Prawners in a Catch-22

By Adrian Miller

Clarence Valley prawn fishermen are going out of business because of imported prawns and rising costs, according to local trawler operators.

Prawn fisherman Des Johnson said the situation was so bad operators who wanted to leave the industry couldn't, because no-one was willing to buy their boats.

"I'd sell off tomorrow at the drop of a hat if I could get my money back ? and there's a lot of boats here who'd do it," he said.

"There's one boat dropped $100,000 in 12 months to try and sell it, but he (the owner) can't."

Clarence River Fisherman's Co-operative acting chairman Steve Everson said the local industry was struggling to compete with imported prawns.

"In the previous 12 months you could buy imported products for between $5 and $6 per kilo," he said.

"It hits us hard as an industry when you're competing with that because the fishermen a few years ago would have been getting $9 and $10 per kilo for their prawns.

"It's certainly putting pressure on all fishing families across the board."

Mr Johnson, a fisherman for four decades, said prices were continuing to drop, and fishermen were losing out.

"We got paid $2 per kilo up front for our prawns back in March, and haven't been paid a cent since because the co-op hasn't been able to sell them," he said.

"That has happened the last two years and it's the only time in 40 years of fishing it's happened."

Mr Johnson said while the fishermen were losing out, some in the industry were not.

"We get $3 to $4 for green prawns but some bait shops buy them from us and retail them for about $22 per kilo or more, so someone is making a quid," he said.

Mr Everson said rising costs were another major concern.

"When I started fishing I paid $2 for a licence," he said.

"Now I pay $2500 to $3000 just to go fishing."

Another local operator, who did not wish to be named, agreed.

"Our licence fees have gone up, our management fees have gone up, environment levies have gone up, so everywhere you turn there's a new levy or cost coming into it," he said.

"All of our costs are rising, but we can't put the price of our product up."

Mr Johnson said it wouldn't be long before the industry was decimated.

"All these new rules Bob Carr brought in are killing us ? we just can't keep going," he said.

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