Clarence fishers battling to stay afloat

IT HAS been touted as the solution to keeping the NSW commercial fishing industry viable, but Clarence Valley fishers say the end of the fishing share trade program has left their future hanging by a scale.

The Department of Primary Industries has been working on the industry reform for at least four years in a bid to ensure the industry remains "robust, economically viable and sustainable".

To help fishers with these reforms, the NSW Govern- ment launched a $16million Business Adjustment Program, which from May 1 offered generous subsidies to allow fishers to buy and sell shares as needed.

It was also meant to allow fishers who wanted to exit the industry to sell all their shares and be eligible for a fishing business buyout.

The subsidised share trading market finished on Thursday and already, some fisherman in the Clarence Valley are saying there is no way they can continue when the reforms kick in on December 1.

Yamba fisherman John Mackay is one of those people.

"Minister (for Fisheries Niall Blair) released a statement to say 95% of fishermen got what they wanted from the program, but every fisherman I know in this region is feeling the same way," Mr Mackay said.

From December I won't be able to make a wage unless I buy shares off other fisherman. To get back to where I am today will cost $250,000 to $300,000.

Former director of NSW Fisheries John Gleister is more concerned about the people who want to leave the industry.

"The process I think hasn't been ideal and there's a couple of fisherman that I know in the Clarence area that in my view have come out of this not very well," Dr Gleister said.

"I've worked in fisheries administration for most of my career and I just feel that for long-term fisherman to be offered a pittance to leave the industry is wrong.

"These are generally people who've worked hard all their life and because of the system of rights that has been created over time, a lot of fisherman have come to look on their leave as a form of superannuation."

Wild Caught Fishers Coalition president Dane Van Der Neut said the biggest problem lay in the fact many fishers had received subsidised shares for parts of their business that were meaningless.

Mr Van Der Neut said many fishers still standing once the reforms began would be forced to export most of their catch due to rising costs.

"Some people are happy, but the rest of industry has to deal with what is to come," he said.

"I believe it's a kick in the guts for some people genuinely wanting to leave or stay, and for the NSW public who aren't going to be able to access locally caught seafood."

Clarence River Fishermen's Co-operative general manager Danielle Adams said it was too soon to comment.

"After six years we at least have an outcome. Whether the outcome is suitable for all, we are working through our member base to discuss it with them," Ms Adams said.

Nationals MP Andrew Fraser encouraged anyone with issues to phone the Business Adjustment Program hotline on 1300726488.