Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis says he has been assured by Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair MLC that commercial fishers “won’t have to buy their jobs back”.
Mr Gulaptis met with members of the Clarence River Fisherman’s Co-Operative on Saturday February 11 to discuss the progress of the NSW Government’s Commercial Fisheries Business Adjustment Program.
“I’ve reassured [Clarence River fishers] that I will hold the minister to his word – and the government – to ensure that we look after the fishing industry,” Mr Gulaptis told the Independent.
“I’ll do everything I can to ensure they are not disadvantaged.
A co-op media release titled Clarence River Fishers want answers! says the meeting provided an opportunity to raise concerns about the impacts of the reforms “not only as a financial challenge but also from a mental health and a long-term industry viability perspective”.
“At this stage the consensus is that Clarence fishers hold no faith in Fisheries delivering a workable outcome that suits the majority of industry, and [we] ask Minister Blair to stand by his statement that no fisher will be disadvantaged by the commercial fishing reform,” the media release states.
Mr Gulaptis said he knows why commercial fishers are “sceptical or cynical”.
“Over the past 20 years, every time there has been a change it has impacted on their businesses,” he said.
“I understand that they don’t trust the government; they don’t have a good relationship with the Fisheries officers.
“We’re not introducing the reform to make their businesses worse – we’re introducing it to strengthen their businesses and make them more economically sustainable.
“That’s why we are injecting $16million, essentially to reduce the ‘latent effort’.”
‘Latent effort’, Mr Gulaptis said, is connected with the fact that some commercial fishers hold shares, which are either not being used or are used sporadically.
The shares were issued during past restructuring efforts.
“Many of these shareholders … don’t use them [regularly], but when there is a spike in the price or a species is readily available, they go out and attack the market,” he said, “and it impacts on the fulltime fishers.
“In the Clarence you have to be multi-endorsed, so as to allow fishing in other areas if one type is in recess, for example.”
He said the $16m would be used as a “means of subsidising the difference between what the fisher (buyer) can pay and what the price the seller is putting on the shares.
“This is the first time any government has put money in that goes directly to [assist] the fishers; the [government] is doing that to help the fishers to buy out the latent effort,” Mr Gulaptis said.
The fishers are concerned because “the share prices have jumped and there has been a lot of trading before the subsidy scheme has even started”.
“There has been trading because the fishers don’t trust the government,” he said.
“Until we actually start the scheme we won’t know what the outcome will be. When we [start] we can tweak it to ensure that no fisher is disadvantaged.”
However, this is still a hypothetical situation because “we don’t yet know how it is going to play out”.
Meanwhile, the Clarence’s commercial fishers will provide, at Mr Gulaptis’s request, an outline of “several areas of grave concern so he can seek further clarification,” the co-op’s media release states.