Phil Hilliard from the Ballina Fishermen's Co-operative is happy dredging is about to begin at Fishery Creek and the trawler harbour.
Phil Hilliard from the Ballina Fishermen's Co-operative is happy dredging is about to begin at Fishery Creek and the trawler harbour. Cathy Adams

Uncertain optimism over commercial fishing changes

NORTH Coast fishermen are still trying to digest what changes lie ahead after Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair announced a series of reforms to commercial fishing rules.

Even though details of the industry restructuring remained vague, Clarence River Fishermen's Co-operative business development manager Garry Anderson was optimistic about the future.

It was a stark change from 2014 when fishers protested against first-draft reform proposals outside Parliament House, saying the changes would gut the industry.

"There have certainly been a lot of changes made since the talk of 'destroying the industry' and all that," Mr Anderson said.

"But we haven't been given a lot of information.

"There are a couple of clear changes, but there is still a fair bit of grey area."

A range of assistance packages has been opened up for fishers looking to grow their businesses, including low-interest loans of up to $80,000 and grants of up to $1000 to seek financial advice.

A one-off $30,000 payment is available to co-operatives to obtain advice on how to adjust their businesses if changes to fishing shares push some members out of the industry.

Business owners who sell their shares and cancel a fishing business will also be eligible for a fixed payment of $20,000 on top of the sale price.

Up to $10,000 will be available to help with retraining expenses for people who leave the industry.

A $400,000 promotional package to market New South Wales seafood has been flagged to turn around a worrying statistic - 85 % of the seafood eaten in NSW is imported.

Mr Blair said the government was also investigating an origin-labelling scheme for cooked seafood sold in restaurants across the state.

"NSW-caught seafood is the best and most sustainable in the world and the NSW Government is determined to work hand-in-hand with industry to ensure everyone knows about it," he said.

Ballina Fishermen's Co-operative chief executive officer Phil Hilliard was in Sydney alongside Mr Anderson to hear about the reforms on Tuesday.

He hoped information packs sent to every registered fisher and co-operative in the coming days would shed more light on what was in store.

"The tone of Fisheries has changed a bit. They want to work more with the industry to help fishermen get good outcomes and improve the value of their business," he said.

"Before it was all about reducing and restricting - but we still need to wait for more details."

Mr Hilliard said many North Coast fishermen had sold their shares or "parked" their businesses in anticipation of the reforms.

He said the low-interest loans would help fishers get back into the water and afford to take out insurance.

But not everyone is happy.

"Some people are saying nothing has changed, they've just sprinkled a few flowers on top," he said.

"But (the government is) actually acknowledging that there are industries behind the fishermen, and what they do to fishers will impact other industries.

"They're the people working on the land - the drivers, the freight companies, net companies, boat harbours and all that sort of stuff." - ARM NEWSDESK



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