Ballina bait shop gets very few nibbles
By GRAHAM BROADHEAD
BRUCE Legge had planned to sell his Ballina business of 18 years, and take 12 months off.
Instead, with the recent fish kill and the closure last week of the Richmond and Wilsons rivers and estuaries to commercial and recreational fishing, he's taken his shop, Dave's Bait Shop, off the market, and expects to be doing it tough and working extra hard over the next 18 months just as he did after the 2001 fish kill.
He's already had to lay off three staff since the fish kill hit the Ballina reaches of the Richmond River the weekend before last, and now will operate his business at reduced hours.
He estimates that his loss of turnover for January and February will reach $100,000, and 'no-one wants to buy a business that's not making any money'.
"It was very, very tough last time, but we survived," he said.
"Business will be very hard.
"But it's not just me it's every other business in town.
"It suffers right down to the ladies selling dresses.
"People just aren't going to come here to go fishing."
Mr Legge said the recent fish kill appears to be worse than the 2001 event.
"It (the river) is going to take longer to recover," he said.
"It will take another 12 months after that for business to pick up. I've just got to ride it out."
He said he felt disappointment and frustration that what he saw as problems in the management of the Richmond floodplain haven't been addressed since the last fish kill.
"The Tweed had a major flood over cane drains and soya bean farms, and their river's fine," he said.
"Why isn't ours?"
He said he wanted to see every floodgate in the Richmond floodplain left open outside flood events to allow tidal flushing of the deoxygenated water which builds up in them.
He said leaving floodgates shut 'stuffs the whole town just for a few rows of cane'.
He said he wouldn't be eligible for any low-interest loans under Natural Disaster Relief Arrangements as his business is affected only indirectly by the flooding.
"Only the people who cause the problem get the relief," he said.
Byron Bay-based Greens MLC Ian Cohen blamed farmers using 'poorly regulated 1960s-style farming on the Richmond River floodplain' as a great contributor to the fish kill.
But chairman of the Richmond River Cane Growers Association, Kilgin farmer Rod Greentree, said local cane farmers follow an industry code of practice, which is 'world's best practice'.
Farmers who don't follow that practice are not entitled to have their cane processed at the Broadwater mill.
"We're not in the business of dirtying the water," Mr Greentree aid.
"We're active in the management of clean water."
He said many of the cane drains in the floodplain were either being filled in or being shallowed and widened to prevent the exposure of acid sulphate soils.
The association, with a membership of about 230 cane farmers, instigated a project which monitors the quality of water in the drains.
The deoxygenated water entering the Richmond River came from the outlying areas of the floodplain where it sat on dead grass.
"Drains don't exist when there is a flood," Mr Greentree said.
"We don't like it (the fish kill) any more than anyone else a lot of canegrowers are fishermen.
"We're all in this together. We (the cane farmers) are doing our bit."
Ken Thurlow, CEO of ECOfishers, is currently organising a public meeting in Ballina to discuss the fish kill.
The group is waiting for information from the NSW Department of Primary Industries before a date is set. But the meeting is likely to be held in February.
A similar public meeting held after the 2001 fish kill attracted 250 people.