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Meet the prawn trawler crew now making a living 1000km from the coast

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When the coronavirus pandemic virtually sent Australia into lockdown, the demand for prawns plummeted and trawlers were sent to the docks for the foreseeable future.

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But the workers from the Torres Strait Trawling Company in far north Queensland have found a reprieve at a supermarket in the outback town of Cloncurry.

Skippers and deckhands have ditched the saltwater for red dirt and tried their hands at gardening, stacking shelves, and delivering groceries to some of the country’s most remote cattle stations.

Ronald Wenless, who skippered a boat for the company, said it was a position he had never been put in after decades in the industry.

“I’ve seen years where prices go down on your prawns, and you struggle through that year,” he said.

“This would be the first time I’ve ever seen something like this in my time fishing.”

Upskilling for the next downturn

Daniel Stovell, who skippered a different boat, said he took the opportunity to upskill to make himself more employable.

“I’ve been doing the truck runs; I don’t have a licence yet, but I’ve got my learners and logbook,” he said.

“I haven’t learnt to use the checkout yet, but that’s next.”

The crew were out on the boats when the COVID-19 restrictions started to come into place.

“I knew there were restrictions; my family started talking about them first to me, particularly my mother,” Stovell said.

“Then they started losing work; they laid my brother off because he works in tourism.

“I’m the only one still working.”

Keen to get back on the sea

While the group was making the most of their time in Cloncurry, Ed Morrison, who owns the trawlers and the supermarket, was keen to get them back on the water.

“We’ve really only got June, July and August, and little bit of September on the coast to catch something,” he said.

“We’re thinking we will go back in June, after the full moon, and we’ll just do three-week shifts.”

Morrison said he expected most of the workers would want to move back to the east coast.

“Jonno, who’s driving the truck at the moment, he’s wanting to stay out here driving,” he said.

“Most of the other guys will go back fishing; fishing is what they’re good at.”

– ABC / Eric Barker

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