Commercial fishers fear reforms will mean disaster

COMMERCIAL Fishers along the NSW coast hold grave fears for the future of the industry as proposed NSW Government reforms begin to take shape.

Industry members of a DPI-established working group have spoken out about the fears they hold for their future as the NSW Government moves to cull fishing licenses.

“The entire process has been brought about by very poor past government decisions. Way too many fishing licenses were issued and fishing rights were not allocated proportionally to catch,” Sydney based fisher Paul Sullivan said.

“In the inshore line fishery, there are 370 licenses yet less than 40 of these businesses catch 90 per cent of the fish. The rest of these licenses are largely inactive.”

The NSW Government has allocated funds to buy out some of these inactive licenses, yet it is proposed that these businesses would still be allocated a proportion of the total catch, even if they have not fished. Those wishing to stay in the industry will then be forced to purchase these allocations just to keep fishing.

“Come the implementation date, my business could be allocated just a small proportion of what I have historically caught. I would be forced to buy out upwards of ten fishers at a cost of up to $200,000. This would be impossible,” Mr Sullivan said.

Eden based fisher Drew Mudaliar is also worried for the future.

Mr Mudaliar said Government have stated the reforms will bring economic security and certainty to the industry and that the process is not about culling active fishers.

“I just cannot see this being successful when you consider the Governments past track record,” he said.

“At present, the industry is already suffering from increasing operating costs and a fragile infrastructure supply chain.

“Any reduction in seafood supply could break the NSW industry, we have already lost our local cooperative and the jobs that go with it.

“Freight lines, ice works, slipways and all manner of services in coastal towns would also be affected.”

Long-term Bermagui fisher Matt Creek points out that the reform process is not about stock concerns but getting industry to fix past government errors.

“DPI keep telling us that NSW fish stocks, as a whole, are in their best shape for 20 years. This is not about any perceived overfishing,” Mr Creek said.

“Simply, I could be forced to buy out other fishers just to keep fishing and that is something I am not willing or able to do.

This reform may benefit those license holders that do not fish and wish to exit the industry, but massive damage could be done to the most important active part of the industry.”

All of these fishers are also concerned at the stress and hardship placed on their peers and their families.

“We have all seen what drought can do to struggling farmers. Well, this is no different, other than it is by the hand of our own Government,” Mr Sullivan said.

“I know of one fisherman that rang a specific mental health line set up by DPI only for the counsellor to refer him back to DPI Fisheries Management.”

Details of the reform proposals will be released to industry in the coming months.

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