Hunter River testing may hit Christmas prawn supply

PRIMARY industries minister Niall Blair has sought to assure Hunter River prawn trawlers that everything possible would be done to get the prawn season underway.

The minister’s intervention came after the Department of Primary Industries advised it could take two months process the results of new contamination sampling done on Monday. 

In addition to the risk of financial ruin for trawlers, the timeframe would mean consumers would not be able to feast on Hunter River prawns for Christmas.

The river’s 16 trawlers agreed to delay on Saturday the start of the season, which was due to commence on Monday, for two weeks.

The voluntary measure was taken as a precaution until new testing cleared the area of contamination linked to the Williamtown RAAF base.

The trawlers were initially advised the results of new testing conducted on Monday could be turned around within a fortnight.

However, after collecting the samples, the department advised the results would not be available before Christmas.

The minister intervened late on Monday to assure the trawlers everything would be done return the results as soon as possible. 

‘‘I know how tough this is on prawn trawlers in the area,’’ he said. 

‘‘It is important the appropriate testing take place but we are looking at how those results can be available sooner – to make sure our fishers are back in business sooner.’’

‘‘Any final recommendations regarding the results will be made by the independent expert panel.’’

Kevin Radnidge, who chaired Saturday’s meeting said he was pleased efforts were being made to make the test results available as soon as possible.

‘‘We said we were prepared to wait two to three weeks so if it takes a bit longer so be it,’’ he said.

Newcastle Commercial Fisherman’s Co-operative general manager Robert Gauta said prawns could be obtained from additional suppliers if necessary.

‘‘We are quietly confident that the Hunter River prawns will be available but we can get alternative supplies from the Myall and Tuggerah Lakes if necessary.’’ 

‘‘There’s also the possibility of getting prawns from Forster and the Clarence River.’’