Fishing industry needs to showcase its value to build community support

Hi there

Well, it’s almost Christmas and another year has quickly shot by.

For the WA commercial fishing industry we’ve certainly copped some scratches and bruises along the way, but we’re still focused on protecting our sector from unprecedented, increasing challenges.

Whether it’s exclusion areas in marine parks, seismic impacts from oil and gas exploration, environmental damage from new salt mining and port developments, or ongoing harm to our valuable west coast demersal fishery – we face real and present dangers – and WAFIC is doing everything it can (despite serious funding reductions) to protect, defend and grow our magnificent industry.

But we need your help.

We can’t do it alone.


Can I first paint a situation which is unfolding in Albany.  The town has glorious ocean views and the community treasures them.  But smack bang in the middle of town is a port with lots of steel and concrete and silos, certainly not a pretty sight to see.

However, the community isn’t the slightest bit concerned, because they know how important this port is to their economy and community.  When an ugly woodchip terminal was built there nobody even blinked an eye.  Huge trucks are roaring in and out of this port each and every day – yet nobody minds.  Because the value of the overall operation is not only accepted, it is appreciated.

From town, if you look at the far hills there is a line of wind turbines there – surely not something in keeping with the local pristine natural coastline.  But the local people are OK about this – because they know they need power – renewable power – and they’re more than happy to accept a compromise.

Out in the middle of Oyster Harbour and Princess Royal Harbour and some close oceanic sections of King George Sound, there will now be aquaculture developments going ahead on an industrial scale.  These will be very valuable to the local economy but will completely change the natural vista for all time.  But the perceived economic value over-rode most of the other considerations.

So it’s interesting that when the proposed sites were being assessed, some of the most suitable aquaculture areas were immediately excluded.

One was too close to one of the race markers of the yacht club and there was no way they could possibly even consider moving this buoy by a few hundred metres –  another site was deemed to be too close to a designated water ski area, which let’s face it, could easily be shifted to a dozen far more suitable spots in the bay.

But when it came to a choice about displacing the local commercial fishers, some with family connections of over 150 years, there was no hesitation – we were pushed aside.

So it’s pretty clear that currently yachting and water skiing are much higher up the priority list than commercial fishers.

And this is probably because commercial fishers are quite wrongly perceived as acting for themselves – for personal gain – when in fact it is the broader community which is always the beneficiary.

We equally make fish available to every person in this state.  But this has been forgotten and so the decisions of government now repeatedly go against us.

The question is why.

The answer is perhaps that in the minds of some people, maybe we no longer matter.  Or more likely, deep down we do matter but we’re not foremost in their consciousness because in this scrambled world there are so many other things to think about – and our industry has comfortably let ourselves drift into the background.

And this has really cost us.

Governments have now perhaps perceived that the community no longer rates us as highly as they once did – and so it’s easy to then make decisions which push us aside.

You may recall in one of my first podcasts a story where somebody asked how many people were going to be on the WAFIC social licence committee.  The answer was 6500, because every single person on every boat in our industry has to play a part – it can’t be left to a committee – the fact is that our social licence can only be earned and bolstered and retained by you.

So today, I’m appealing to you to come out, to step forward and to stand tall.  Now is the time, believe me.

What does all this mean?

Well we need to get the message out that we are responsible good custodians and stewards of the ocean.  Through a number of means, through a positive campaign, WAFIC will soon be spreading the message to people right across the state that the commercial fishers are great people who are carefully doing a great job.

We’ll have newspaper and radio advertisements starting in the New Year.

We’re going to be telling the story about how commercial fishing families are the backbone of many coastal communities – and often the core volunteers who drive ambulances, organise district shows, help to run sporting clubs, and fight local bushfires.

And we are going to be suggesting to people that when they visit coastal communities that they give a wave out and a word of encouragement to the local commercial fishers.  Or to stop and have a chat.

