Fisheries faces major overhaul
All for change: Call for Fisheries overhaul. Picture: The West Australian

The Department of Fisheries has been criticised as too focused on conservation in a little-known review commissioned by former fisheries minister Troy Buswell.

The review, by the Centre for International Economics, called for a major shake-up of the department that would result in small commercial fisheries such as salmon and herring being closed.

Among the other recommendations were:

· Farming the management of fisheries out, at least partly, to stakeholders including the commercial and recreational fishing lobbies and the oil and gas sector.

· Changing the name of Fisheries to the Department of Aquatic Resources and housing its Perth staff in one building to remove its "siloed" mentality.

· Sending responsibility for services such as marine park monitoring and marine safety to the department, which would effectively become the government's "marine service" arm.

However, Fisheries director-general Stuart Smith rejected many of the review's claims and noted it contained several factual errors.

Mr Smith said the review had been framed in an economically dry context and ignored important social considerations such as the value people placed on locally-caught seafood.

He also dismissed suggestions the department was wasteful, saying its budget had grown courtesy of government handing it more responsibility but it was more efficient than ever.

"It (the review) would involve closing a significant number of commercial fisheries and a repositioning of the department as an aquatic services delivery arm of government rather than a fisheries-focused organisation," Mr Smith said.

The report, a draft of which has been delivered to the Government, was initiated by Mr Buswell last year as he looked for budget savings.

Mr Buswell is also understood to have been unhappy with the performance of WA's commercial fishing sector, which has shrunk considerably in recent years amid environmental and population pressures.

According to the report, between 2001-02 and 2011-12 the value of WA's "wild catch fishery" fell from $430 million to $276 million, while aquaculture has failed to flourish.

"The review . . . recommends significant changes to the operating model for the Department of Fisheries," CIE said.

"The key changes required developing effective stakeholder engagement, breaking down internal "silos", building appropriate economic frameworks . . . and improving cost effectiveness."

The West Australian

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