Fishers facing fierce futures

FISHERMEN across the Northern Rivers are concerned a spate of sweeping industry reforms will result in many full-time commercial fisherman either being forced out of the industry or severally restricted in the amount of business they can generate.

Ballina Fisherman's Co-op Manager, Phil Hilliard, said the biggest concern for fisherman is that they will lose their business without any compensation.

"We're talking about businesses having hundreds of thousands of dollars stripped out of them," he said. "The majority of them won't be able to afford to buy their businesses back.

"They'll either close or be restricted in what they can do." Mr Hilliard said the biggest concern was the reforms linking shares to resource access.

Under the reforms, each commercial fisherman would own a number of "fishing" shares.

Each share would give the shareholder a portion of the total access based on either the weight of the catch, the amount of time spent on the catch, or the amount and type of gear required for the catch or the number of individuals in the fishery.

Professional Fisherman's Association Executive Officer, Tricia Beatty, said the reform program would put a burden on the fishers who are "active" and "viable".

"It requires our active fishers to "buy-out" the non-active fishers," she said.

"When you consider that the average age of our industry is 59, it is unlikely that a bank will approve loans for most fishers to invest further into this industry, forcing many to leave."

But a spokesperson for the Department of Primary Industries said the reforms are about securing the fishers' share of the resource and allowing for greater flexibility for businesses to upsize or downsize.

She said it was important to remember that the department was still in a period of comprehensive consultation with industry.

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