Commercial fishers voice frustratation over reforms and parliamentary inquiry

End of the line: Donna Cook, her son Jamie and his son Kayden at their Stuarts Point home. The Cooks have fished the Macleay for five generations, spanning more than 100 years. Photo: Lachlan Leeming.

End of the line: Donna Cook, her son Jamie and his son Kayden at their Stuarts Point home. The Cooks have fished the Macleay for five generations, spanning more than 100 years. Photo: Lachlan Leeming.

“It’s like continually banging your head against the wall.”

This is how Donna Cook, the matriarch of a Stuarts Point commercial fishing family, describes trying to keep their livelihood afloat in the wake of the NSW Government’s industry reforms. 

The Cooks are one of many fishing families around the state who have been devastated by the reforms, which cap the amount of fish they could catch with their existing permits, with fishers required to purchase more shares to catch the same amount of seafood.

Donna said a continuing lack of information over what shares are available, and the fact that the shares necessary to keep their business afloat either don’t exist or have already been purchased by others, was creating angst for country fishers. 

For the Cooks, it means the shares don't exist for them to remain viable. 

“We’re going to be buggered,” Donna said. 

Donna believes the reforms will see even more foreign seafood imported into Australia. 

“We keep saying what about our consumers? We won’t be able to provide local seafood.”

A State Parliamentary inquiry into commercial fishing, with a report published on February 24, brought little relief. According to Eungai fisherman Nathan Neilly, the inquiry, chaired by Robert Brown of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, “more or less became a farce”.

He said that the process had been a “sh-t fight right from the get go”. 

“It’s stripped access from the active fishermen and given it away.”

Mr Neilly said that “neither the Shooters and Fishers or the Nationals went in to bat for us” throughout the inquiry.

It was a view echoed by Lawrie McEnally, chairman of the Macleay River District Fisherman’s Co-op, who said “if the National Party is our friend, I’d hate to see our enemy.” 

Mr McEnally said uncertain times lay ahead for the co-op, with a number of local suppliers likely to be forced out as a result of the reforms. 

“We won’t really know the outcomes until we see who does what,” he said. 

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