Industry must reduce whale tangles

Daniel MercerThe West Australian

The WA Fisheries Department head has warned the rock lobster industry is likely to face closures from next year unless it can show how it will reduce the number of whales being entangled in pot lines.

In a move operators said could slash the profitability of the sector, Fisheries director-general Stuart Smith said he was "of a mind" to close the Western rock lobster fishery during peak whale migration periods.

It emerged last week that Canberra only reapproved the industry's lucrative live export licence until 2015 on the condition it acted to prevent whale entanglements in lobster pot lines after a rise in incidents.

The salvo prompted WA Fisheries Minister Troy Buswell to claim the Commonwealth was threatening to effectively close the $200 million fishery - WA's biggest - and led to Mr Smith's intervention.

In a letter to commercial lobster fishermen this month, Mr Smith asked for advice about specific actions the industry was proposing to reduce the risk of whale entanglements by October 11.

He said "in the absence" of satisfactory answers, he would be inclined to shut the fishery during peak periods - in winter - when whales migrated up the WA coast to breeding grounds off the Kimberley.

"In the absence of specific alternative action(s) being proposed, I am currently of a mind to close relevant fisheries during peaks in the whale migration season for all operators not using an approved method to minimise the potential for interactions," Mr Smith wrote in a letter to the Western Rock Lobster Council.

"Approved methods may include pots and floats fitted with acoustic receivers, 'pingers', corrosive anodes, negatively buoyant rope and other technologies."

WRLC chairman Basil Lenzo said the lobster industry, which has enjoyed record prices since the shift to a 12-month season, understood Mr Smith's urgency because "the last thing we want to do is close the fishery".

"We have had some very significant advantages going to a 12-month season and the premium the industry is receiving is because of that."

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