DEEPLY CONCERNED: Ballina fisherman Dallas Johnson is worried about the future of fishing in NSW.
DEEPLY CONCERNED: Ballina fisherman Dallas Johnson is worried about the future of fishing in NSW. Cathy Adams

‘Fishing industry will sink’

BALLINA fisherman Dallas Johnson says a proposed restructure of the fishing industry by the Department of Primary Industries will be "by far the biggest threat" to the industry, since he first received his commercial fishing licence almost 30 years ago.

"If they go through the way they stand, we won't be able to work," he said.

"This place (the Fisherman's Co-op) won't be here anymore, the associated jobs won't be here anymore and you won't have fresh-caught NSW seafood anymore."

The key reforms under the Commercial Fisheries Reform Program include linking shares in each fishery to either catch or fishing effort, establishing a peak industry body to restore confidence in the decision-making process, setting fees based on resource access, allocating funding as a means for some fishers to exit the industry and removing unnecessary fishing controls.

For most fishermen, the biggest concern is the linking of shares to resource access.

It would mean that each share would give the shareholder a portion of the total catch based on either the weight of the catch, the amount of time spent on the catch, or the amount and type of gear required for the catch.

"If I were to go prawn hauling in the river, the way it stands (under the reform proposals) is they've got us down for four days in the whole year. To work, and to continue to work, you'd have to buy up other people's businesses and you're going to be held to ransom," he said.

Mr Johnson said full-time fishermen can currently work about 260 nights a year but under the reforms, they would have to spend tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars buying back their businesses.

A Department of Primary Industries spokesperson said the aim of linking shares to resources was to give fishers a more secure share of resources.

"At the moment the fishers are competing with everyone else in the fishery, so their access and investments can be swamped by additional fishing efforts at any time, for example during the good times or if things change like an increasing abundance or market prices of fish.

"All commercial fishing shareholders will have the opportunity to comment on the options once finalised."

Ballina Fisherman's Co-op manager Phil Hilliard said the problem with linking shares to resource access is that all fishermen would get an equal share, whether they were active or not, requiring the full-time fishermen to buy back their business from the non-active fishermen.

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