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“How can my gear, which has no contact with the sea floor, have more of an impact than those anchors and all the other activities associated with the oil and gas industry?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Professional fishing is an honourable profession. I am proud, and feel extremely privileged that my role is to provide premium quality, sustainable seafood for the community - seafood that is good for people’s health, and something that many do not have opportunity to catch for themselves,” said Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We are fishing for our grandchildren,” says Bill as a way to explain why the industry looks after the health and quantity of wild fish stock.

 

 

 

 

 

NORTH: MEET THE FISHERS

 

Biagio and Nina Spinella – Shark and Grey Mackerel - Darwin

For countless generations the Spinella family have fished for a living, in Southern Italy and, from 1960, in the Northern Territory. Tony and Rocco Spinella were two of the first commercial Barramundi fishermen working out of Darwin in the 1960s. Today, Rocco’s son Biagio Spinella wonders what is in store for him and the family that come after him.

Biagio and Nina Spinella run two boats in the Offshore Net and Line Fishery, fishing for shark and Grey Mackerel. They also operate a small business selling a variety of local frozen seafood from their shop on Fishermen’s Wharf. Most of the seafood sold in their shop is from their boats and is sold locally and to markets in the south.

With the proposed North Marine Reserves, Biagio and Nina are facing the end of a generational lifestyle and business. Biagio estimates the loss of fishing ground will see his business cut by up to 25%, leading to the loss of vessels and ultimately the shop they have worked so hard to establish. “I was considering getting another boat and expanding the business” say Biagio, “but you’d have to have rocks in your head to invest in anything in these uncertain times.”

Looking at the huge oil rig anchors and massive chains being loaded just outside his shop, Biagio is at a loss to understand the rationale behind allowing those anchors to be dropped on the seafloor in the proposed multiple use zones of the reserves while banning his fishing gear. “How can my gear, which has no contact with the sea floor, have more of an impact than those anchors and all the other activities associated with the oil and gas industry?”

Biagio and Nina are also bewildered by questions they are being asked as part of a survey assessing the impacts on fishing businesses and the fishing industry. “They ask us what we will do if we don’t go fishing” says Nina, “how do I answer that? All we know is fishing. Biagio has been fishing for 35 years, since he was 14.”

Not only do they face losing their livelihood, the value of what remains of their assets is also to be wiped out with the stroke of a pen in Canberra. “Another survey question asks what is the value of our assets. Well, they might have had a value before all this started, now I have scrap metal which used to be a boat, licences which no one will want due to the uncertainty, and a shop we can no longer stock. No value in any of that.”

Industry’s refined proposal will ensure Biagio and Nina’s business survives. “It means we maintain access to our fishing grounds and don’t have to use more fuel searching for further, less profitable gounds.”

Biagio and Nina know they have the support of the local community, with many people wondering what the proposed reserves will achieve when they know our fisheries already operate under stringent management arrangements, and voluntary Codes of Practice and Environmental Management Systems. In addition the fishery has been assessed as being sustainably managed with minimal impact on the target species, bycatch and ecosystem by the very same Commonwealth Department that wants to shut them out of large areas.

“They are not making Marine Reserves at all” says Biagio, “but rather exclusion zones for a small minority of the stakeholders that have minimal impact, while leaving others to go about their business of having far greater impact. It’s just crazy!”

   

The Spinella Family: Left to right: Zoe, Biagio, Nina and Dannielle on Fishermen’s Wharf.

Biagio with anchor and chain used to secure rigs to
the ocean floor in the oil and gas industry.

   
   
   

 Bruce, Juanita, Tiger and Elspeth Davey
– Spanish Mackerel - Karumba

 

Bruce and Juanita Davey, their son Tiger (22) and youngest daughter, Elspeth (16) live and work on the 22 metre FV Wildcard, catching Spanish mackerel from May to December in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

They are a fourth generation fishing family sharing a 100 years of fishing knowledge. They are very proud of their heritage and their profession.

Bruce and Juanita have been running the Wildcard Professional Fishing family business for 21 years, their three kids were bought up onboard, going to school via HF radio at Cairns School of Distance Education. Tiger and Elspeth now work full time in the business. Early next year, Tiger takes his Master Class 5 skipper’s ticket, and Elspeth her Coxswains ticket. Eldest daughter, Johanna (20), did her gap year working as a deck hand, and is now studying nursing.

Their fishing grounds stretch from Cape York in Queensland, across the Northern Territory top end to the NT/WA maritime border.

Their line-caught, snap frozen Spanish Mackerel is sent to market from Cairns to Mackay.

“Professional fishing is an honourable profession. I am proud, and feel extremely privileged that my role is to provide premium quality, sustainable seafood for the community - seafood that is good for people’s health, and something that many do not have opportunity to catch for themselves,” said Bruce.

