WATERSHED MOMENT: Esme Hearn and Pat Plahn, pictured with Tony Mills, finished up at the Red Shed yesterday due to a ban on scallop harvesting, Mr Mills said.
WATERSHED MOMENT: Esme Hearn and Pat Plahn, pictured with Tony Mills, finished up at the Red Shed yesterday due to a ban on scallop harvesting, Mr Mills said. Eliza Goetze

Bundy fish seller says scallop ban forced him to sack staff

OUT the back of the Red Shed in East Bundaberg is a hive of activity.

Esme Hearn and Pat Plahn work together busily preparing scallops that will end up on plates in homes and restaurants from Bundy to Shanghai.

Until this year, the Red Shed sourced scallops from trawlers off the Bundaberg coast that fished two catchment areas on rotation.

"In January they fish the A box, and then the next year they fish the B box,” owner Tony Mills said.

"They get the very big scallops ... that suits the Chinese New Year when we export.”

But next week, the shed will be a lot quieter.

Esme and Pat finished their last day of work yesterday.

"This time next week there will be two of us in here, just running the retail,” Mr Mills told Opposition employment spokesman Jarrod Bleijie during the MP's visit to the Quay St business.

Mr Mills says he has sacked nine of his staff because of the State Government's indefinite ban on scallop catches in central Queensland waters.

Scallops, prized by chefs around the country, normally represent 70% of Red Shed's business.

On January 3 this year, the government closed all six scallop replenishment areas off Yeppoon, Bustard Head and Hervey Bay to all scallop fishing indefinitely.

The move was a response to analysis of catch data in October which suggested scallop biomass was "potentially as low as 5-6% when compared to 1977 levels”.

"The meeting was on the Monday, and on the Wednesday they put in a notice to say they'd closed it indefinitely,” Mr Mills said.

He believes the catch data, taken from fishing log books, was not a good indicator of the true scallop population.

"It doesn't show the product they throw back; the guys are only showing what they keep. They need to go out in the trawlers and put GoPros down and count the shells as we do.”

Mr Mills said the area closures weren't sustainable for the scallops, or for the local economy.

"(Scallops) only have a life span of two years so it's dying while we're not catching it,” he said.

"I've got this,” he said, pointing to his bright red shed. "I don't want to rape and pillage so there's nothing left next year.”

He and wife Margeurite said the decision would have a flow-on effect in Bundaberg.

"I've bought a heap of scallop and put it in storage in December,” Mr Mills said on Thursday.

"We've run out as of tomorrow. So we've got all of August, September, October, and hopefully we can go fishing in November.

"It's not just the girls in there - the fishermen who live here are unemployed.

"Then I don't buy my cartons from Amcor; the chandlery shop uptown doesn't get it because the boys aren't buying anything.

Bundaberg MP Leanne Donaldson said the decision to close the replenishment areas was not taken lightly”.

"The government was forced to act by the latest scientific advice that stocks had plummeted to crisis levels,” she said.

She also announced $2.58 million for a three-year research and monitoring program "to build a more comprehensive picture of the Queensland scallop stock and effectively track its recovery”, starting in October.

"We need to know the point at which commercial fishing can be increased and current closures lifted without impacting long-term sustainability.”

Mr Mills was pleased at the news of the research program but said he feared "as fishermen, we can't win”.

For now, the ban stays.



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