Abrolhos plan splits industry

The State Government’s plan to open the Abrolhos Islands up to tourists has polarised the commercial rock lobster fishing industry.

Geraldton Professional Fishermen’s Association president Terry Mouchemore said some fishers were fully supportive and others were “dead against”.

Mr Mouchemore said he would be open to the idea if tourists were restricted to islands not inhabited by commercial fishers.

"Personally, I don’t believe we should be mixing commercial fishing and tourism – there are too many potential areas for conflict, ” he said.

He said there were just so many environmental issues to consider and building restrictions which would flow through.

A-zone commercial rock lobster fishermen will be the ones affected by the plan.

Currently only suitably licensed fishermen, their families and tradespersons are allowed to stay on the islands.

Premier Colin Barnett said the time had come for the islands to be treated as not only for fishing, but to open them up for visitors and tourist accommodation.

He labelled it as potentially the “main tourist attraction for the Geraldton Mid West region”.

The Coastal Towns and Settlements Cabinet subcommittee will look at the Abrolhos Islands, Coral Bay and the south coast between Augusta and the South Australian border as possible tourist destinations.

City of Greater Geraldton Mayor Ian Carpenter said he was “extremely pleased” by the Premier’s announcement.

“I’d like to see the Abrolhos become the jewel in the Geraldton crown, but this must be done on the basis that it is environmentally sustainable,” he said.

He said it was important tourism did not impact on the fishing industry, and vice versa.

Mr Mouchemore said the industry wanted to know if existing camps would have to comply if severe environmental restrictions were imposed on new buildings.

Commercial rock lobster fisherman Justin Pirrottina, based at the Southern Group, has been campaigning for tourism at the Abrolhos Islands for the past six years.

He met Fisheries Minister Ken Baston several months ago at the islands. He believes the islands “should be there for everyone to experience”.

Western Rock Lobster Council chief executive John McMath said the council supported the continued use of the islands – but a managed approach.

The Coastal Towns and Settlements Cabinet subcommittee has a year to present its options to Cabinet.

The committee will comprise Deputy Premier Kim Hames, Minister for Regional Development Terry Redman, Planning Minister John Day, Tourism Minister Liza Harvey, and Mr Baston and Local Government Minister Tony Simpson as required.