Times tough for fishers
By CRAIG McTEAR
THEY harvest the seas to bring fresh seafood to Coffs Harbour's dinner tables, but they're having a tough time doing it.
Our commercial fishers are the mainstay of a multi-million dollar industry that provides employment for more than 100 people and a much-needed boost to the local economy.
But high fuel costs, the drought, a flood of cheap imports, uncertainty over access to fisheries and spiralling insurance premiums and other costs have conspired against them.
The Coffs Harbour fishing fleet comprises about 43 vessels ? prawn trawlers; trap and line boats which catch snapper, kingfish, lobsters and the like; and tuna long-liners.
Last financial year, they caught almost 600,000 kilos of seafood valued at just over $5 million, a measure of their importance to the region.
Coffs Harbour Fishermen's Co-operative seafood manager, Shane Geary, said the past two years had been 'pretty ordinary' for the industry, but he believed the good times would return.
"It tends to have cycles of good and bad," Mr Geary said.
"Things will pick up. They don't stay tough all the time.
"People need to remember that if they have at least one good feed of fish a week, they'll be helping the local industry.
"Coffs Harbour has got such a good variety of seafood. People don't realise it.
"Our fishers are all for sustainability and, in fact, Australia has one of the most sustainable fisheries in the world."
Mr Geary said prawning was difficult at the moment, with fishers struggling to meet costs.
"They've got high diesel costs and they're not catching any prawns at the moment due to the drought. It always takes longer for the drought to take effect out to sea," he said.
"Prawn catches up and down the East Coast have been down.
"And then there's the effects of imported prawns from China and Thailand which are coming into the country quite cheaply.
"In the Solitary Islands Marine Park, a lot of areas have been closed down to commercial fishing, while Government charges across the board are also hurting.
"The tuna industry over the last couple of years has experienced a slump with reduced catches, while costs for bait and diesel are also hitting them hard."