Trawler fishing boats.
Trawler fishing boats. Warren Lynam

It's sink or barely swim for Clarence fishermen

THEY were assured no fishermen would be left behind but that's now how the commercial fishermen on the Clarence River feel.

For the past 22 years Andrew Finn has been fishing the waters of the Clarence River but when the NSW Government brought in their commercial fishing reforms in December last year he was forced to sell part of his business after the buy-out process failed him.

"I had to go and buy more shares, that's just what I had to do," he said.

"I had to sell part of my business to buy the shares just to operate."

Mr Finn said the government's buy-out offer was either insufficient or uncertain.

"I put in for the buy-out," he said.

"They offered me $73,000 in the first round but I thought that wasn't enough.

"In the second round they offered about $90,000 but there was no guarantee.

"In the third round, which they put everything on, they offered me $23,000.

"I make more than that in a year, I've got boats and nets worth more than that. I just said I'd stay fishing."

But that is when the real issue began for Mr Finn and many other fishermen working in the Clarence Valley.

On Tuesday, The Daily Examiner published a letter from Minister for Primary Industries, Regional Water and Trade and Industry Niall Blair updating the public on the "benefits of the NSW Government's commercial fishing reforms".

In Mr Blair's letter, he said the reforms came into place on December 1, 2017, they have cut red tape, established linkages between fishing access shares and "catch" (kilos fished) or "effort" (days fished) and, most importantly, provided more certainty for fishers to grow their businesses.

Matt Essex, who has been a fisherman for 32 years, said the letter was disgusting.

"He's trying to sugar-coat it," he said.

"When they started the reforms, they allocated the (fishing) shares equally. They used everyone's history and allocated the days equally."

Mr Essex, who is a full-time fisherman, got the same shares as someone who is part-time.

"I had to buy more shares to get more access," he said.

Mr Essex has been eel trapping for a number of years. Last year his average catch was almost five tonnes, now his allocation is 2.4 tonnes, which is only possible with the extra shares he bought.

"At the end of the day, the ones that will lose out are the public getting access to fresh seafood," he said.

"Our overheads are going up. We're not catching more product, it doesn't work like that. You can only catch what you can catch."

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