UNLOADING: As the Coronavirus unfolds, Bowen fisherman dock their boats as it becomes no longer economically viable to fish.
UNLOADING: As the Coronavirus unfolds, Bowen fisherman dock their boats as it becomes no longer economically viable to fish.

Business owner says coronavirus aid will do “little” to help

A $27.25 million coronavirus aid package will do little to help suffering local fishermen in the immediate future and grants may come to fruition too late, a Bowen business owner says.

The Palaszczuk Government announced the creation of the aid package last week, touting it as a way to assist business owners affected by the disease and promising to waive fees for fishers and quota fees for rock lobster and coral trout.

Arabon Seafood owner Terry Must said they were "grateful" but that the aid wouldn't go where it was needed most - to the fishermen who had gone without income for "more than a month".

"They've taken notice, so that's good," he said.

"The guys actually doing the fishing need help, they need a lot of assistance to get back to fishing."

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has also announced market diversification and resilience grants of $50,000, which will support businesses impacted by coronavirus, including "boat modifications necessary to meet new market requirements".

Mr Must said these grants were "a big step in the right direction", with the majority of boats only equipped for live fishing, an industry that has dropped severely in demand since the coronavirus crisis began.

LIVE: Fresh coral trout is no longer being exported to China, affecting the income of many local fishermen. Photo: Anna Wall.
LIVE: Fresh coral trout is no longer being exported to China, affecting the income of many local fishermen. Photo: Anna Wall.

With the government still in the process of developing the guidelines and yet to open grant applications, Mr Must is concerned about how long it will take for fishermen to go through the process of securing funds and do the work necessary on their vessels.

"They say there's grants that will be available in April, it's too late, they need assistance straight away," he said.

"They need to get the OK from the government, get the guidelines, which aren't being set until April, get the quote, submit it to the government and get the OK before the bloke starts the job.

"We heard it about the bushfires down south, the hoops people have to jump through. We know that, they're not going to give the money away easily."

Before coronavirus, the fishermen would export large quantities of live coral trout to China's fresh fish markets, which are now no longer accepting imports, meaning local fishermen have lost their main source of income.

"These guys have already gone over a month without any income," he said.

"They won't have any money by April because they've got no income.

"This is the first time they've offered assistance, we are grateful of that, but to get the fish coming back in, we need to help the guys that catch them."

DOCKED: Boats, which should be out fishing have been docked, meaning fishermen have been without an income for
DOCKED: Boats, which should be out fishing have been docked, meaning fishermen have been without an income for "more than a month". Photo: Anna Wall.

The Queensland Government's assistance package is the "biggest and richest package of measures offered by any government in Australia," according to a statement released by the Palaszczuk Government.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the economic impact of the virus on Queensland's tourism, agriculture, fishing and education sectors was comparable to any natural disaster.

"The overnight downturn in Chinese tourists, students and export markets is having enormous impact," the Premier said.

"This $27.25 million is a way of addressing some of those losses and setting us up for recovery once the virus is contained."

The package will offer assistance in a range of areas including $7 million in international tourism promotion, $4.8 million targeted for the Tropical Far North and Gold Coast regions, waiving fees associated with liquor licences, deferring tourism lease payments, and rebates for marina and jetty fees.

For more information on the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries market diversification and resilience grants phone 13 25 23 or visit https://www.business.qld.gov.au/industries/farms-fishing-forestry/agriculture/agribusiness/market-diversification-resilience-grants


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