Prawn season all washed up
CLARENCE River fishermen are claiming their worst prawn season in memory.
Since the season officially ‘opened’ on November 30, trawlermen have been lucky to pull in a few kilos of prawns in a morning, compared to the hundreds of kilos they have been used to in recent years.
On top of that, the size of the prawns have been too small.
Yesterday fishermen made the tough decision to voluntarily close the fishery for the fourth time this season, this time until January 4.
“This will be the worst Christmas prawn trawlers have ever had in the time I’ve been doing this,” George Baker said.
Mr Baker has been a prawn trawlerman on the river and Lake Wooloweyah for 45 years and he’s worried.
He said he’s never known the river and estuaries to be so barren of school prawns, especially following the success of recent seasons.
“It’s definitely come out of the blue,” Mr Baker said.
Fellow trawlerman Donald Johnson, who has trawled the river since 1978, said all the signs had been in place for a bumper season.
There was a flood and fresh this year, followed by perfect growing conditions.
But for the first time, Mr Johnson said the signs have proved wrong and the fishermen were hurting.
“The prawns haven’t changed size since August,” he said.
“This is the prime time for our markets and there’s nothing.”
Mr Johnson said he had no choice but to ride it out financially, but it was going to be a pretty sad Christmas.
“I’ll have to drink water instead of beer,” he said.
But it’s a different story for Clarence-based fishermen on the high seas.
Ocean trawlermen have been pulling in record-sized schoolies in recent weeks.
Mr Baker said the ocean trawlers had also caught school prawns right through winter – something he had never seen in his 45 years working the river.
He said the prawns being caught at sea had been flushed out in a fresh and should have come back up the river by now.
“But for some reason they didn’t,” he said.
“This has definitely got something to do with the floods in May.”
Mr Baker and other members of the Clarence River Fishermen’s Cooperative have called on the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) to urgently test the water and river mud to establish the problem.
“We’d like them to come up with the answers and tell us what’s happening,” Mr Baker said.
Mr Baker said he was concerned it could affect future prawn seasons.
“My worry is if the prawns don’t grow to maturity, they won’t spawn and that could affect next season,” he said.
“That’s why I’d like to see someone coming to do the tests now.”
NSW DPI did not respond to questions from The Daily Examiner.