Fishos on mental health watch as they grapple with reforms

A file photo of the Ballina trawler harbour.
A file photo of the Ballina trawler harbour. Jay Cronan

FISHERMEN'S lives are on the line with a tidal wave of industry reforms threatening to financially cripple operators if changes aren't made to the proposals put forward by the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Ballina Fishermen's Co-op general manager Phil Hilliard said under the proposed reforms, some fishermen wouldn't be able to catch enough product to pay the DPI's fees.

"I'm extremely worried," Mr Hilliard said. "To a point where I do have a watch on a couple of people because their mental health state is not the best.

"They have built up their business by catching fish, selling fish and buying shares and now they're being told if they don't spend more money they don't have a job."

Mr Hilliard said he now held meetings every day with local fishermen on how they could deal with the changes.

Under the proposed reforms, fishing shares will be linked to either catch or fishing effort.

A $16 million structural adjustment package will give fishers the option to downsize or exit the industry or help set up their business for the future.

NSW Minister for Primary Industries Katrina Hodgkinson said the Commercial Fishing Reform Program was developed in response to an independent review.

"The reform program aims to remove unnecessary fishing controls and improve the general management of commercial fisheries in NSW," she said.

The reforms have been met with widespread criticism from the industry with the closing date for options papers submissions pushed back until 5pm, May 30.

Ms Hodgkinson said she strongly urged commercial and recreational anglers, and other interested members of the community, to carefully examine the options papers and make a submission.

"I ... acknowledge that the issues are complex and some major concerns have been raised during the consultation process," she said.


SCRAPING TO SURVIVE: Garry Joblin on his fishing trawler is deeply worried about the proposed commercial fisheries reform.
SCRAPING TO SURVIVE: Garry Joblin on his fishing trawler is deeply worried about the proposed commercial fisheries reform. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

DPI gutting industry, fishers say

FISHERMEN will be forced to clean up the mess made by the Department of Primary Industries with their livelihoods.

That's the message Northern Rivers fishermen are trying to get across after the release of industry reform options papers.

Second generation Ballina fisherman Garry Joblin, whose business covers ocean prawn trawling, estuary general, river mullet and prawn, pipi and spanner crabbing, says while he agrees change has to happen, fishermen shouldn't be punished for the DPI's mistake in releasing too many shares.

The first option for ocean trawlers outlined in the proposals would see the minimum number of shares required to operate increase from 40 offshore and 40 inshore to 141 offshore and 192 inshore.

"This could cost the person anywhere up to $100,000 just to continue doing what they're doing now," Mr Joblin said.

If the department decides to go with the second option, which involves linking shares to the number of catch days, Mr Joblin says he will lose a quarter of his trawling nights per year.

"You're going to lose 31 nights a year that you can't operate if you don't buy more shares," he said. "That's the profit gone for the year."

The reality of sinking tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars into a business that is already on the brink is an impossible task for many of the fishermen facing it.

"It's getting harder and harder to make a living," Mr Joblin said.

"We're probably getting less money at times than we were 20 years ago when I first started fishing with my father."

He said the bottom line was quickly meeting the top line with the ever-increasing costs of fuel, compensation, superannuation, insurance and maintenance.

"There's no light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

For those wanting to get out of the industry, the department is offering a $16 million exit grant.

"It is not an exit grant," Mr Joblin said. "It is an industry-funded buy-out."


Department welcoming fishers' views

A DEPARTMENT of Primary Industries spokes-woman says the department is aware of industry concerns and welcomes the views of fishers on how the proposed reforms can be modified to make them more workable.

"No decisions have been made on any of the options currently out for public consultation as part of the Commercial Fisheries Reform Program," she said.

"There is a degree of misinformation circulating so it is important that stakeholders review the options papers."

At the end of the consultation process the submissions, input from key stakeholder groups, and advice from the DPI will be considered by an independent Structural Adjustment Review Committee, which will then provide advice to the NSW government.

When The Northern Star asked if the submission date was likely to be extended, the spokesperson said the date had already been extended from May 19 to May 30.

Topics:  commercial fishing department of primary industries fishing

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