Charter boat operators on the Fleurieu angered by state government grants

A $500,000 grant program from the Regional Growth Fund has been opened to support charter boat operators impacted by the snapper ban that will be in place until 2023. However charter boat operators are unhappy with the grant program.

The Charter Boat Diversification Program is proposed to strengthen the charter boat sector by providing co-investment in projects that enhance the tourism experience offered by charter boat operators.

Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development Tim Whetstone said the initiative will deliver $25,000 matched grants to incentivise charter boat businesses to diversify their market offer.

"The charter boat sector has been in decline for the past decade and there is a real need to support the industry to refocus its effort on capturing a new market segment and growing the opportunities for nature-based tourism here in South Australia," Mr Whetstone said.

"Charter boat licences have fallen from 108 down to just 58 active licences and client numbers have slumped by 26 per cent from 19,500 people in 2005-06 down to 14,382 clients in 2017-18."

Fleurieu Charters operator, based at Cape Jervis, Gary Lloyd said the grant program was "an insult" to most operators.

"We are charter fishermen, not tour guides. The government did not listen to what we had to say and everything useful we offered that would assist us, was knocked on the head," Mr Lloyd said.

"We wanted 50 per cent fee relief, the same as Marine Scale fishermen are getting and our charter licences put in abeyance until the snapper ban is lifted. Operators are not happy with this grant proposal and it is made to look like the government is doing something."

Mr Lloyd said due to the snapper ban he had 15 out of 20 charters cancelled from December 15 to December 24, which use to be the opening of the snapper season.

"It is a massive impact and reality will not kick in until April when I look at our how we went during the summer season," he said.

The snapper ban took into effect on November 1 and will run until January 31, 2023 in the Spencer Gulf and Gulf St Vincent waters, while in the south-east waters snapper fishing is closed from November 1 til January 31, 2020.

Applications to the Charter Boat Diversification Program are limited to active charter licence holders and a minimum 50:50 project funding contribution is required. For more information visit pir.sa.gov.au/fishing-for-tourism.

Mr Whetstone said the State Government wanted to work with the charter boat sector to transform a decade of decline under Labor into a new period of growth over the coming years.

"Any successful fishing enterprise can only grow if there are sustainable fish stocks to catch, which is why it was absolutely necessary to put in place restrictions to help depleted snapper populations recover. There are plenty of fish in the sea able to provide a fantastic fishing experience, but some charter boat operators will be impacted by the decision to close the snapper fishery for three years in Gulf St Vincent, Spencer Gulf and the West Coast," Mr Whetstone said.

Catching snapper is banned in the Spencer Gulf and Gulf St Vincent.

Catching snapper is banned in the Spencer Gulf and Gulf St Vincent.

Snapper is the second most important target species for charter boat operators, representing 16.4 per cent of all fish caught, coming in behind King George Whiting, which are 42.7 per cent of all fish caught by charter boat clients.

Mr Whetstone said annual snapper catches had declined by 62 per cent across the charter boat industry as stocks have fallen, from 34,450 snapper caught in 2007-8 down to 13,127 fish in 2017-18.

"To see future growth in this sector, operators need to diversify the experiences they offer. There's an opportunity to expand tourism options for domestic and international visitors, and encourage fishers to catch other species in our waters.

"With Snapper restrictions in place for three years, operators need to focus on improving or expanding other areas of their business, and the Charter Boat Diversification Program can inject funding to help make this happen," he said.

Charter boat operator Gary Lloyd.

Charter boat operator Gary Lloyd.

Applicants can seek grants from $2000 up to $25,000 for the following types of projects: Improvements to boat amenities (e.g. fridge, catering equipment, seating), Improvements in boat accessibility (e.g. disability, elderly), Marketing, promotions and booking management systems, To purchase equipment that will deliver new customer experiences, Upgrade of boat survey and associated boat alterations, Boat alterations to support tag-and-release science work, Boat alterations to support new customer experiences and Business strategies to plan for diversification

Industry Facts

There are 58 active charter boat licences in South Australia.

$13.8 million contribution to Gross State Product in 2017-18.

14,382 clients in 2017-18 (down 26.4% from 19,540 clients in 2005-06).

Only 12.3 per cent of active charter boat operators average at least two trips per week.

One in four active charter boat operators average less than one trip per month.

3 per cent of clients are from South Australia, 14.8 per cent from Victoria, 9.2 per cent from NSW.

6 per cent of clients are overseas visitors.

63 per cent of trips comprised ecotourism activities in 2017-18.

King George Whiting is the most caught fish (42.7 per cent), followed by snapper (16.4 per cent), Bight Redfish (13.3 per cent) and Silver Trevally (3.8 per cent).

13,127 snapper caught in 2017-18 (39.8 tonne) (down 62 per cent from 34,450 in 2007-08).

5229 charter clients targeting snapper in 2017-18 (down from 13,148 in 2009-10).

75 species of fish, shark, mollusc and cephalopods caught in South Australian waters by charter boat clients

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