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Labor pledges commercial fishing inquiry

Geoff Helisma |

A Luke Foley-led NSW Government will hold an independent inquiry into the impacts of the current government’s commercial fishing reforms if elected to power at next year’s election, which is scheduled for March 23.

However, Labor’s shadow minister for primary industries Mick Veitch said in a media release that the reforms could not be wound back.

Rather, the inquiry would help inform a new minister “on the best way forward to ensure a sustainable industry in NSW [and] how we can best support the commercial fishing sector”.

He said findings of the inquiry would be made public.

The inquiry’s terms of reference “will be finalised in consultation with stakeholders within the first 100 days” of a Labor government’s election.

NSW Labor says the inquiry will examine: the appropriateness of existing governance structures overseeing and supporting the commercial fishing sector; lessons from the rollout of the recent reforms; the social and economic impact of the reforms on coastal communities, including their impacts on related businesses such as fishing co-operatives; and, the impact of the government’s closure of the Cronulla Fisheries Research Centre in 2013.

In August this year, under questioning from the Industry and Transport Portfolio Committee – supplementary questions regarding 2018/19 budget estimates – Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair was asked: “How many fishers have left the industry since your reforms; is this a positive thing?

Minister Blair’s response: “There were 881 shareholding entities (fishing businesses) in the reforming fisheries as at June 2016 (just after Government announcement of program).

“It is important to note in the seven years prior, the number of fishers declined three per cent.
“In September 2018 the equivalent number was 704 shareholding entities.

“Much of this reduction is amalgamation of fishing businesses as a result of the new opportunities for flexible and relevant business structures.”

Mr Vietch contends that “many family-run fishing businesses have disappeared”.

“This has hurt other industries up and down the coast such as our local fish co-ops,” he said.

“They are an important part of the economic and social fabric of coastal towns.”

The Clarence River Fishermen’s Co-operative’s general manager was unavailable for comment and the co-op’s chair declined an invitation to comment on the matter.