THERE are grave fears for South Lismore professional fisherman Mick Endres, who has disappeared on a fishing expedition off the coast of Evans Head.
A search for Mr Endres, who worked as a professional line and trap fisherman out of Evans Head, was launched on Saturday morning after he failed to return to port and about 30 hours after his last radio contact.
His 7m aluminium runabout, Julie, was found by the Westpac Rescue Helicopter shortly after 10am on Saturday. However, there was no sign of Mr Endres.
Pilot Tom Hulse and crewman Mark Sewell winched fellow crew Tom Burns onto the bobbing deck of the tinny and found the boat vacant.
A rope was suspended over Julie's stern quarter effectively anchored the craft to the bottom, in more than 50 fathoms (91 metres) of water 16 nautical miles (29km) east of the Evans River bar.
It is believed a spanner crab trap was anchoring the boat in place and Mr Endres may have fallen overboard during its deployment.
A hydraulic steering cable to one of its two outboard motors was damagedm suggesting Mr Endres may have tried to re-board the boat using it as a handle.
Australian Maritime and Safety Authority co-ordinated the search from Ballina Airport, using three additional helicopters, one fixed wing aircraft and numerous coast guard vessels combining to conduct a comprehensive search of the area.
Mr Endres often fished with a deckie but this trip he was operating solo.
Mr Endres lived in South Lismore and was a professional fisherman and a board member of the Evans Head Fishing Co-op.
By yesterday afternoon the air search had been suspended after 1000sq km of sea had been searched without a trace of the fisherman.
Lismore police inspector Bill McKenna said the sea search would continue for a number of days and there was "some hope" of finding Mr Endres alive.
But considering how long the man had been in the water it was unlikely he had survived, he said.
The boat's safety equipment was found on board when it was searched.
The hard-working fisherman had escaped from the clutches of the sea in March 2005, when Julie was struck from behind by a Yamba-based prawn trawler.
Mr Endres had been fishing at the time for jew and trag at night offshore from Kahors Reef, locally known as Chaos.