Wauchope business hit by fishing quotas

SYMPATHETIC: Labor's Jenny Aitchison, Karen Millward of Wauchope Seafoods, Labor's Susan Jenvey and Matt Millward.
SYMPATHETIC: Labor's Jenny Aitchison, Karen Millward of Wauchope Seafoods, Labor's Susan Jenvey and Matt Millward.

Wauchope Seafoods' owners, Matt and Karen Millward say they’ve been hit really hard by NSW government fishing quotas.

Mr Millward says Oxley member for the Nationals, Melinda Pavey MP and the Minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair visited their shop in 2016 and spoke about the Commercial Fisheries Business Adjustment program. 

The program was aimed at giving fishers the ability to invest in their businesses with certainty.

The politicians were on a fact-finding tour and did not provide business advice to the Millwards or any other business-owners.

At the time, Mrs Pavey wrote in the Wauchope Gazette that Mr Blair was  keen to hear how the reform program was progressing from the fishers' perspective. 

“Matt and Karen Millward operate fishing trawlers out of Laurieton and their retail outlet in Wauchope.  Their feedback will help ensure the program delivers as intended,” she wrote.

Matt said he and Karen bought a fishing business and invested $150,000 in it and it has now gone into a quota. 

“As of May 2019, we will only get 119 kgs for the whole year.  That means we get to go fishing for just one day out of 365. We wanted to build our business, so we could supply restaurants with top quality products,” he said.  

"They have not give the quota any thought, because a recreational fisher can go to sea, catch cod at 14 kgs each, 70 for the day, 365 days a year and I get to go once.

"The NSW government has not done an impact study yet, to come up with these quotas. I am not the only fisher who is affected.  We are hoping that the State government will change these quotas.  Who is going to buy our fishing business now?" he added.

A spokesman for the Office of the Minister for Primary Industries said an Independent Allocation Panel (IAP) was appointed to consult industry and develop advice on the best way to allocate the new species and effort quota shares this year.

He said the IAP held meetings with fishers right along the NSW coast and took submission in the process of developing its advice to government.

The final shares to be allocated under the Business Adjustment Program were allocated in October according to IAP advice.

"The way allocations have been made ensures that fishers are allocated shares equivalent to their catches over the past seven years. Fishers that have caught a lot of fish have been allocated a lot of shares. Fishers that have not caught a lot of fish were not allocated a high number of shares,” said the spokesman.

“For most species moving to quota, more fish can be caught this year than in the past five years. The Department has consistently promoted the need for fishers to both contact the department to understand the process and to obtain independent advice before making investments.

“The Department is aware that some fishers have speculated and purchased fishing businesses without contacting the Department in the first instance to understand the way future allocations might occur.

“Many other fishers did contact the Department's Hotline and did obtain independent advice to ensure they properly understood the process before investing in shares and boats,” he added.

The spokesman said assistance measures remain in place, including waiver or caps on some fees, business advice grants, low interest loans and advice from the Small Business Commissioner and other support services.

Last week, the Labor Shadow Minister for Small Business and member for Maitland, Jenny Aitchison visited the Millwards at Wauchope Seafoods.  She said that commercial fishermen were having to pay more to do less, and that the NSW government don’t understand what small businesses are going through.

“They used to have the whole year; now some have only got 90 days.  The catches in those allocations are not enough to sustain them in their businesses, yet if they were recreational fishers, they could do what they want,” she said.

Ms Aitchison says that if Labor are elected, they will hold an inquiry into it.  She said when small family businesses like Wauchope Seafoods have to pay more to do less, it doesn’t make sense.