Eden fishers stand united against industry reforms

Local commercial fishers arrive at the Eden RSL Hall for Thursday morning's meeting with Department of Primary Industries (DPI) officials.
Local commercial fishers arrive at the Eden RSL Hall for Thursday morning's meeting with Department of Primary Industries (DPI) officials.

Eden’s commercial fishers stood united against the NSW Government’s proposed industry reforms at a meeting with Department of Primary Industries (DPI) officials last Thursday morning, voting unanimously against the Commercial Fisheries Reform Program.

Media were denied access to the meeting at RSL Hall by DPI officials, who were making the last of 14 stops at ports along the state’s east coast to consult with industry stakeholders.

The local fleet followed the lead of commercial fishers state-wide, with only a handful of industry members across NSW voting in favour of the reforms.

Eden commercial fisherman Stephen Hartley says if the reforms go through, any of the proposed options will “send the industry to the wall”.

Mr Hartley said local fishermen “just want to go to work”, and are effectively being forced to buy their jobs back from those holding inactive licences.

“Seven years ago, DPI went to a share management fishery, which was supposed to give fishermen more security in the slice of the pie; the security of owning part of the fishery,” he said.

“So they issued all these shares, and now probably about 80 per cent of them are latent.

“They’re saying that there is a potential of these latent licences coming back, so we have to get rid of them.

“They started that problem, so they should fix it; don’t ask us to put our hands in our pockets to buy our jobs back; it’s not up to us.”

Mr Hartley said that to maintain his current level of catch, he would have to purchase around 12-14 endorsements, at a cost of $20,000 each.

He said none of DPIs reform options, which involve linking shares in each fishery to either catch or fishing effort, would prove beneficial for the industry. 

He said a days quota would not provide enough days in the year for commercial fishers to make a living without a significant financial outlay to acquire additional shares, while an effort quota based on a mix of shareholdings and recent participation would benefit only the state’s biggest catchers, and “moves the goalposts” after the industry moved away from using catch history when it moved to a share management fishery.

In addition, Mr Hartley said another option which proposes to increase minimum shareholding requirements over each of the next two years had him asking, “How many times have I got to keep buying my job back?”

Mr Hartley also said that part-time commercial and amateur fisherman Tim Crane has developed an alternative proposal to put commercial and recreational fishers on a “level playing field”, which was met with interest by DPI officials at Thursday’s meeting.

DPI officials advised fishers that they will review the proposal over the coming weeks.

The Professional Fishermen’s Association (PFA) has also come out in support of commercial fishers, and says it does not support the reforms in their current format.

PFA Executive Officer Tricia Beatty says that while the reforms were intended to create strong links between commercial fishing shares and their level of access to the resource, they actually reduce the fisher’s access levels in many classes, and require viable operators to significantly invest to return to their original catch levels, for no visible gain.

“We have been meeting with various groups of fishermen and individuals, who have spoken of their own personal concerns and hardships under the proposed reforms,” Ms Beatty said.

“We welcome the support of MPs across the state in supporting our industry’s concerns, and we are now in negotiations with the Government about the ways forward for our industry.

“We want a viable industry, and a strong industry, but many of the reform options I fear will irrevocably hurt our industry, and drive good operators out.

“We need to come up with alternative options that we as an industry can agree with.

“The Government has said to us that they are willing to explore alternative options.”

The reforms have caused division within the Coalition Government, with Nationals MP Chris Gulaptis telling the ABC last Wednesday that the reforms would cause mass job losses and that “the bureaucracy that’s there does not understand the fishing industry”.

Shadow Minister for Primary Industries Steve Whan said in a statement that Mr Gulaptis was right to fight the proposals, and encouraged more Government MPs to follow suit.

In the fallout from the Eden meeting, NSW Minister for Primary Industries Katrina Hodgkinson announced that the deadline for submissions from commercial fishing stakeholders has been extended.

She said stakeholders now have until 5pm on Friday, May 30 to provide feedback in the form of a written submission, and can find details on how to do so at DPI’s website.

“I have personally met with a number of commercial fishers on the North and South Coasts and acknowledge that the issues are complex and some major concerns have been raised during the consultation process,” Ms Hodgkinson said.

“I strongly urge commercial and recreational anglers, and other interested members of the community, to carefully examine the options papers and make a submission.

“At the completion of the consultation process the submissions, input from key stakeholder groups and advice from DPI will be considered by an independent Structural Adjustment Review Committee, which will then provide advice to the NSW Government.".