Commercial fishermen Micheal Grant and Gary Grant are calling for more government support as the impact of the coronavirus hits the industry.
Commercial fishermen Micheal Grant and Gary Grant are calling for more government support as the impact of the coronavirus hits the industry.

Fishers struggle to stay afloat as coronavirus hits exports

The economic fallout of coronavirus has hit commercial fishers and there are calls for an interest free loan scheme to help operators stay afloat.

Gladstone fisherman Gary Grant catches live coral trout and has been in the game for 35 years.

His son Micheal has been in the industry since he was a teenager.

Normally about half their catch goes to China.

But with the export market virtually shutdown, commercial fishers are competing for buyers in Australia.

"We're trying to sell our fish in Australia at the moment and the market price is down at least 40 per cent," Mr Grant said.

"We just filled an order and we got peanuts for them. It was survival money."

Mr Grant said he had probably lost $200,000 since February.

With a typical fishing trip costing more than $2000 a day for fuel, bait and staff, he said he was weighing up his options.

"We have to make a decision at the end of this financial year whether we keep trucking," Mr Grant said.

Without orders coming in and the boat tied up, there is no income and no work for the eight people he employs.

"We've just done one trip in this crisis, just to keep the boys employed, and unfortunately our profit margin is about 5 per cent," Mr Grant said.

Mr Grant said government support, in the form of an interest-free loan scheme like those offered to farmers in drought, would help operators negotiate the crisis.

"I'm only talking, minimum for us $50,000, to see us through for the next six months," he said.

Mr Grant said the measures taken so far had done little to help.

The Queensland Government announced a $3.66-million commercial fishing industry assistance package last month.

Quota fees for rock lobster and coral trout were waived for the first six months of 2020, along with some fishing boat fees.

Fisheries Minister Mark Furner spoke about the impact on the industry in parliament.

"Seeing this virus strike during the usual peak export period for live coral trout and rock lobster has been particularly cruel on our fishers," Mr Furner said.

Other measures announced by Mr Furner include a campaign to encourage people to buy local fish, financial counselling services and market diversification grants of up to $50,000.

"We have listened to industry, we have worked diligently with other states and we are putting our energy into protecting the jobs of hardworking Queenslanders," Mr Furner said.

The Queensland Government is also calling on the Federal Government to provide assistance by way of a recovery allowance or low-interest loans.