Commercial fisherman Clint Higgins. Photo: Nolan Verheij-Full / Tweed Daily News
Commercial fisherman Clint Higgins. Photo: Nolan Verheij-Full / Tweed Daily News Nolan Verheij-Full

Fishermen battle reforms

REFORMS proposed for the commercial fishing industry will collapse businesses, drive down fresh seafood supplies and pit fisherman against fisherman, local business owners warn.

Fishermen were last week alerted to the New South Wales Government's Structural Adjustment Review Committee (SARC) recommended reforms, which include a $16m buy-out package and industry restructure.

A limited number of shares will be released and fishermen will have to buy quotas of shares to fish, net and catch mud crab.

Third-generation Chinderah fisherman Ben Markwell says he'll be forced to close because he cannot afford to buy all the shares he needs.

With one estuary licence, he will only be able to fish one day a week, instead of the seven needed during peak mullet season, and four the rest of the year.

"I'd have to spend an extra $30,000 to $50,000 for more shares," Mr Markwell said.

"It's ludicrous, which is why an overwhelming majority of local fishermen are dead-set against it."

Fourth-generation fisherman Clint Higgins, of Tumbulgum, said fishermen would be pitted against each other in trying to reach sustainable quotas.

"It's like they want one or two fishermen endorsed with a high amount of shares," he said.

But the NSW Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair says the reforms will achieve a "vibrant, sustainable and viable" commercial fishing sector in the state.

"Coupled with aquaculture, (the sector) can help increase the value of locally produced seafood for sale in NSW," he said.

"There are no easy solutions to addressing the complex problems created by the initial commercial fisheries share allocation in 2007. But doing nothing is simply not an option.

"This is about building a better future for those who want to remain in the industry and there is $16 million on the table to help get there, but it is also about helping those who wish to leave the industry."

Fingal fisherman Dave Smith, a member of the Working Group for the Ocean Beach Fishermen Region 1 (Tweed to Evans Head) will lobby SARC against the proposed reforms in Sydney this week.

"We've been under really strict management since 1983 so a lot of the boys are pretty drained," he said.

"We've reduced the actual fishing effort (to a sixth) since then. We're on the brink of tipping the industry on its head," he said.

Richard Brown, general manager of Markwell Fisheries - a Chinderah processing plant employing 70 - has joined the coalition.

"Putting pressure on some fishermen to get out of the industry so others can get shares is abhorrent," he said.

"What we need is as much supply as possible to maintain our customer base."

He said under the reforms, fresh local seafood will become harder to come by.

BY THE NUMBERS:

50: Tweed commercial fishermen

960: NSW fishermen, currently

6000: NSW fishermen, in 1983

87%: Imported seafood consumed locally, today



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