Prawnies doing it tough

WHEN you throw a prawn or two on the barbie today during Australia Day, spare a thought for the people who've laboured long and hard to bring them to you.

People like Coffs Harbour fisher Phil Ward who has been in the industry for most of his life, following in the footsteps of his father and two grandfathers.

Phil will be the first to tell you it's not easy to make a living out of prawns, particularly in recent times when weather has played a big part in diminishing returns.

"During the last 18 months, my turnover has been 50 per cent of what it was in the previous two or three years," Phil said.

"I believe it's because we've had a cold northerly current for 18 months, which has brought all the cold water up from down south.

"With the current going that way, it doesn't bring the feed from the warm tropical water for the prawns.

"King prawns need warm water, about 25 degrees Celsius, to feed and to spawn.

"I used to concentrate on school prawns, but since I've come to Coffs Harbour, I've only had one reasonable year with them and that was five years ago.

"I believe that's because of the cold water, too, which has also had a big effect on bycatch.

"We've only had warm water turn up here over the past three weeks, so perhaps things will start to turn around for us, particularly with all this rain we're having."

Phil said the fact there hadn't been a decent flood for four years meant there were less nutrients washing out of rivers and estuaries to feed prawns.

But on the other side of the coin, as Coffs Harbour's population increased, so too did the chances of more pollution making its way into the ocean, affecting prawn stocks.

Phil said the future of the local prawn industry relied on proper management of the fishery.

"We need proper management which is going to protect our stock. Rather than be just harvesters, we should be classified as farmers and concentrate on the management of the whole life cycle of the king prawn," he said.

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