Fishing for government support

HELPING HAND: Port Stephens Council general manager Wayne Wallis, Commercial Fishermen’s Co-op manager Robert Gauta and Hunter MLC Scot MacDonald at the co-op on Thursday. Picture: Sam RigneyThe Newcastle Fishermen’s Co-op will launch a campaign to restore the local seafood brand to its former glory in the wake of thetoxic contamination of the Hunter River.

The co-op’s manager Rob Gauta met withParliamentary Secretary for the Hunter,Scot MacDonald MLC, on Thursday to outline the concerns of the industry since revelations in September that toxic chemicals wereleaching from the Williamtown RAAF base.

And while the impact on seafood sales through the co-op was hard to measure, Mr Gauta gaveMr MacDonald a letter for Premier Mike Baird that said:“significant damage had been done to the local seafood brand”.

He said the campaign, which would include social media, a website,direct mail and a video clip in the short term, was a“proactive step” to avoid further declines in the region’s commercial fishing industry.

Mr Gauta said the message of the campaign would be that the Hunter still provided a diverse range of fresh seafood that was being caught outside of the contaminated red zone.

“People hear contamination and fish and they stop buying seafood,” Mr Gauta said.

“So we are trying to get the message out there that Port Stephens, Myall Lakes, Tuggerah Lakes are all part of our catchment and we also source seafood from places like Coffs Harbour, so that the customers and the public can rest assured that the product is coming from pristine areas.

“The contamination is out of our control.

“What we can control is the positive message we send out.

“There is beautiful oysters up in Port Stephens, great prawns in the Myall River and Tuggerah Lakes system.”

The campaign is being coordinated by Port Stephens Council and Destination Port Stephenswith support from council, the Sydney Fish Market, the co-op and, hopefully, the state government, Mr Gauta said.

The co-opmet with Premier Mike Baird in December to outline their proposal.

Mr MacDonald said Mr Baird was eager to help the Hunter’s seafood industry during this time of uncertainty.

“[The fishermen] fear that the Williamtown RAAF contamination has created uncertainty surrounding seafood in the area,” he said.

He said the co-op was seeking about $20,000 from the state government.

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