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Sweet prawns, desperate market

Lee Fishing Company retail assistant Sue Moseley with some of the plentiful and exquisite product which fishers are having trouble selling this season.
Lee Fishing Company retail assistant Sue Moseley with some of the plentiful and exquisite product which fishers are having trouble selling this season. Renee Pilcher

THE sweetest prawns you will ever taste are on the Gympie region market at the best prices ever likely to be seen, as trawler operators reap a plentiful but bitter harvest of almost worthless product.

It is a harvest of fertility from the fresh water and nutrient plumes swept into the ocean by recent flooding rains along the Queensland coast.

The same wet weather, however, has created cool and cloudy conditions, which Cooloola Coast business people hope will clear before Easter.

Otherwise, the businesses that house and feed visitors may find themselves alarmingly short of the customers they need.

At this stage, conditions are also a long way from the hot, sunny weather normally associated with the consumption of prawns.

On top of that, Darryl Lee, of Tin Can Bay’s Lee Fishing Company says through-the-roof fuel prices and a surge in overseas imports have created a cost-price squeeze which seems set to drive the fishing industry out of business.

It is a desperate time, with quality prawns selling for $55 to $95 for a 5kg carton.

“It’s bloody cheap,” Mr Lee said at the family fish processing works on Snapper Creek yesterday.

“I’ve got reef fish, individually cryovac sealed, in 5kg boxes for $75. That’s $15 a kilo.

“At the top end, fish like red emperor, parrot and red snapper are $19 a kg. That’s wholesale prices, but it’s all wholesale to the public this holiday. If I don’t sell them over Easter, I won’t sell them, so I may as well get rid of them cheaply now,” he said.

It is a market which the industry cannot sustain.

“What are the dairy farmers going to do?” Mr Lee asked.

“The only comfort for our industry is that they’ll be out of business before the fishermen, but not by much. A lot of seafood wholesalers are still full of Christmas stock.

“It’s probably the weather.

“Last Thursday it was hot and the shop did $6000 in trade.

“The days it rained ... nothing.

“If people come here and it rains for two days, they’ll sit it out. Three days and they’ll go home.

“All we need is one hot, sunny day and we’re back.”

But, he says, fishing is going backwards.

“Boats are making $2000 a night, but with fuel at $1.14 a litre and 1000 litres needed, that’s $1140, plus $540 wages,” Mr Lee said.

“With a boat worth $1 million and its costs, on a good night you make $200 and some nights you go backwards.”

Topics:  gympie market prawns trawler

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