Lobster fishers call for cargo ships to be restricted to deeper waters off WA
West Australian lobster fishers say large cargo ships are regularly destroying thousands of dollars worth of fishing gear, and they are calling for better understanding and respect from large ocean vessels for their $500 million industry.
- Fishers say they are losing tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear due to it being run over by cargo ships
- The Western Rock Lobster Industry is asking ships to sail further out to sea
- Cargo ships and fishers are both permitted to use the ocean, but the lobster industry says more respect is needed
Lobster fisher Jay Barret works the ocean at Ledge Point, 120 kilometres north of Perth, in a highly trafficable area for cargo ships sailing to and from the Port of Fremantle.
Mr Barret has fished in this water for 25 years but said this season he had lost more fishing gear than ever due to it being “run over” by cargo ships.
“Myself in a two-week period, lost over $3,500 worth of gear plus associated catch that goes with it, so it is a big problem for us,” he said.
Mr Barret said all the boats in the fishing fleet had lost between six and 10 pots each in the past six weeks.
“Everyone’s losing a little bit of gear and I say if it’s six pots and that’s 10 boats, that’s 60 pots gone,” he said.
“That’s $20,000 worth of gear plus catch gone.”
Shared space needs mutual respect
Fishers and cargo ships are permitted to use the ocean along the West Australian coast.
However, Mr Barret said he would like to see all ocean users respect each other.
“There’s no law against it, but for the sake of an extra couple of hours of travelling time by going around that area, it’s not that difficult,” he said.
The peak industry body representing the lobster fishery, the Western Rock Lobster Council, said interaction with cargo ships was an ongoing issue for fishers along the coast from Kalbarri to Perth.
Council chief executive Matt Taylor called on ships to stay in deeper water.
“Ideally from Fremantle head out to a 100 fathoms or 200 metres and head up north outside of the Abrolhos Islands and then there won’t be any issue at all,” he said.
The council is working with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) to develop a range of strategies to alert ships to fishing gear, including chart notes, virtual buoys and VHF warnings.
Mr Taylor said charting a course in deeper water was also of benefit to ships.
“The gear that they run over can wrap rope around their propeller systems and require professional removal,” he said.
“So it is also in the shipping companies’ best interest that they have free-running gear under the boat.”
The peak industry body representing shipowners and agents, Shipping Australia, noted the concern expressed about fishing grounds.
Policy manager Jim Wilson said under international law, access to the ocean was part of the common heritage of all humankind.
“All countries, even landlocked countries, have an absolute right to benefit from the oceans, and the ships of those countries have a right to freedom of navigation across the seas,” Mr Wilson said.
“Concerned parties ought to raise any issues with the appropriate authorities for consideration, consultation and, if appropriate, the charting of restricted areas on sea maps which can then be issued to the international ocean-shipping industry.
“Shipping Australia would be pleased to assist.”
Trackers turned off, fisher says
International cargo ships larger than 300 tonnes are required by the International Marine Organisation (IMO) to transmit information about a vessel’s identity, course, speed and navigational status via an automatic identification system (AIS) at all times.
Mr Barret said he regularly saw ships contravening this requirement.
“I also have the same AIS on my boat so I can see all the ships when they’re coming within my vicinity,” he said.
“I had this ship alongside me and his AIS was turned off.
“So for them to have AIS turned off, I think they know they’re not supposed to be there and they’ve got something to hide.”
In a statement, AMSA said it would follow up specific cases of AIS systems not transmitting.