Fishing reforms – the debate is over

It is mind numbingly obvious that the NSW fishing industry has been in decline for many years. Simplistic solutions aimed at addressing this highly complex situation have all failed over the years. 

Yet, those who complain the loudest regarding current proposals not only provide no solution of their own but they seek to tear down what is now widely accepted as the way forward by attacking individuals along the way.  From ministers to local MPs to other industry members all are attached personally rather than addressing the problem.

Our local MP has done a lot. Meeting with industry, making representations to the minister, taking concerns of his constituents to parliament. In the end, the decision has been made. The debate is over. Even a recent Parliamentary Enquiry has determined that not only should the fisheries reform occur, but NSW Fisheries should hurry up and do it! 

The fishing industry’s problems are too often right in front of consumers in fish shops. Local fish, so ordinary looking they should be in the bait box to local prawns so small consumers cant peel them. And why? Essentially, because of the ‘race to fish’ and no controls on how many can be caught.  The industry maxim of ‘if I don’t go and catch them someone else will’ continues to prevail. It is a recipe for self destruction. 

In less than 20 years approximately 30 per cent of the State’s fish co-ops have vanished while many local fishermen have been pleading to be ‘bought out’. The problem is real and industry wide. Current arrangements are failing the industry, the community and resource sustainability.   

There is no doubt fishermen and their families are under pressure. The current process has been way too long – more than six years. Reform fatigue is setting in.  Finalisation has now been put back further, prolonging the agony and, is not welcome particularly given no industry group asked for this delay. 

Simplistic solutions that have been applied in the past such as ‘reducing numbers of fishermen’ are not the answer. Over decades now, a procession of experts, independent reports, industry representations and now a Parliamentary Inquiry have all come to the same conclusion regarding this reform package – get with the current plan and get on with it!

No system is perfect. In order to look after those who participate in the reform program and who want to continue to fish into the future, a Ministerial undertaking has been given at the Parliamentary Inquiry, under oath, that no one will be ‘left behind’. This is a unique commitment. 

It is time to recognise that –its over. The debate has been had. The direction is clear and this reform is going to happen. Its time for the industry to come together and make a better future for local fishermen, their families and those who keep us all in a job – seafood consumers.  

Phillip Byrnes,

managing director,

Great Lakes Fisheries Pty Ltd.