WA’s $500 million-a-year rock lobster industry will recommend the State Government extends the crayfishing season until the end of June 2021, to help it recover from a lengthy standstill after losing the premium Chinese market because of the coronavirus. The Western Rock Lobster Council will also recommend to Fisheries Minister Peter Tinley that fisherman have the option to convert entitlement for local sales, including from the back of the boat, meaning there will be an increase in crays on the local market. The recommendations follow a series of meetings last week hosted by the WRLC, attended by about 400 people, at Cervantes, Dongara, Geraldton and Fremantle. The industry had ground to an unprecedented halt because China, which represents 90 per cent of the customer base, has stopped buying WA crayfish as the country comes to grips with coronavirus. WRLC said it was not expecting fishing — which stopped on January 25 — to resume until at least the end of March, and most of the State’s 230 boats have stopped operating. The WA season usually starts on January 15 and fishermen have a quota for how much they can catch during the year. WRLC chief executive Matt Taylor said, in a document, that extending the season would reduce the pressure to fish and meet quotas when demand resumes, and would provide flexibility to fishermen and marketers. He said a recommended adjustment of the current 6615 tonne total allowable commercial catch to 9000 tonnes for the season extension of 5.5 months represented a nominal TACC increase, but an effective decrease given the three-year average catch foregone during the expected three-month pause to fishing. “The extension will include a second Chinese New Year as part of the 2020/21 season, making up for the opportunities lost during the recent Chinese New Year period,” Mr Taylor said. “It also includes a second opportunity in the season for the fishing of migrating whites in deep water.” It is yet to be discussed whether the 2021/2022 season would be shortened to realign to a January 15 start for the following year, or whether this would be a permanent shift in the season. Mr Taylor said the second recommendation an option mechanism enabling fishermen to convert their quota entitlement for local sales, including from the back of the boat, provided these operators with an option for generating cash flow in the short term. “It is flexible in that individual fishers will reach a different trade off between having cash flow now, versus the opportunity to fish at higher (export) prices later in the season,” he said. Other Australian States with crayfishing industries are investigating similar recommendations. Less than five of WA’s 230 crayboats are fishing, for the domestic market, and hundreds of casual workers across the industry, including those in processing and transport, have been stood down as a result of the standstill.