And if this happens, then we need to give them a wave back – and say ‘thanks’ or ‘cheers mate’ – and be prepared to invest a little time to sit down with them and talk about what you do – and answer questions about sustainability and the special care you take of the ocean.

We’re certainly not going to be talking about how bloody tough things are and how the weather is always too gnarly and the prices are too low – no, this is talking about all the positive things of this great and noble profession of ours.

It’s simple – if we can’t be proud of what we do, then we certainly can’t expect anybody else to be proud of us.

So we will need to always smile and engage with people, you might even be able to talk to their kids and explain what’s going on and allow them to take a close-up photo of your daily catch.

Each of us needs to patiently engage face-to-face with the community and show them who we are and what we’re all about.

The time to stand tall is right here and right now – and this is going to have to be how we operate for every single day moving forwards – forever – because trust me, if we don’t, there is no forever.

The accumulation of threats to our industry on multiple fronts can only be addressed if we collectively demonstrate to government that we are valued and loved by the broader community.

We’ve let that slip a bit over recent years and we’ve now got to not only get it back, but take our engagement onto a higher plane than ever before.

So the first thing is that we’re asking you to be a community role model –  not only on the boat, or on the jetty, but also in the town – in the main street, in your home street, at the golf club and at the pub.

It’s a 24/7 role – in fact it’s a 24/7/365 role.

And this patience and willingness to engage with locals and tourists alike will be critical to the way our industry will be perceived – it will help shape perceptions as to the standards our industry stands for.

Furthermore, we’re going to provide you with some materials to help spread some positive messages.

For instance, on certain days over the coming year we will be asking you to post photographs of your operation onto social media for your friends and family to also re-post, so that we can collectively spread positive messages virally.

And we’re going to advise you in advance of some themes and we’re going to ask you to be creative.

We might ask for a pic of a sunrise on the water, or a day’s catch, or some aquatic wildlife that you’ve spotted – or it might be you at home or on the boat – together with your daughter, or son, or even participating in a community activity.

We’ll talk more about this in the new year, but it’s going to be positive, and it’s going to be very well received by the broader public.

In addition, we are looking at providing you – on an ongoing basis – with some pre-prepared messages that you can also place on your social media pages for sharing.

For instance, it might be some accurate information which dispels the myths which surround our industry – these have been around way too long and they need to be corrected.  This is especially so with the nonsense of environmental activists who continually get away with blue murder.

Well we’re going to give them some long-overdue pushback.

And we’ve got all sorts of other plans that we’re going to be engaging with you over – and we’ll be needing to draw upon your valuable support.

The only way we’re going to get through the challenges ahead is to operate as a collective team – if everybody does their bit then the combined impact will be awesome.

In the meantime, we’re also looking to get some bumper stickers done to spread the key messages which will help to defend and support our great industry.  And some caps and t-shirts as well.  How we distribute these will be a bit of a challenge, but we’ll find a way.

So as you settle down for the festive season I’m asking you to have a think about the part that you can play in the collective efforts of the commercial fishing industry – to not only restore our social licence, but to also take it to a level never seen before.

Of course many of you are already doing some extraordinary things, but this is like three-quarter time in a grand final and we’re currently already behind –  we’ve simply all got to lift straight away or we’ll all have to suffer the enduring taste of defeat – that’s our choice – so this means that even the very best performers will still need to dig even deeper to find something extra.

So early next year you’ll receive some materials from us and also some regular prompts where we will be asking you to participate in various activities as part of a coordinated statewide team approach.

And please I want to be clear – this is no PR stunt or feel-good program – this is the real deal.

This is about our future.

I wrote in ProWest last year about the Serengeti challenge – it doesn’t matter if you’re a lion or a zebra, because when you get up tomorrow morning you’d better be bloody well running as fast as you possibly can.  There is no rest.

It’s a similar challenge for us – it’s a jungle out there and those that snooze will surely lose.  We have no choice but to come together and throw all our individual and collective efforts at getting the social licence of our industry back on track.

Many thanks, let’s talk again soon.