North Coast fishers play waiting game on reforms

COMMERCIAL fishers on the NSW North Coast trust the State Government to stand by its word not to push through new fishing laws without proper consideration.

Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair has told parliament the industry was unsustainable at current levels and had reached a point where "doing nothing is not an option".

But he assured fishers current draft reforms, which the industry says could jeopardise 70 jobs in the Clarence and 30 in Ballina, still needed to be tweaked after extensive discussions.

"This has been a genuine period of public consultation; we are not just ticking the box," Mr Blair said.

"Every suggestion and piece of feedback that has been provided, either to me personally, to the Structural Adjustment Review Committee or to the department, will be carefully and thoroughly considered."

READ RELATED: Proposed changes threaten to bring fishing industry to knees

Clarence River Fishermen's Co-operative chairman Don Mowbray met with Mr Blair and department officials this week to argue the case for reforms that would not gut the industry.

He said changes proposed in the current draft reforms would force fishers to pay far more for fishing rights without increasing their catches.

"The minister has assured us he won't be making any decision until he gets all the info," Mr Mowbray said.

"Basically we're still in limbo, but at the moment no news is good news.

"They're still calling for submissions from individuals, and then they will come back to us with recommendations and try to fine-tune it."

Mr Mowbray said hopes of a parliamentary inquiry being called seemed very unlikely.

"We just want the process to all be out in the open, and it appears that's what is happening," he said.

"So we just have to trust them."

Mr Blair accused Labor of fear-mongering after party members claimed fishers would only be allowed to catch fish for 90 days of the year, instead of 365 days.

"It was also claimed that the changes are aimed at helping big operators and squeezing out smaller members," he said.

"This demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of what is actually occurring."

For his part, Mr Mowbray hasn't had time to wet a line in far too long for his liking.

"You can't fish when you're in meetings," he said.

"Should be back out there next week." -APN NEWSDESK

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