Coffs Harbour’s Fishing Industry

Local historian, George England  in 1970, noted that between 1883-1892 there were several fishermen operating in Coffs Harbour and Charlesworth Bay.  They took the fish out to ships from the Clarence where it was packed with ice.  There was also some smoked and dried fish sent to Sydney or sold to ships crews but it was not an important industry until the local ice works at the Butter Factory were established in 1910.

Fishing Fleet Coffs Harbour 1946, Courtesy Picture Coffs Harbour, Mus 07-5931

Coffs Harbour’s Fishing Industry Time-line

1892   Jetty completed.

1906   Beginning of Coffs Harbour fishing industry.

1908   Four motor-boats (and 20 crewmen) engaged in the fishing industry at Coffs Harbour.

1910   Introduction of local ice-works at Butter Factory.

1912   South Coffs Island and mainland connected.

1914-1927   Northern Breakwater to Muttonbird Island built.

1919-1946   Eastern Breakwater built.

1946   Nambucca Fishermen’s Co-operative Ltd formed.

1947   Coffs Harbour’s fishermen amalgamate with Nambucca Fishermen’s Co-op.

1947   Temporary use of a shed on railway land for first depot.

1950   Coffs Harbour Fishermen’s Co-op’s purpose-built depot opened – located next to the railway gates.

1953   Ice-making machine installed at Coffs Harbour depot. (Prior to that, ice was sourced from the Butter Factory. The Butter Factory closed in 1953, according to Neil Yeates in Coffs Harbour Volume 2, page 150.)

1954   Registered office of the Nambucca-Coffs Harbour Fishermen’s Co-op Ltd transferred to Coffs Harbour.

1967   Eric Hogbin sets up proper business guidelines for Co-op.

1970   35 boats and 100 men engaged in local industry. (25 boats operate from the Port of Coffs Harbour.)

1975   Inner Harbour (Marina) completed.

1979   New Co-op building opened in current location.

Fishermans Co-op Coffs Harbour 1983, Courtesy of Picture Coffs Harbour Mus 07-5557

The origins of the Coffs Harbour Fishermen’s Co-operative.

In 1946, the New South Wales State Government was encouraging the formation of Fishing Co-operatives as a way to stabilize the fishing industry, which had a large black-market and a wildly fluctuating price for fish which made it difficult to create a livelihood from the industry. [1,2]

In March 1947, about 40 Coffs Harbour fishermen met to discuss whether to join the Grafton Co-operative, join the Nambucca Co-operative, or form a separate Coffs Harbour Co-operative. [3]

Three months later, they chose the Nambucca option, and looked forward to enjoying “all the special privileges with regard to the sale, control and marketing that are available to co-operative societies.” [4]

While plans were being made in September 1947 to build a depot and a jetty extending into the harbour from the northern breakwater wall [5], the Coffs Harbour members of the commercial fishermen’s union were voting to join a state-wide strike aimed at increasing the price of fish by 25%. [6]  The Coffs Harbour district’s fishing fleet of 25 craft and 60 men [6] was finding its feet….

The Fishermen’s Co-operative Society – comprising depots at Macksville, Nambucca, Sawtell and Coffs Harbour – began its Coffs Harbour operations in November 1947 [7]

Fishing was a relatively small part of Coffs Harbour’s economy. (Figures for 1959 list fishing as 2% of the local economy. [8]) But the decades following 1947 produced services for the fishing fleet such as the marine rescue service, a slipway and a marina; services which have helped give Coffs Harbour its distinctive harbour-town character.

Coffs Harbour Advocate 11 August 1953, P.1, Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia,


  1. Coffs Harbour Advocate 11 February 1947
  2. Coffs Harbour Advocate 24 September 1947
  3. Coffs Harbour Advocate 18 March 1947
  4. Coffs Harbour Advocate 13 June 1947
  5. Coffs Harbour Advocate 5 September 1947
  6. Coffs Harbour Advocate 5 September 1947
  7. Coffs Harbour Advocate 14 November 1947
  8. Coffs Harbour Advocate 1 January 1960: 1959 figures: Timber 43%; Bananas 39%; Tourism 10%; Dairying 6%; Fishing 2%.

Research Courtesy of Geoffrey Watts