Fisherman gutted by low prices, industry changes

WORTH CATCHING?: Maclean-based trawler operator Bruce Ellem with his catch from his first day trawling Lake Wooloweyah this season. PHOTO: Rodney Stevens
WORTH CATCHING?: Maclean-based trawler operator Bruce Ellem with his catch from his first day trawling Lake Wooloweyah this season. PHOTO: Rodney Stevens

A PERFECT storm of falling prices for catches and uncertainty arising from a restructure of the industry has local estuary fishermen fearing for their future.

Former Clarence River Fishermen's Co-operative chairman Steve Everson said the restructure of the industry posed the biggest threat, but the rock-bottom prices for estuary school prawns and mullet were major problems.

Mr Everson said there was a glut of prawns at the moment, forcing prices below $1.20kg last week.

He said the situation had become so dire he had recently received nothing for a catch of 40-50kg of cooked school prawns.

"It's the first time I've ever got zero for cooked school prawns," he said.

He said the bottom had also fallen out of the mullet fishery this season, because recent floods had caused the fish to have an "earthy" taste.

Mr Everson said the flavour made the mullet roe almost worthless, but he said the problem was not in all the fish caught.

"There are some catches of good fish, but because of the problem we're having, there's no money in it," he said.

Maclean fisherman Bruce Ellem said the price for eels in China had dropped, reducing the returns for local fishermen from $11 a kilogram to $7.50.

While both agreed seasonal and market problems were cyclical, it was the uncertainty around the looming structural change that worried them most.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries has begun to implement 22 recommendations from an Independent Review of the Commercial Fishing Industry over a two-year period.

Both fishermen said it was structure of a proposed exit grant to buy out shares that was the sticking point.

In short they believe the plan will force fishermen staying in the industry to pay twice for their shares.

Mr Everson said exiting fishermen would tender for the $16 million on the table.

These shares would then be available to the remaining fishermen.

"In essence, this is asking me to pay again for something I am already set up to do," Mr Everson said.

"Whether I have more shares or not, there's no way I can catch any more fish."

Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis said the Government had not settled on the structure of the exit grant and he had taken these views back to the Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson.

"The exact nuts and bolts of it is still to be determined," he said.

"It's still being discussed with fishermen and the industry.

Mr Gulaptis said fishermen who wanted to have input into these discussions needed to get in contact with him.

Topics:  business fishing

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