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Fisher?s life too costly

Ron Stewart has been a fisher for 27 years. He now pays $12,000 a year in fees before he catches anything. The fees list includ
Ron Stewart has been a fisher for 27 years. He now pays $12,000 a year in fees before he catches anything. The fees list includ

By UTE SCHULENBERG

GEOFF Blackburn is a fisher, but he drives 65,000 kilometres a year to get to work from his home in Bonville to the Macleay River near Kempsey.

He is stressed and tired and feeling fished out.

"I don't have a home life," Mr Blackburn said.

With the closure of the Bellingen and Kalang rivers to commercial fishing two years ago he was forced south for his livelihood.

However, with three children at schools in Coffs Harbour, relocating his family is not an option, so it's 3am starts and 18-hour days, by the time he unloads and packs away the day's catch.

Mr Blackburn's wife, Julia, said he was not the relaxed happy guy he once was.

"The tension is constant ? Geoff is a director of the (Coffs Harbour) Co-op and is constantly listening to the pressures on other fishermen.

"Plus he's out there working everyday ? often just to cover the cost of the petrol.

"It is really hard on the family because the children hardly get to see their father at all."

Mr Blackburn said in recent years the pressures on commercial fishers have increased enormously.

They include the soaring cost of diesel (25 per cent in the past 12 months), the impact of imported seafood on local fish prices, the extra costs of increased industry regulation, and the often forgotten effects of the drought on fish stocks.

"Plus the Department of Fisheries (now under the umbrella of Primary Industries) has kept moving the goal posts about what we can and can't do and public confidence in our industry has been undermined," he said.

"The pressures are extraordinary but I can't sell my business because my licence is worthless."

Another fisher, Ron Stewart, said he pays $12,000 in fees alone before he catches anything (see photo).

The result is a large number of very stressed fishers up and down the NSW coast.

"We are primary producers who put food on people's plates just like farmers and we have also been affected by the drought," Mr Blackburn said.

The general manager of the Coffs Harbour Fishermen's Co-op, Phillip Neuss, said a drought on the land equates to a drought in the ocean.

"Drought support is an issue for these men," he said.

On Monday the Department of Primary Industries is putting on an information day for fisher families to provide details about the options available to them for crisis drought support.

The day starts at 12.30pm at the Country Comfort Inn near the Big Banana. Those wishing to attend should advise the Co-op beforehand.



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