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Gulaptis searches for fishing industry ‘safety nets’

Geoff Helisma |

Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis says he is still working with “fishers and the Minister’s office to try and resolve some of the issues” raised during the NSW Government’s implementation of its Commercial Fisheries Business Adjustment Program.

In May 2014, Mr Gulaptis said he wanted his government to “stop” its restructure of the industry.
“There is no benefit for any fishermen here,” he said at the time. “All it can do is send the local industry to the wall.”

This week, he told the Independent that “the restructure didn’t work very effectively; there were losers”.
“It hasn’t been a smooth transition and, in fact, I don’t think the fishing industry has been treated fairly and given due consideration for probably the last 20 years,” he said.

Clarence Fishermen’s Co-operative’s general manager, Danielle Adams, has previously told the Independent that its members were split about 50-50 on the effectiveness of the reforms.

This week she said, in practical terms, “we are recognising a definite downturn in our product input and noticed a number of fishers have left the industry”.

“Looking all the way back, each government’s input has had a devastating effect,” she said.

“At the end of the day it’s a political game for many of them, with good hardworking people in their sights.”
She said that the NSW fishing industry – and the Clarence fishery in particular – was capable of ensuring its sustainability.

“We’ve always self regulated to maintain sustainability,” she said, “…to maintain fishermen’s incomes in the following seasons.”

Mr Gulaptis, however, said the restructure was “complex” due to there being “seven different regions with seven different fisheries [without] a single representative representing them all; and 1,000 businesses all competing for the same resource – some are large and some are small”.

“To be quite honest,” he said, “it’s been stuffed by various government policies in the past, and certainly wasn’t helped with [former Labor] ministers like Ian MacDonald and Eddie Obeid at the helm.

“What we inherited was a mess and we have certainly tried to fix it – we spent $16million on the restructure and you would like to think you’ve made some improvements to the industry and given some value to these fishers.
“But I don’t believe it’s been 100 per cent successful.

“My understanding is that there have been a number of fishermen, a fair percentage, who are suffering as a result of the restructure.

“The Minister’s office would suggest that there is greater proportion [of fishers] who are satisfied with the restructure, but I tend to agree with what the local reps say – I think it s probably 50-50.

“So you’ve got local fishers who have embraced change and the other 50 per cent, who were not as flexible to adapt, are suffering.

“I’m really disappointed that is the case.

“I know that the Minister said there would be safety nets for them; and I’m trying to find those safety nets so we can provide them with some relief.”