Commercial fisherman Gary Grant with son Michael at the Gladstone wharf
Commercial fisherman Gary Grant with son Michael at the Gladstone wharf

‘Case-by-case’: Fisher argues for staged JobKeeper windback

Chinese customers will typically pay top dollar for Australian live coral trout, but the logistics of getting them there has become almost impossible.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Gladstone fisherman Gary Grant would send about six bins of 200 trout each for export at the end of each fishing trip.

"If we had six bins, they would all be dead in the bins waiting to find air freight," he said.

"We've got to get the direct flight, it's got to be from Brisbane straight through to Beijing."

A large exposure to the Chinese market meant the coral trout industry was one of the first to be hit by the economic impact of the pandemic as it spread from the Wuhan epicentre.

The challenge of staying afloat has been compounded by the virtual shutdown of Australian restaurants and tourism.

The Federal Government's JobKeeper package has been crucial for keeping Mr Grant's workers employed, and he wants to see the program extended on a case-by-case basis as different industries recover at different rates.

"We've got bloody big fuel bills, big tucker bills, big tackle bills, big maintenance bills, and I tell you what, we're watching our pennies right now," he said.

On a state level he wants to see local hospitality businesses back operating at full capacity.

"They should be opening up Queensland now. Don't worry about the borders, keep the borders shut," he said.

"As soon as they open up everything 100 per cent, there will be people screaming for fish."

He said opening up for 10 or 20 people at a time simply wasn't worth it for many Gladstone businesses.

Mr Grant has only done one fishing trip since March, and is now waiting for enough orders to warrant going to sea.

Domestic sales to markets on the east coast have been slow, and prices are rock bottom.

He's selling fish for about $25 per kilo and needs $30 to operate successfully.

"We're down about 45 per cent on our gross earnings," he said.

Trade tensions with China are also making Mr Grant nervous.

He said that if he lost the export market, business would be close to unviable.

"The Australian market can't handle the quantity of fish that is within the Queensland fisheries system," he said of state quotas.