The ‘big dry’ hits our oceans: How the drought is impacting Australia’s fishing industry

01-Nov-2018 2:30 PM

Think drought only affects the land? Think again. With diminished rainfalls and higher than average temperatures the “big dry” has hit our oceans and is impacting Australia’s fishing industry.

The national peak body representing Australia’s seafood industry, Seafood Industry Australia (SIA), has called on the Federal Government to recognise the impact of drought on industry and extend the financial support available to land-based farmers to wild-catch fishers.

“We feel for our farming cousins on the land, but drought and climate variation also impact the ocean; it’s just not as visible when it’s at sea,” SIA CEO Jane Lovell said.

“At the Coffs Harbour Co-op we’re down 200 tonnes of product that we’d usually see coming in across things like prawns, bream, blue swimmer crabs and mud crabs,” NSW Professional Fishermen’s Association CEO Tricia Beatty said.

“It’s the well known adage that what happens on land, happens in the sea too. The majority of the species we harvest spend part of their life in estuaries; we need good rain and a good flush of water coming through. It all helps. It helps the health of waterways and it helps the stock.”

“Changes to things water temperature also impacts the availability of many species,” Ms Lovell said. “Commercial fishers operate under strict guidelines about where they can fish, what they can catch there and when they can catch it. So if the fish move south our fishers can be prohibited from following them and catching them. It’s complicated, but a combination of factors is taking its toll on the supply of fresh, local seafood for consumers and the foodservice industry.

“This downturn in productivity has added to the strain of Australia’s fishers who are already under a great deal of stress and the pressures of drought only exacerbate this.  

“What SIA would like to see is the drought task-force consider the impact of drought on the seafood industry. We’d also like to see the support networks that are provided to farmers extended to commercial wild-catch fishers. For example, the Farm Household Allowance (FHA) is not available to wild-catch commercial fishers. Sadly, despite them being primary producers, the government does not consider them to be 'farmers' and excludes them from such basic forms of assistance. We look forward to the FHA review recommendations and hope our industry is finally recognised.

“Recognising wild-catch fishers as farmers under the FHA would make them eligible to receive the financial hardship payments which are available for farming families impacted by things like drought.”