Hobby fish farmer threatened over licensing fee dispute

BUREAUCRACY GONE MAD: Vietnam vet Neville Telford’s landbased aquaculture licence was suspended by the department of primary industries after he refused to pay an exorbitant annual fee to continue to run his hobby trout farm. Picture: BRITTANY DENTON

A LOCAL hobby fish farmer claims he was “backed into a corner” and threatened by the Department of Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA).

Neville Telford operates a hobby fish farm and fly fishing lodge accommodation at Mount Schank and sells a small amount of surplus trout to supplement his pension.

When annual licensing fees increased by a whopping 900 percent in 2016, Mr Telford thought something was amiss.

“I was paying an $80 licence fee and in 2016 it shot up to $800,” he told The Border Watch.

“I thought it was a one time payment required for PIRSA’s so called ‘cost recovery’ process but the 2017 fee was increased again to $1057.

“I refused to pay because that would claim 100 percent of what I make from sales of fish.

“I am a pensioner and receive a war pension for my service in Vietnam and to supplement my pension I have been selling small amounts of fish – why should I give PIRSA all I make?”

Mr Telford’s licence was suspended, however he remains unable to cancel his licence until accumulated costs are paid.

“They handed me a suspension because that still allows for the accumulation of fees for non payment,” he said.

“PIRSA representatives threatened me saying we wouldn’t be able to operate our accommodation in our lake because we needed a license to have fish in the lake.

“They backed down from that because anyone is allowed to have fish in a private pond and now they have allowed us to continue, so long as we don’t sell fish.”

A PIRSA spokesperson said a typical trout farmer in South Australia requires a category B or C aquaculture licence.

“Trout are exotic to South Australia and must be carefully managed to mitigate risks to biosecurity or native wild species,” the spokesperson said.

“Fees are set annually based on management requirements – the 2017/18 fee for a category B landbased licence is $1,135 and for a category C is $2,722.

“If the licence holder is actively engaged in aquaculture for a commercial purpose, the prescribed fees are applicable.

“Licence holders can apply for a partial fee reduction in situations when they are not actively farming and have no stock on site, but wish to retain their licence for future use.”

The spokesperson said an aquaculture licence holder can choose not to renew their licence at the end of the license term, or submit a surrender form to PIRSA.

Mr Telford said after numerous letters to PIRSA and to fisheries minister Leon Bignell, he had “made absolutely no progress.”

“I can get out entirely or I can pay their exorbitant fee – there is simply no room in their categories for someone operating as a hobby farmer,” he said.

“It would be simple for them to make another category for hobby fish farms and allow small amounts of fish to be sold to tourists legally and to sell surplus fish to anybody legally.

“I could get around a lot of this by selling a service to people, like the hire of a rod and give away the fish for nothing, but why should I be forced to operate illegally?

“They force you into a corner and it’s ‘get big or get out.’

“I’d like to thank the people of Mount Gambier who have supported me and said ‘it’s bureaucracy gone mad and we will buy your fish’.”