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Commercial fishers fear demerit scheme

Geoff Helisma |

Local commercial fishers are critical of a soon-to-be implemented demerit scheme, which is a part of the NSW Government’s restructuring of the states commercial fishing industry.

Clarence River Fishermen’s Co-Operative’s general manager, Danielle Adams, said the “scheme lacks fairness, equity and transparency … and requires further engagement with industry on a fair and workable outcome”.

The demerit scheme is related to the ongoing Commercial Fisheries Business Adjustment Program.

The NSW Labor opposition says in a media release that the government should “hold off on any proposed legislation” and that there was “ongoing confusion over the rules, with the proposed scheme shifting enormous powers to the government, who [sic] could effectively destroy a fisher’s livelihood”.

While NSW Labor and the cooperative support the implementation of a demerit scheme, they are both critical of the public consultation process.

“We have been disappointed in the department and the Minister’s lack of grass roots industry engagement/consultation,” Ms Adams wrote in an emailed response to the Independent’s inquiry.

NSW Labor says it has been “contacted by distraught fishers who feel that the government will implement the scheme regardless of the recent consultation” and have described the consultation as a “tick a box exercise”.

Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis thinks the “penalties are too harsh”.

“It not only impacts on their licence to fish but also on their business,” he said.

“If you are a fisher and accrue 200 points you can’t proactively sell or lease out your business; the scheme is far too onerous.

“I’ve discussed it with minister’s chief of staff and will discuss it with the Minister when parliament resumes.

“I’m optimistic that what is being promoted will not be implemented.”

NSW Labor shadow minister for primary industries Mick Veitch said: “The industry needs more time to adjust to this government’s poorly thought out reforms before considering such a scheme.”

Ms Adams said that NSW imports more than 85 per cent of seafood currently consumed in the state. “Removal, reduction and elimination of further commercial fishers within the state will only strengthen the need and consumption of more imported seafood,” she said.

“There is a distinct movement, delivering a damaging belief that commercial fishing is a negative industry and career choice.

“Commercial fishers are just like any other food source provider: they harvest product from the estuaries and oceans just as a cane farmer or cattle farmer harvest produce from the land.

“The public have a basic right to access fresh and local seafood, particularly those that don’t enjoy fishing to feed themselves.

“Commercial fishers pay to harvest produce on behalf of the public within a structured, transparent, accountable and regimented fishery.”

Information about the demerit scheme’s consultation process is not publically available and can only be accessed by those who have “permission to access the asset”, the website states.