A History Spanning Three States
The early 1870's saw South Australian locals begin catching Southern Rocklobsters with hoop nets. Fishermen sold these rocklobsters in the state capital, Adelaide and Kingston in the State's south-east, where they were expected to ask no more than two shillings a dozen off the jetty. Meanwhile, in Tasmania the Southern Rocklobster fishery has been contributing to the State's fishing industry since the 1860's.
Victoria's commercial industry also dates back over 100 years. The introduction of beehive shaped pots early in the 20th century replaced the hoop nets previously used only in shallow coastal waters - this then lead the way for Victorian fishers to expand their operations to islands in the treacherous Bass Straight and later the East coast of Tasmania.
In South Australia the first commercial pots were used in 1899, and from the turn of the century, small industries began to emerge in different parts of the State at Kingston, on Kangaroo Island, and in the now famous fishing port of Port Lincoln - the unofficial capital of Australian Seafood.
Management of the fishery effectively commenced in the late 1800's with a Royal Commission on fisheries in Tasmania in 1882, which lead to the introduction of the Crayfish Act 1885 (Winstanley 1973). This Act introduced the first size limits and prohibited the taking of spawning female Southern Rocklobster in the State.
In January 1945 a group of 28 Southern Rocklobster fishermen from Kingston, in South Australia agreed to form the South Australian Fishermen's Cooperative Ltd (SAFCOL). Not long after this, a factory was opened at Beachport to process Southern Rocklobster tails for export to America. This was perhaps the single most important development in the history of the industry, leading to rapid growth, the widespread use of pots, and substantial investment in depots, slipways and transport. In the years after World War II many fishing vessels became more sophisticated with the addition of radios, echo sounders and pot haulers. There was a rapid expansion in the overseas markets for frozen tails and whole cooked lobsters and as a result, the industry continued to develop.
The first management control in the Victorian fishery was introduced in 1958 when minimum lengths of 10.5cm (carapace length - CL) for females and 11cm for males became regulation. Closed seasons during the breeding season for females and males were also in force at this time. In 1968 the number of boats allowed to operate in the Victorian Southern Rocklobster fishery was fixed under a system of limited entry licenses.
The maximum number of pots a boat could use was set at one pot per foot of boat length plus an additional 20 pots if they worked alone or 40 pots if they employed a crew.
In 1968 a Rock Lobster Advisory Committee was established in South Australia to advise the State Government on resource management and this was followed by the introduction of industry liaison committees for each fishing zone. The current South Australian Fishery Management Committees (Northern and Southern Zones) replaced the liaison committees in the early 1990's.
Today, the highest overseas demand for Australian Southern Rocklobster is for live product and originates primarily from Asia. The national Southern Rocklobster Industry exports around 4000 tonnes of product each year; this is around 90% of the annual harvest and is valued at almost $200 million. The industry generates approximately 1600 jobs in South Australia, 1400 in Tasmania and 400 in Victoria - it injects almost $1/2 billion into regional economies annually.