Fishers welcome relief package

Ballina Fishermens Co-operative worker Dave Reardon with some freshly-cooked prawns ready for sale. The Co-operative has been struggling all year with rain, floods, the closure of the Richmond River after the recent fish kill and the subsequent drop in tourist numbers.

Ballinas professional fishermen have been given a temporary lifeline by the NSW Government to help tide them over after the recent fish kill and subsequent closure of the Richmond River.

On Tuesday Minister for Primary Industries, Ian Macdonald, announced a recovery package of $130,000 over the next three months to help the 12 families which run the Ballina Fishermens Co-operative. The fishermen will get an income in return for monitoring fish stocks and river quality.

Earlier this month, the NSW Government closed the Richmond and Wilsons Rivers down to all commercial and recreational fishing for at least two months.

Co-operative chairman Garry Joblin welcomed the package, saying the fishermen were really very happy at least its something.

Mr Joblin told The Echo that $30,000 of the package was to identify existing floodgates in need of remediation, which would be replaced with tidal drum gates.

Were working for this it is not a handout, he said. We have the knowledge and expertise of the river and well be using our labour and our punts.

Luckily we havent had to lay off staff from the Co-op the last six weeks have been terrible and really hard for the Co-operative because of the wet, rough weather which stops us fishing and makes people leave town. And now the fish kill, which means less product coming through the door.

Last week was one of our worst weeks ever in the shop.

Mr Macdonald said the recovery package would help fund the monitoring program being developed to assess the recovery of fish stocks in the Richmond River.

Local fishers will conduct this program in collaboration with Department of Primary Industries (DPI) scientists to capitalise on the combination of scientific expertise and local knowledge of fish behaviour, he said.

The monitoring survey, due to start on February 18, will use various commercial fishing methods to check the rejuvenation of fish populations.

By engaging the commercial fishers in the monitoring program, we can be sure when the river is ready to open and at the same time provide some income for the fishers while the river is closed.

Mr Macdonald said talks will be held in coming days with commercial fishers to finalise the details of the timing, regularity and methodology of the monitoring program.

The recent massive fish kill in the Richmond River and the fishing closure imposed on January 18 was devastating for those that relied on the river for their income the priority now is to monitor the river and return it to fishing as soon as fish populations have recovered, he said.

If the river remains closed for an extended period, the state government will consider extending the program, he said.

Commercial fishers will also have their commercial licence fees waived and have access low-interest loans.

Mr Macdonald said the tidal drum gates to replace floodgates would help facilitate fish passage and flush out waters behind the floodgate, which reduces the build up of black water, he said.

This initiative is aimed to reduce the current discharge of huge volumes of toxic water into the Richmond River following significant rainfall events, he said.

Mr Macdonald also said a Fish Kill Reference Group was being established with local commercial and recreational fishers and NSW DPI staff to oversee the monitoring program, the recovery of fish stocks, and access arrangements when the river is re-opened.

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