How fuel prices are contributing to costlier fish and chips

High fuel prices are not just hitting the hip pockets of motorists, fishermen are also feeling the pinch.

Fuel prices have hit their highest level in a decade and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) earlier this year urged consumers to use comparison apps to seek the best price.

It comes as fishers feel the pinch of drought, with diminished rainfall and high temperatures hitting the industry.

Tricia Beatty, the chief executive of the Professional Fishermen’s Association of New South Wales (PFA), estimated the extra cost of fuel to be between $10,000 and $15,000 a year, and there are limited options for fishermen to be paid more for their catch.

“It really does make it tough for the fishermen,” Ms Beatty said.

“We are not price makers, we’re price takers. When a fisherman brings in his product he has to take the price that’s offered to him.

“They’re really stressed. There’s major mental health issues in the industry at the moment and it’s all culminating in a tough situation for our industry.”

Cheap as chips no more

Combined with other factors the high fuel prices could be affecting the cost of fish and chips at your local takeaway shop.

“We’ve had to increase the price of fish and chips,” Andrew Mitchell said, the general manager of the Coffs Harbour Fishermen’s Co-op.

“We’ve had oil go up in price because of the drought, the sunflower oil we use for our fish and chips has gone way up in price and fuel’s gone way up in price, so a box of fish and chips has gone up by a dollar or two depending on what type of fish and chips you get.

Doing what they can

Drew Mudaliar is a coastal trap and line commercial fisherman at Eden, on the South Coast of NSW.

Mr Mudaliar said the fuel increases mean he is trying to be more efficient in the way he works.

“All we can do is work as smartly as we can, try to catch as much high-value fish as we can, and work the best days possible,” he said.

“We’ll always work the good days, but if days are marginal and the weather might not be so well, we’ll give those days a miss.

Ian Perry, a commercial prawn trawler based in Coffs Harbour, said he is doing what he can to get a better price.

“Value-adding is an option and selling locally is a good option because we take away the freight cost,” Mr Perry said.

Mr Perry said he is worried that any further rises could force fishers out of the industry.

“We can manage with what we’ve got, there’s different marketing plans and we can put things in place to cover that, but if it gets any higher it gets over a scale we can’t deal with.”

Seeking fuel efficiencies

Ms Beatty said work is underway to try to improve fuel efficiency in the fishing industry.

“We were looking at a range of different things that looks at how you set up your sweeps and how you set up your headropes,” she said.

“As well as what you can put into your net to actually safely release the [bycatch] alive and therefore reduce the amount of towage you’ve got and therefore reduce your fuel costs.”

The PFA has run workshops up and down the NSW coast educating fishers on ways they can reduce costs and is now trying to make the changes easier to implement.

“Our fisheries are heavily regulated and the way our nets are set up are also heavily regulated by the Department of Primary Industries (DPI),” Ms Beatty said.

“Currently if you want to do anything that is outside regulation you need to apply to DPI for a permit to allow you to test something and those permits have a heap of reporting requirements … it’s not a quick and easy thing.”

A spokesperson said the DPI has been investigating the possibility of an “open permit” system.

“Before more open permits can be issued, there needs to be further investigation of new gear types to ensure that potential increases in fuel efficiency will be achieved and there are not unintended consequences, such as negative environmental impacts, and to ensure that any changes will be useful to the majority of the industry,” the spokesperson said.

Ms Beatty said the option of eliminating the industry’s reliance on fuel is also being explored.

“There’s trawlers that are looking at sail and engine options as well.

“We’re looking at and doing everything that we can.”

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