Tuna quotas wanted back

Commercial fishermen have voiced concerns along with Australian Conservatives party leader Cory Bernardi over the control of tuna quotas by the government. 

The Southern Bluefin Tuna.

The Southern Bluefin Tuna.

Mr Bernardi expressed during meetings with local fishermen his main concerns about the industry.

"I met with some people about it, and the underlying issue is this; for the very first time in their history, they've had quota taken away," he said.

"Not because of fish stocks but because government unilaterally decided to remove it from them.

"In any other circumstance, that would be the taking of a property right by the commonwealth."

Mr Bernardi said people had paid for their quotas, and he believes there is a strong case for fishers all around the country to own their own quotas again. 

"...I think there is a very strong case for fishers all around the country (that) commercial fishers should own quota, not just for southern bluefin but any quota, and to have it treated as a commonwealth property right so it can't just be taken away at the whim of the government," he said. 

"It's worth millions of dollars to Port Lincoln...it's put a limit on investment...it all goes into making it hard to make a buck in regional areas.

"I've met with some of the stakeholders in the industry today and it's one of those things where it has to be a national approach, where I work with my senate colleagues in the next parliament to make sure that we can deliver it."

Chief executive officer of the Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association Brian Jeffriess said the government knew it was a direct transfer of hundreds of jobs from Port Lincoln to Portland, Victoria. 

"Canberra felt that starting 2017 they needed to take quota from Port Lincoln to cover the new recreational and charter catch of tuna in other states," he said. 

"It was also very clear that this was to protect the Government's marginal seats in Victoria.

"Canberra's other main reason was that the Port Lincoln tuna industry and community had shown over decades that they could be hit by quota cuts, receiverships, natural disasters and long periods of low prices - but they always came back stronger than ever."

He said combining all factors, the government saw no reason to take the Port Lincoln community into account.

"The tuna industry noted many times that the Port Lincoln community had bought the quota from government, from other states, and from recreational fishers," he said.

"This had been government policy since tuna quotas were introduced in 1984, and the industry had strictly followed the policy and taken the risks.

"What is happening in these cases is that a major regional community in Australia is being taken for granted and penalised for being independent and self-sufficient...it sends exactly the wrong message.

Mr Jeffriess said all the tuna industry can do is continue to argue for fairness and stable policies.

"Whoever is the government and individual parliamentarians from mid-2019 will have a chance to re-set government policy, and bring some fairness to the situation," he said.