Professional West Coast fishers have been dealt a blow after receiving new quotas from Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA) set to be introduced next July.
The state government is introducing an individual transferable quota (ITQ) system as part of its $24.5 million Marine Scalefish Fishery (MSF) reform package, which is aimed at creating a sustainable and viable future for fishers across the state.
PIRSA recently met with West Coast fishers, who voiced concerns over the reform process and what it will mean for the future of the fishery.
The ITQ sees fishers licensed to catch King George whiting, southern garfish, snapper and southern calamari allowed a base quota distributed from 20 per cent of the zone's total allowable catch.
The other 80 per cent is based on catch history between 2010 and 2016.
Ceduna's Donna Isaacson, who owns a marine scale licence with her husband, Doug, received notice her annual West Coast whiting catch would be 86.8 kilograms, the lowest amount possible, as they acquired a licence in 2017 and have no catch history.
The number, she said, after receiving only "small quotas" for other species and spending about $400,000 on the licence, set-up and running costs, was not sustainable.
"An 86-kilogram catch is about three days of fishing, now we get that over the whole year," she said.
"We've been averaging roughly 1.9 tonnes over the last three years, but how it is set at the moment it won't be viable to remain in the industry.
"I don't want to leave the industry and will fight it as much as I can, but this won't even pay for fuel for a few weeks."
West Coast Professional Fishers Association president Jeff Schmucker said there had been differing reactions to the news, with those without catch history "dismayed" over the amount received.
While he acknowledged the concern, he said with the opportunity to trade quota amounts with fishers across the state, the number would not be so low.
"Those who have been given the lowest amount can initially trade, they can build up their West Coast unit, and if they want to further their interest in the fishery they will have to reinvest or lease units of ITQ West Coast whiting," he said.
"Every licence in the state will have the 20 per cent of the base amount of quota, so they can trade from other fishers who will also get West Coast whiting on their quota.
"The people who put the effort into the industry with King George whiting - as that's the only fish going ITQ on the West Coast - will be somewhat rewarded."
Mr Schmucker said there was a fear among fishers that corporations and investors in the industry would go to the quota-trading platform and offer money for quota, meaning "guys left in the industry could be leasing from corporates".
Mrs Isaacson feared the reform would have a devastating impact on the West Coast fishing industry, affecting not only the professional fishers, but factories, transport companies, hotels and clubs who purchased local produce, and the communities itself.
She said now was the time to consider the state government's $140,000 licence buyback.
"It won't be sustainable to be a fisher going forward," she said.
"We can't believe what has been offered and it's a slap in the face for fishers. There is despair in the industry."
Ceduna mayor Perry Will, in a letter sent to Premier Steven Marshall, wrote there was concern within the Ceduna District Council and the community that the reform, especially ITQ, would "inadvertently destroy the younger generation of commercial fishers".
Mr Will wrote the Premier had been misinformed if he was told that fishers wanted ITQ introduced, and listed multiple professional fishers who were either offered the lowest quota possible, or a total much lower than their current catch.
"Fishers in the MSF catch their fish by hand and work their areas according to weather, season and cycles, this produces premium product that is sought after by locals, distributors, restaurants and tourists," he wrote.
"The state government have recently promoted the need for regional job creation but the current ITQ's are making it impossible for the individuals in the fishing industry to continue and build their businesses. Regional businesses, employment and lifestyle that have been established for generations will be destroyed.
"PIRSA and SARDI (South Australian Research and Development Institute) are not being held accountable for their mismanagement of the fisheries they control, no one is listening to the fishers, the people that will be impacted the most by the reform, and the ITQ's will cripple the small family-based fishers."
Primary Industries Minister David Basham said the information received by fishers would help them decide if they wanted to stay in the fishery and invest into the future, or exit the industry.
"An independent report by BDO EconSearch in 2019 highlighted that there are simply too many fishers and not enough fish and something needs to change to make the fishery sustainable for future generations," he said.
"In the short term there will be adjustment for local fishers but in the long term our reform is expected to add $277 million to South Australia's economy and create a further 107 jobs.
"I understand this might be a difficult time for some in the industry and we will continue to consult to achieve the best outcome for both the fishery and fishers."
Mr Basham said 57 fishers had decided to leave the industry, leaving less than 100 voluntary licence surrenders remaining before applications close on November 13.
Mr Schmucker said he believed the state government would reach its target of having 150 licences left across the state.
He said this would help those who remained, because "as the number comes down, the base amount of quota will grow".
He also noted PIRSA had not yet finalised the quota system and a disclaimer in the letter sent to fishers noted the amount could change before July.
Mr Will urged the Premier to reconsider the implementation of the quota.