Happy: Second generation prawn fisherman Gary Howard trawls the Hawkesbury River near Lower Portland for his Christmas catch. Photo: Nick Moir
As the sun rays creep across the Hawkesbury river shrouded in light mist, Gary Howard pulls in his third catch of the day on board his prawn trawler.
''It's always a good thing to catch a good catch of prawns,'' he says enthusiastically as he tugs at the tangled netting, wriggling with hundreds of school prawns, a long-finned eel and a few freshwater herrings. The stray catches are quickly thrown back into the river.
For 23 years Mr Howard, a second generation fisherman, has been trawling the Hawkesbury river to supply prawns to the north-western outskirts of Sydney. This is his busiest time of year. It is also the biggest catch of the day, so far. Does it make him happy? ''Of course it does,'' he says.
''You just want consumers to enjoy your products and every fisherman is probably the same that they think their catch is the best, but I don't think you could beat these prawns, especially at Christmas time,'' he says, as he grabs a handful of prawns.
The Sydney Fish Markets are also gearing up for the biggest day on their calendar.
For 36 hours, starting on Monday at 5am, the markets are expecting more than 100,000 visitors, a spokeswoman confirmed. Almost 120 tonnes of prawns and 70,000 dozen oysters are expected to be snapped up before Christmas Day.
But despite the busy period, it's an uncertain time for fishermen like Mr Howard.
The average age of a fisherman is 59, and there are 4000 fewer than there were 20 years ago on the waterways, according to the Professional Fishermans Association. More than 85 per cent of seafood sold in NSW is imported and the state government is planning to restructure the commercial fishing industry.
''No one can predict what the true impact of this restructuring will have on our industry and many fishers will simply cease to exist,'' PFA executive officer Tricia Beatty said.
''There are big worries for fisherman over Christmas,'' Mr Howard said.
But the NSW Minister of Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, says the restructure, which may require fishermen to reapply for their jobs early next year, will strengthen the industry.
"We are also aiming to remove or streamline historical fishing controls which, over many years, have forced fishers to operate inefficiently,'' she said.
Back on the trawler, Mr Howard is cooking the prawns.
''They're going to heaven,'' he says as he lowers about 20 kilograms of prawns into his on-board cooker.
''You're basically a hunter, and I can't see what I'm catching, so the knowledge you gain over years to go after your target species and it make that happen, it's very rewarding.
''I would rather be out here with all of this than working in the city or something.''