“The sad thing is most of today’s fishermen are questioning whether it’s worth staying in the business, whether it is worth the angst and constant need to fight for justice. No on shore businesses have to put up with what the fishing industry does.

And there are just not enough resources to keep on fighting the plethora of misinformation that ruins the reputation of the industry. The Australian Fishing industry has to meet the highest of legislative environmental standards to operate. We are reviewed and formally accredited by the Federal Government every four years – it’s far more than any other sector has to do, including farming, yet the attack from Government and other groups, continue.

The Marine Protected Areas will only ring bark Australia’s coastline and, tragically, kill off what is left of the fishing industry.

It appears to me that the oil, gas and mining industries are immune from MPAs – the fishing industry is an easy target and while most people in the community I talk to are against them, they are too busy running their own business to send in submissions.

Like any Australian business, we need to have certainty and ongoing security of access to the resource that our business is based on. And our business is to help feed the community. The big question is do we stay knowing that there is another battle looming for the industry just after we have got over the last 10 battles?

     

 

Left to Right: Bruce, Juanita and Tiger Davey and crew.

Elspeth Davey

   
   
   

Finfish Trawl Fishery & Demersal Fishery – Northern Territory

Bill Passey survived through hard work, high standards and innovation.

“We are fishing for our grandchildren,” says Bill as a way to explain why the industry looks after the health and quantity of wild fish stock.

The minute the resource declines, Bill’s 45 year investment in the third generation inheritance is at risk. Should Bill’s grandchildren Jack & Samantha follow in the family’s fishing gumboots, however, they will find an industry ruled by tough regulations and high professional standards.

Bill highlights “Any changes that affect one fisherman will affect all. The proposed Marine Parks is a very good example of this and by creating uncertainty with industry investors and increased pressure on the trawl fishery they could have a flow on effect; reduced availability of general shore services”

“When you become a fisherman, the first thing you learn is to survive. To survive, you have to lift your head up once a week and look around you so you see where the pressures are coming from. What I have found is that everything we do, such as lifting up the nets to avoid the sponges and avoid damaging the ocean floor, increase the catch and the quality. And everything we have done has been beneficial to us,” says Bill.

In a joined venture in 1997 Gary Kessell and Bill Passey established Australian Bay Seafoods; now the main supplier of the popular saddletail snapper in Australian and number one seller for Coles in west Australia, Sydney and Brisbane; with the freshest supplies going straight to wholesalers in the Northern Territory.

It’s a gruelling routine for son Ray Passey, working 5am to 10pm each day, so while the 40 tonnes of fish brought into Darwin wharf every 14 days looks big, it’s yet to make a dent on the oceans worked by Bill Passey’s two trawlers; the FVTerritory Leader fishing Northern Territory and unloading in Darwin and FV Ocean Harvest fishing in the Gulf of Carpentaria and unloading in Weipa and and Karumba during the wet.

   

  Bill, Ray and Jack Passey.

 The Territory Leader.

  Close up of The Territory Leader.

   
   

Brian and Nathan Corbett – Prawn Fishermen – Cairns

Brian Corbett, a prawn fisherman for 43 years, has almost had enough of the fishing industry he loves.

“It’s just about run us into the ground. I started from nothing, and we built a business I was proud of. When I came into the prawn fishing there were 400 boats, now there are less than 50.

Brian’s wife, Helen, runs the office and their son, Nathan, skippers the boat and has started a business selling wild-caught prawns to locals and tourists via the internet www.prawnsales.com.

“I am not joking, today it’s just a battle to survive. And now they want to take away the best fishing grounds. We only fish 7% of our fishery, and with the Marine Reserve plan they want to take 2% of that 7%, and that 2% just happens to be the best fishing grounds!!

“It’s pretty obvious that if you are on a good wage, sitting in Canberra the decision to take away grounds in the Gulf of Carpentaria, looks good, it’s not going to make any difference to you, but if you are me and my son, well it bloody does.

“We catch beautiful wild ocean caught prawns – bananas and wonderful tigers – and at every turn, there’s someone trying to make it harder and harder …over the years I have spent a fortune just to stay in business and meet the ever changing demands of the government – buy-outs, changes to the boat you can have, then its changes to the gear, new plans for quota and now the marine reserve lock out hanging over us, not to mention the price of fuel, and the fight to get a good price for prawns caught in some of the most pristine waters of the world..…it never stops.

“This Northern Prawn Fishery is one of the most sustainable prawn fisheries in the world, and I am proud of it. I love doing what I do, and doing it well, and so does my son, but soon it’s just not going to be worth being in the business. I know that will make many people happy, but where are we going to get our prawns from – from over seas?…and just how sustainable are those fisheries?

“I just can’t see a wonderful future. I just think I should take my beautiful wife and go have some fun. But there’s my young guy to consider – the truth is he would be battling to ever buy the business.”

 

  

  

Brian, Nathan, Katie-Jane and
Helen Corbett.