud crab and barramundi.
Our business plan foundation was investing significant funds in purchasing different endorsements and quota to operate in these fisheries in the Burdekin district.
The marketing plan of high quality sustainable and ethically handled product has delivered national brand recognition for our products.
The Challenges to our Profession and business are both from nature and man-made
Over the 45 years, we have weathered a storm of ongoing demands on our occupation. From reduced access to commercially productive fishing area; introduction of both State and Federal Marine Parks, river closures, dugong protection, recreationally only fishing areas, introduced and increased Marine Parks (State & Federal), habitat loss and the penetration of the extremist green movement in fisheries management decision making.
The challenges of Mother Nature with cyclones, droughts, floods etc impacting on seafood breeding cycles, is just part of being a professional fisher – catches reflect seasonal conditions and is exactly why multi endorsements/practices are successful.
Operationally, we apply our acquired knowledge according to the season, climatic conditions, regulations and market economics, operating the appropriate endorsement at the time, eg. barramundi season, offshore line fishing in calmer winter weather and mud crabbing most months of the year.
Mud Crab Quota
My average catch of mud crab over the best six years of the last 7 years is 5,084 kg per annum. My proposed annual allocation of mud crab quota is 3,995 kg’s per year. That is a reduction of 1,089 kg on my average annual catch.
|Average annual catch||5,084 kg|
|Proposed annual quota allocation||3,995 kg|
|Reduction of catch||1,089 kg|
|Estimated business loss of income per annum @ beach price average $25 per kg||$27,225|
Associated issues of the value of the one tonne quota replacement and the value of the one tonne sale loss to recover the lost sales revenue is:
- That the one tonne of quota deficit, based on brokers estimates, $25,000 to replace.
- $25,000 devaluation to my investment in the crab fishery.
A further 14% reduction has been taken to arrive at our final proposed quota allocation. This 14% reduction cannot be attributed to sustainability of the resource or the aspirations of maintaining 60% bio mass in this fishery. Currently female mud crabs represent 50% of the stocks that are not harvested. Queensland Fisheries Regulation permits only the harvesting of male mud crabs over 15 centimetres which represents 50% of the male stock, so by only harvesting a possible 25 % of the overall bio mass of this fishery, makes it already one of the best managed commercial fishery in the world.
The apparent disregard for the precautionary principle, that has been applied in past fisheries management, is clearly demonstrated by the recreational mud crab catch limit. This is remaining at 10 crabs per person, per boat trip. This represents that the stocks are healthy, and the commercial sector has been subjected to unnecessary cuts to catching ability.
A scenario that clearly illustrates the potential impacts on the 25% of male stock from the uncapped recreational crabbing is:
600,000 recreational fishers reported in Queensland. If 300,000 went crabbing on any one day and caught 5 mud crabs each (half their bag limit) it would equate to 1.5 million mud crabs, or 1.5 million kilograms extracted from Queensland waters on that particular day. In a growing population, this scenario has to be addressed for all fisheries, where uncapped recreational fishing is promoted to grow without responsibility.
Why then is the commercial mud crab catch proposed to be capped at 730 000 kg’s when recreational is virtually uncapped?
Why do commercial businesses like mine, have to take a cut on our historical catch to fit into this proposed cap?
How do I make up my annual loss of $27,225.00? What small business can sustain this?
Net Fishery Quota
My proposed barramundi allocation is 2804 kg’s. The issue with this is, this amount is not catchable in the years effected by drought. This fishery relies on wet season runoffs. The old cliché “A drought on the land, a drought on the sea.”
Like all primary industries, we need to capitalise on good seasons. My allocation won’t allow this to happen. There is not even an avenue to roll over uncaught quota from year to year.
If I use my last year’s catch as an example, we caught 6,556 kg’s of barramundi. In future we will be capped at 2,804 kg’s, remembering, we have already invested in endorsements to catch these fish.
Why isn’t there an avenue to roll over uncaught quota?
Why is my proposed allocation lower than my average catch?
Again, where does our business make up for the shortfall in income by not being able to catch in good years?
Leased Fishing Licences
Our daughter now is following in our and her grandfather’s footsteps, making her a third generation fisher in the Burdekin district. She is successfully operating her own mud crabbing business after doing her apprenticeship under her mother and I. Currently, she leases a crabbing licence which like many new entrants, hope to use as a stepping stone to eventually buy a licence of her own.
Currently leasing C1 symbol that has allowed her to catch mud crabs – Cost $6,500 per year. The broker has indicated that the lease will double (100% increase) to in excess of $13,000 p.a. The big difference being this price only includes 2.5 tonne of mud crab quota. If she requires more quota in good years, she will have to try and source it through leasing it on the open market, if available.
This small amount of quota represents she will be limited to catching 10 crabs per day, 5 days a week – The same as the current recreational bag limit.
This effectively makes it impossible for new young entrants, like our daughter, to continue.
Is there a need to chase young people out of this primary industry? Where is the succession plan for this fishery?
Where are the buyers going to come from for the existing licences business packages?
Encouraging young people to come into this primary industry is something Neil has been trying to promote for years. Like all primary industries, we need young people coming on.
Tourism, Food Service, Seafood Consumers Stakeholders in the dark
20 million tourists visit Queensland annually. Local seafood is one of key experiences along the Queensland regional coastline. Why has the hospitality and tourism industries, not been recognised as legitimate stakeholders in this consultation process?
Given that an estimated 642,000 Queenslanders choose to fish, why has the rights of the other 4 million Queenslanders to access adequate supply of their fresh local seafood been not addressed?
How will the State meet the seafood consumers demand for fresh local ‘wild caught’ fish when the Quota systems deliberately set out to reduce supply of wild catch seafood from Queensland waters?
Author: Neil Green, Queensland commercial fisher and past President of the QSIA
Image: Millstream Productions
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