Lessons Learnt from Industry Legends – Nick Soulos and Alan Miles

What do 2 Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) scientists, 2 fishers, and 3 WAFIC staff all have in common?

They all attended a one-day adventure along the coast of Bunbury to learn about the South West Beach Seine fishery (and each other) headed by industry veterans Nick Soulos and Alan Miles. The job… to spot whitebait and get our feet wet. The educational experience was raw and honest, where industry legends spoke candidly about their fishing experiences (and life lessons) to eager participants.

Photo: Gary Jackson – DPIRD Senior Researcher, Alan Miles, Basia Littlejohn, Nick Soulos and Michael Soulos

The informative outing was the beginning of an educational partnership program, tasked by WAFIC’s ‘Industry Consultation Unit’ (ICU).

Angus Callander, Executive Officer of the WAFIC ICU, said the team had been asked to build relationships between the Regulator, Researcher and the Representative bodies.

“Branded as the 3 R’s, the concept is to bring all three sectors together and create an atmosphere whereby there is not only mutual understanding but also mutual respect of each groups role in driving change and successfully delivering both quantifiable and qualitative benefits to the people of Western Australia.”

“For me personally, to be together with two long term dedicated DPRID research staff, two bright young WAFIC and ICU staff and two extremely knowledgeable fishers learning about the South West Beach Seine fishery was an incredible experience,” he said.

And Angus is spot on. It was an invaluable experience that no text book will teach, or article will even be able to scratch the surface. It was the combination of decades of accumulated knowledge rolled into 7 hours of banter, serious discussion, jokes and ‘did you knows’?

If there was one point to take out of the experience, it was that our commercial fishermen and women act as the unofficial guardians of the ocean.

Our fishers are the unofficial guardians of our oceans.

Before we took off on our 4WDing safari across the beaches between Bunbury and Mandurah, experienced generational fisher Nick Soulos got a call from his son, also a fisher, advising of a shark sighting. Knowing that a Bunbury dolphin cruise was going out that day (where patrons swam), Nick quickly phoned the cruise owners, advising them of the sighting. Let’s just say he was greeted by sheer appreciation.

After the phone call, he looked across the group, as if to say… ladies and gentlemen it’s just another day at the office.

Along the way, and along with the 4WDing bumps, there were plenty of questions with plenty of answers.  From knowing what to look for to spot whitebait to understanding the job of a fisher.

We were informed that whitebait is primarily found across Southern Australia, in mainly sheltered, inshore waters and lower parts of estuaries. In WA, stock occurs along the coastline (mostly within 10km of shore) between Perth and Geographe Bay. Small-scale commercial finfish operators mainly use seine nets off the beach to ensure that the species is caught within the required size range. Nick said that whitebait, often deemed as a delicacy, is celebrated in the foodie community for the species tenderness and versatility.

We also heard that catching whitebait was now a challenge for commercial fishers for a variety of reasons including the slow recovery from a 2011 heatwave, long-term climate changes (including less rainfall) and the sudden sharp increase of recreational fishers using the beaches.

The trip confirmed what we all knew…the harsh realities of day-to-day life. But it is these generational fishers who have indeed fallen in love with our oceans. It’s this love, and the sense of identity this affection brings, that makes the job an addictive lifestyle.

Although it was a beautiful day, there was no sighting of whitebait on this trip (a common occurrence for fishers). But there was a greater understanding of the role of a fisher from both DPIRD and WAFIC staff. It was also clearly evident of the communities need for commercial fishers – who are continuously on the lookout for dangers to water-users.

Gary Jackson, Alan Miles, Angus Callander and Nick Soulos

Basia Littlejohn, both WAFIC’s ICU and Southern Seafood Producers (WA) Association’s EA, said that she was grateful to have had the opportunity to learn directly from Nick and Alan, deeming the experience ‘enthralling’.

“Although I have attended many industry meetings and have a good base knowledge of each fishery in WA, I felt there was a steep disconnect between the theory and the practice of commercial fishing as I had not been exposed to the actual practice.”

“The day was an extraordinary experience, with the learning opportunities provided by Nick and Alan. The historical, cultural and individual connection to the trade I believe are sometimes disregarded too easily and this program offered a deep insight into fishers’ day to day operations and the passion that has been held for generations.”

Concluding, it was an incredible experience for the 3 R’s – the Regulator, Researcher and the Representative – to be brought together for a day and learn about the life of a commercial fisher.

I say here is to more of these meets and greets in the future.

Danika Gusmeroli, WAFIC Communications Officer.