COMMERCIAL fishermen face having to pay up to $400,000 to be allowed to stay in the business if proposals in the NSW government’s Commercial Fisheries Program are adopted, according to Ballina Fishing Co-op manager Phil Hilliard.
Mr Hilliard has become the voice of commercial fishermen up and down the coast, who fear a proposal in the options papers to require them to buy additional shares in their fisheries to give them access to the ocean will force them out of the business.
“Our biggest problem with the proposal is that many fishermen have already spent between $60,000 and $80,000 on shares to get into the business and will have to pay an additional $125,000 if they fish the estuaries and up to $400,000 if they fish offshore to stay in the business,” Mr Hilliard said.
“You will have to pay more but you will not be allowed to catch more. Fisheries are trying to get rid of about 300 commercial fishermen from the NSW coastline, 150 of which are from the South Coast.
“This will result in a huge drop in tonnage caught and the availability of fresh fish in NSW, which will be replaced by imported frozen product.”
The Register was alerted to the issue by a local commercial fisherman, who would not be named because he feared retribution and harassment from Fisheries compliance officers if he spoke out.
Mr Hilliard said consultation meetings had been held but the presence of the compliance officers had made many fishermen wary of speaking out against the proposal.
“I can understand why the fisherman who contacted the Register didn’t want to be named,” Mr Hilliard said.
“If your name is in the paper you risk getting a lot of attention from compliance officers.
“In a meeting in Sydney, there were Fisheries managers present but also compliance officers sitting at the back of the room. The fishermen feel constrained from talking up because they fear it will work against them.”
Kiama MP Gareth Ward said he had raised the manner in which consultation meetings had been conducted with Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson during her visit to the Shoalhaven last week.
Meanwhile, an extension to the consultation period on the Commercial Fisheries Reform Program has been announced; fishermen who do want to lodge submissions on the options papers have until Friday, May 30 to do so.
Submissions can be lodged at www.dpi .nsw.gov.au/fisheries/commercialreform.