Eden’s commercial fishers say they are pleased with the NSW Government’s decision to put controversial industry reforms on hold, in order to allow more time to tailor options and consult with industry representatives.
Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, made the announcement this week, saying that the delay has come in response to concerns raised by commercial fishers across the state, as well as several members of parliament, including some from Ms Hodgkinson’s own party.
Eden’s commercial fishing fleet voted unanimously against the proposed reforms at a DPI meeting last month, with only a handful of industry members state-wide voting in favour.
DPI also received 750 written submissions from stakeholders, who expressed concern at the impact the reforms would have on the industry.
The reforms proposed to cap catches at historic levels and buy out inactive licences, with fishermen who wish to remain in the industry forced to foot the bill in order to maintain their current levels.
Eden commercial kingfisherman Drew Mudaliar says that while there is continued uncertainty around the Commercial Fisheries Reform Program, fishers should see this latest development as a win.
It’s a result of fishermen standing up for their industry, and for local jobs,” Mr Mudaliar said.
“The fact that they did that is important for both the industry and the town; they should take a positive out of that.
“There were many in the industry who saw the reforms, as they were proposed, as a disaster.
“If that’s been averted, it’s a positive for the industry at this stage, but the uncertainty continues, and that affects lots of people in many ways.
“We can only assume that it’s been put on hold until after the [NSW] elections next year.”
Ms Hodgkinson has acknowledged the widespread concern around the reforms, saying that as it is a long-term reform, “it is important we get it right”.
She also said chairman of the Structural Assessment Review Committee, Ian Cartwright, has requested more time to carefully examine the reform’s option papers and submissions made by industry stakeholders.
SARC will also focus on tailoring reform options to the specific circumstances of fisheries and share classes.
“The timeline was ambitious and, while the delay is unfortunate, we are committed to getting this reform right,” Ms Hodgkinson said.
“That is why I have agreed to a request from the independent SARC for more time.
“SARC will now carefully go through the submissions and will then undertake further targeted consultation with industry on a range of refined options.
“The NSW Government is also considering engaging an independent consultant to analyse the reform package, particularly relating to share linkage, for the consideration of the independent SARC.”
Mr Mudaliar said targeted consultation represents a step forward for the industry.
“The industry has been trying to highlight the problems with these reforms for the past 18 months, and we assume that targeted communications means SARC will actually discuss the reforms with fishermen,” he said.
“To this point, the independent committee has relied on DPI to do all their consultation for them, and then report back.
“No fishermen or industry representatives have been able to speak directly to the committee, but that may change now.”
Mr Mudaliar said that in the interim, the industry will turn its focus to pushing for the NSW Government to buy out inactive licences, as part of a process separate to the proposed reforms.
$14million has been allocated to the structural adjustment package, including exit grants, but that too has been quarantined.
“There are sections of the industry that would prefer to see the buyout separated from the reform process, so that it could proceed first,” he said.
“It would make reform a lot easier if the industry had already had a voluntary buyout.
“Looking ahead, that is one of the industry’s main aims at the moment.”
News of the reform stall has also been welcomed by Professional Fishermen’s Association executive officer Tricia Beatty, and Shadow Minister for Primary Industries, Steve Whan.