OPINION: Labor faces big job winning back crayfishing communities

Headshot of Geoff Vivian
Geoff VivianGeraldton Guardian
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Former Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly. Illustration: Don Lindsay
Camera IconFormer Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly. Illustration: Don Lindsay Credit: The West Australian

One of the State Government’s least popular ministers in the Mid West has changed portfolios.

Premier Mark McGowan said Dave Kelly would no longer be Fisheries Minister.

The new Fisheries Minister is Housing, Veterans Affairs and Asian Engagement Minister Peter Tinley.

Mr Kelly is now Minister for Youth, and will remain Minister for Water, Forestry, Innovation, Information and Communication Technologies and Science.

Mr Kelly drove the controversial and ultimately unsuccessful move to increase the annual crayfish quota by 27 per cent or 1385 tonnes, keeping 17.3 per cent in Government hands.

It prompted meetings in every WA crayfishing community.

Mr Kelly attended none of these meetings.

Instead, they were addressed by members of Parliament from One Nation, WA Nationals and the Liberals.

The Liberal Party actively recruited new members at some meetings.

Craypot prices fell, and fishermen were advising their children to get a trade qualification before deciding whether or not to follow their parents into such an uncertain industry.

In February, Mr Kelly scrapped the plan, saying the annual catch would be increased by 315 tonnes, with all or most of it allocated to local supply.

However, he took until October to make the change official, having caused the industry further grief as it was difficult for fishermen to plan their operations during those intervening months.

Important decisions such as how many workers to employ and whether or not to lease more pots had become a matter of guesswork.

Deckhands, who habitually came to the Mid West for the cray season, were eyeing off jobs in other fisheries.

The industry employs 3500 people from Geraldton to Albany and includes 230 crayfishing vessels, many located in the Mid West.

The McGowan Labor Government can boast more talent and experience in its front bench than most voters have seen in this state.

However it will have to work hard to regain the support it lost in crayfishing communities.

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