Depression concerns from NSW fishing reforms

DEBT-RIDDEN professional fishers are being forced take out more loans to buy the right to remain in the industry, and it is taking a toll on their mental health.

Labor MP Mick Veitch has told the NSW Upper House that fishing families across the state are struggling to cope with the Baird Government's industry-wide reforms.

"I have had commercial fishers at meetings in tears and quite distressed on the phone," he said.

"I have had wives and mothers of commercial fishers contact me because they are worried about their partner or sons.

"It is affecting their mental health."

The NSW Government has released a raft of low-interest loan offers aimed at retiring unused commercial fishing licences and allowing active fishers to continue their trade.

But Mr Veitch said fishers were receiving poor information from a Department of Primary Industries hotline established to help them make their decision.

"They are being asked to buy more shares just so they can continue to operate," he said.

"Numerous times commercial fishers have said they will need to borrow to buy shares just so they can continue with the current activity level of their business.

"I ask: How is that fair?

"Some are already so heavily debt-laden that they cannot borrow."

Mr Veitch called for a time-out on the reform process to allow all stakeholders to digest the proposed changes.

"Importantly, this would allow for constructive dialogue with the commercial fishing sector so that the facts and information they say they need to make a decision can be put on the table to allow informed decision-making by the sector's participants," he said.

Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair said an independent review had determined fishers were not "buying their jobs back" because, in the long-term, they would benefit from increased profitability and a more sustainable future.

"We have had hundreds of fishers making use of our fishing hotline, dozens choosing to consolidate their shareholdings to be eligible for our fishing business buyout, and almost $2 million requested in low-interest loan applications for the purchase of shares," Mr Blair said.

"In recognition of the complexity and the impact on some fishers, the government has committed $16 million to assist those active fishers who wish to invest and those who wish to exit."

Lower House Labor MP David Mehan argued making active fishers pay for inactive fishers' licences to operate did not make sense.

"Why should active fishers have to buy more shares in order to force inactive fishers out?" he asked.

"This state imports more than 80% of the fish it consumes. We should be growing our local fishing industry." -ARM NEWSDESK