Keith Webb with Fay and Brian Want talk abotu the effect of the new fishing reforms.
Keith Webb with Fay and Brian Want talk abotu the effect of the new fishing reforms. Adam Hourigan

Fishermen say they've been 'kicked to the gutter'

FOR THREE generations, Brian Want's family have been fishing the Clarence River. But now, with the new NSW Government fishing reforms in place, he will not be passing on his business to his children.

His wife Fay said their daughter and her husband wanted to take on their fishing business, but after the new reforms came through, it was no longer viable.

"We were ready to do it, but it was worthless," she said.

"They got a bit stroppy with us, it caused a bit of a family rift. They said not long ago 'we're sorry, you had to do what you had to do'. It could have caused a big family rift."

Mr Want said it was the quotas that did him in.

"I mostly catch around 3000kg of crabs a year, some years you do, some year's your down. Now I'm only allowed 700kg," he said.

"There is just not enough money in it to keep going unless you buy someone out, and it costs you $60-80,000 to buy someone out."

Mrs Want said they were willing to sell and trade some of their shares for others, but they were unsuccessful.

This was despite the Department of Primary Industries saying they would help those who couldn't trade their shares.

"I've never had another job, I've fished for 40 years without another job," Mr Want said.

"That was our only income," Mrs Want added.

"The Minister (for Fisheries Niall Blair) said publicly no fishermen would have to buy back their business and he wanted more generations to be able to work in the industry.

"Unless we were willing to spend a lot of money, we wouldn't have had a chance to buy back."

Mr Want, who has been crabbing for most of his life, had a good catch history, and when the shares were divided up equally, there were people with no catch history who got the same number of shares at he did.

The Wants sold their business to a man in Sydney, who has apparently brought a number of fishing businesses on the Clarence.

"We didn't want to sell to him, but what do we do, rip our licence up and get nothing?," Mrs Want said.

"For a conservative government to do this is almost like communism. Taking ours and giving them to worthless ones to build them up."

Keith Webb, who was a fisherman for 39 years, also sold his fishing business to the same man.

"If you don't take it, and they stick to this quota we've had it," he said.

"There might not be any buyers after it, so it got down to the point where we had to take the offer fearing of getting nothing at the end.

"We were once paying tax and now we're a dependent on the government.

"I wanted to work for at least another two or three years at least (before I retired)."

Mr Webb said it would have cost more than $100,000 to buy back enough shares to operate at the same capacity they had before the new fishing reforms were brought in.

"It's only 700kg, and if you average 2000kg, it's at least double that. It would have been $130-140,000 each," he said.

"Just to get back near to what we were before."

Mr Webb said the people who had to sell, who didn't have enough quota to keep going, they were told that no one would be left behind.

"Well, we weren't left behind, we were kicked in the gutter," he said.

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