Fishers' fee relief call sinks

Government says it's done enough to protect Queensland's domestic fishing fleet

Coronavirus
Restaurant closures and the lack of tourist trade has had a very detrimental impact on domestic seafood fishers' incomes, according to the commercial fisheries lobby group. Picture - Shutterstock.

Restaurant closures and the lack of tourist trade has had a very detrimental impact on domestic seafood fishers' incomes, according to the commercial fisheries lobby group. Picture - Shutterstock.

Aa

A request by Queensland's seafood industry association for fee and licence relief to weather the coronavirus storm, worth around $5.1 million, has fallen on deaf ears.

Aa

A request by Queensland's seafood industry association for fee and licence relief to weather the coronavirus storm, worth around $5.1 million, has fallen on deaf ears.

QSIA CEO Eric Perez described the state government's response as a shameful position, saying commercial fishermen were only asking for a waiver for 12 months, not forever, and it would significantly assist a struggling industry.

"The government knows what pressure we're under," he said. "Domestic markets have taken a massive hit that we didn't see coming, because tourists aren't going to restaurants to eat."

He said the industry wasn't seeking a handout, rather relief from regulatory fees.

"It appears the state government is hesitant to part with $5.1-$5.2 million to help an industry that generates over $350 million to the state economy."

Related: Coronavirus puts $15 billion agricultural, seafood sector at risk

Fisheries Minister Mark Furner responded that the Palaszczuk government had moved quickly to declare the industry essential, and was the first in the nation to provide assistance to export-impacted commercial fishers, with a $3.66 million commercial fishing industry assistance package.

As well as rural financial counselling services, a local seafood promotion campaign and market diversification and resilience grants to develop alternative markets, it includes waiving tropical rock lobster and coral trout quota fees for the first six months of 2020, and fishing boat licence fee waivers for these and other fisheries affected by coronavirus, such as mud crab, he said.

The industry assistance package included $660,000 in commercial fishing licence waivers, providing six months of relief for approximately 1100 commercial fishers.

Mr Perez said while it was technically correct that the industry had been helped, it was only for specialised parts, and didn't include relief from a variety of fees and charges such as mooring costs and production fees.

"There's been money for exporters to keep trading but the domestic market has gone begging, and 94 per cent of production is sold domestically," he said.

"We're talking about the whole fleet getting a waiver to weather the storm, to give us a fighting chance when things start to recover.

"This wouldn't be drawing on funds available."

Bowen seafood retailer Terry Must said the two-month stoppage to date had been great for the resource but not for the incomes of fishermen.

"Any assistance has gone to those with a quota but not to the actual fishermen," he said. "Fee relief needs to be passed on."

Read more: New regulations will cull fishing families

The decision not to meet Queensland's commercial fishers' request for help has been slammed by opposition fisheries spokesman Tony Perrett.

"Demand for Queensland seafood has taken a huge hit internationally and domestically," he said.

"Given the state of the market, many commercial fishers have decided it makes more sense not to go out, leaving hundreds of workers without jobs and an income.

"The Fisheries Minister is acting like commercial fishing doesn't exist and if he doesn't act, it soon won't.

"Our seafood industry employs 3000 people in regional Queensland and we cannot afford to lose those jobs."

He also called on the government to adopt the LNP's Queensland seafood labelling policy.

Read more: Seafood industry renews mandatory labelling call

Mr Furner responded by saying that "typical of a bottom-of-the-ocean dweller, Tony Perrett continues to flounder".

"His failure to pay attention, failure to accept a briefing on the assistance available and apparent inability to use Google might explain his ignorance," he said.

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by