16 October 2023

Fishing family devastated at the prospect of losing their business

| Matt Nicholls
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The Fisher family operates out of Weipa and is concerned that the government is trying to eradicate gillnet operators.

HILTON Fisher operates his small fishing business in one of the remotest places in Cape York, the Kirke River, located about halfway between Weipa and Pormpuraaw.

And while he’s dodged a bullet for now – the Kirke River hasn’t been listed on the map of proposed net-free zones – he’s concerned that it could be just a matter of time for him and his family.

Mr Fisher made the trip across to Karumba last week with his wife Anne and their sons Hilton and Nicholas, trying to get answers from Queensland Fisheries on the state of play.

In a draft map released last month, the Kirke River was listed as a site for potential closure.

“It’s gut-wrenching,” Mr Fisher told Cape York Weekly.

“There hasn’t been the correct consultation with our industry.

“This government just says what it’s going to do and then decides to consult with you afterwards.”

Mr Fisher is following in the footsteps of his parents, Eddie and Dianne, who ran a successful fishing business out of Weipa for several decades.

His mothership, the Weary Bay, has been seen regularly in Gulf waters for the best part of 30 years.

“I grew up learning the river systems in the Kirke area and I can tell you that it has supported our family for two generations and there are plenty of fish to support another generation,” he said.

“I used to come to these meetings every year but I had to come to this one because they were talking about shutting down my fishing grounds.

“That’s our livelihood.

“I’ve still got another 14 years left before I can retire, plus my kids could fish the area if they want to go down that path.

“It’s a good lifestyle and we’re good at what we do. We know where to go and what we want to catch at certain times.”

Mr Fisher primarily catches barramundi with his three N3 licences that require three vessels and as many employees.

He said he could see no reason for the government to implement more net-free zones in the Gulf.

“We don’t have a lot of interaction with endangered or protected species,” he said.

“We’re on our nets every six hours and if we ever catch something that’s not supposed to be in the nets we release them alive.

“I did a sawshark release program back in the 1990s so we know what we’re doing if they ever end up in our nets.”

Mr Fisher backed a call for the government to introduce sunset or grandfather clauses for commercial fishing operators in the Gulf.

“Don’t shut down the guys who are here making an honest living,” he said.

“As soon as they shut down a river system the person who is fishing it will move somewhere else.

“If they shut down my area I’ll have to go and learn another spot and that could be competing with or displacing another fisherman.

“There should be a sunset clause that allows me to keep fishing in this region.”

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