The Hon. A. B. KELLY: My question is addressed to the Minister for Mineral Resources, and Minister for Fisheries. What effect will the proposed Clarence River management plan have on this important North Coast estuary?
The Hon. E. M. OBEID: I thank my colleague the Hon. A. B. Kelly, the convener of Country Labor, for his most important question and his continued interest in country New South Wales. Approximately 120 fishers hold licences to fish in the Clarence River, which is one of our most important estuarine fisheries. Its annual catch is greater than the combined harvest of all other estuaries. This multimillion dollar industry creates local jobs and supports local businesses. In 1998, $4.3 million worth of fish was harvested from this area. In the same year, the Clarence River trawlers harvested 220 tonnes of prawns, worth $1.2 million, from this estuary.
The Carr Government is committed to ensuring the sustainability of our valuable fish resources for the benefit of the whole community. That is why we have worked with the community and stakeholders to develop a comprehensive management plan for the Clarence River estuary prawn trawl fishery. The estuary prawn trawl management advisory committee and the Clarence River estuary prawn trawl subcommittee also contributed to this plan.
The new strategy limits the number of operators and the type of gear they can use. It requires the fishery to be closed for at least four months each year. The sustainability of the fishery will be closely monitored under this plan, and management strategies will be automatically reviewed if prawn harvests fail. The plan requires by-catch reduction devices to be used by trawlers, to help fish escape from prawn trawl nets. The Clarence River estuary prawn trawl subcommittee also made a number of recommendations, including more flexible arrangements for the replacement of boats and clear definitions for the use of by-catch reduction devices.
The Clarence River industry members strongly supported this management plan and recommendations at a port meeting last April. The New South Wales Government is now working with industry to develop opening and closing times for this seasonal fishery. I personally thank the Clarence River fishers for actively working with the Carr Government to ensure the long-term sustainability of this valuable estuary. Better management, research and compliance are key features of this important Carr Government initiative, which will help better protect valuable fish stocks in the Clarence River.