Drought leaves fishing fleet high and dry
By MEL MARTIN
FISHERS are not the type to complain when they hit hard times, they buckle down and get on with it, and that's exactly what Geoff Blackburn has been doing.
Catches have been so poor lately, the commercial fisher and director of Coffs Harbour Fisherman's Co-op has had to get himself another job, fencing.
And he says that while he's not the only one, he's one of the lucky ones.
"I'm able to ride it out, but a lot have not landed on their feet," he said.
Coffs Coast fishers are struggling in the face of drought, competition from imports, and high diesel prices compounded by protected marine areas which force them to travel further.
"It costs somewhere between $700 and $800 to go out. On present prices you would need about 30 kilos of prawns just to cover that, let alone make a profit, but fishers rarely come back with even that much," Mr Blackburn said.
"And the prices are not there because of the competition from imports and aquaculture."
The drought is a big part of the problem, with the lack of rain meaning estuaries are not being flushed, and so nutrients and species are not coming out into the ocean.
"It's been getting worse and worse over the past 12 months," Mr Blackburn said. "It's a normal cycle, but the marine park has reduced our capacity to deal with seasonal changes. The grounds are locked up with fixed boundaries and it gives us less area to work in."
And commercial fishers still have to pay for their licences, regardless of whether they are making a profit.
Mr Blackburn said overfishing was not the cause of the low catches, as fishers were proactive in ensuring a future for the industry. "We see ourselves as custodians for the resource," he said.
And while Mr Blackburn says fishers are not the type to ask for a hand- out, any assistance wouldn't go astray, especially from the community.
"The government should make sure we don't lose all the knowledge we have," he said. "But if the community got behind us and bought one meal of locally caught seafood a week to support local products, it would instantly have a flow-on effect not just for the fishers, but for the floor staff as well."