Manager of the Ballina Fishermen’s Co-op Phil Hilliard (right) and ECOfishers CEO Ken Thurlow don’t want to see fishers locked out of any more waters in the region.
Manager of the Ballina Fishermen’s Co-op Phil Hilliard (right) and ECOfishers CEO Ken Thurlow don’t want to see fishers locked out of any more waters in the region. DOUG EATON

There's 'a catch' in fishing offer

A PROPOSAL to lock out commercial fishers from the waters between Tweed Heads and Lennox Head would ‘decimate’ the $9m local industry and also affect tourism, Ballina Fishermen’s Co-op manager Phil Hilliard said.

But the bait dangled by Coalition politicians to industry representatives and recreation fishers at Lance Ferris Wharf in Ballina yesterday wasn’t quite enough to hook the local industry chief.

Mr Hilliard heard Nationals Senator Ron Boswell say an elected Coalition would stop the Labor government’s current planning of 27 marine reserves around the country, and give fishers more of a say.

Sen Boswell warned a Greens push to make 30 per cent of the proposed marine reserves no-take zones would come to fruition if Labor wins on August 21 as The Greens were likely to hold the balance of power in the Senate.

He said the Coalition would ‘give fishers a bigger say’, though it remained committed to the ‘responsible development’ of protected areas.

But it was the Howard Government that began the process to establish protected areas, leading Mr Hilliard to admit he was sceptical about the announcements.

He said the Ballina fishing industry had been in a state of decline since the 1980s.

Once about 30 trawlers were based in town, but that has dropped to just eight.

Mr Hilliard said on latest figures the industry was worth $9m a year to the local economy, a figure that has remained steady in recent years, though the Global Financial Crisis and retirements led to a drop of about $1m from last year.

The prawning industry would be most affected by any lock-out from the waters to the north-east of Ballina, he said. With the introduction of the State Government’s Cape Byron Marine Park four years ago Ballina trawlers have lost access to a school prawn spot that brought in about $1.5m a year, and have also been locked out of a pilchard area.

Mr Hilliard said if there were any more restrictions on prawn trawling ‘the co-op would not exist as it is today".

Secretary of Ballina Tourism and Hospitality, Dave Heggie, agreed any further lock-outs could affect tourism.

He pointed to the fish kill of 2008 and the temporary ban to all fishing in the Richmond.

“No one was here as you couldn’t go fishing,” he said.

Ken Thurlow, CEO of recreational fishing group ECOfishers, said if there were more lock-outs the commercial fishermen in Ballina with their ‘great boats and high-tech equipment’ would have a future in Indonesia – as ‘people smugglers’.

The Coalition plans to form bioregional advisory panels for each marine bioregion.



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