Seafood industry works together to help colleagues stay afloat

A mental health and wellbeing pilot program specifically designed for the Australian commercial seafood industry is taking shape following the launch of the ‘Trusted Advocates’ network across three industry-identified communities around the country.

The Stay Afloat Australia trial, which is being managed by Seafood Industry Australia (SIA), in partnership with Women in Seafood Australasia (WISA), and supported with funding from the Australian Government Department of Health’s Mental Health Program has seen the appointment of three trusted advocates in the targeted locations of Darwin, NT; Lakes Entrance, Victoria and Newcastle, NSW.

Each advocate is a well-known local fishing industry member who has undergone mental health first aid training and will now support mental health awareness and wellbeing initiatives in their respective communities.

The Federal Government has provided $600,000 to support the Stay Afloat pilot which has been specially developed to help break the stigma associated with poor mental health within industry, develop a network of trusted industry advocates who fishers could reach out to help them find support, and educate primary healthcare networks about industry pressures.

SIA chief executive officer, Veronica Papacosta said research has shown Australia’s commercial fishers experience twice the base-rate of psychological stress of any other sector.

“We understand that the pressures our fishers face are unique to this industry, however a third of fishers who were suffering haven’t reached out for support because they felt health professionals wouldn’t understand them.

“We know good support exists, but our fishers are a stoic bunch and we needed to develop a specialised program that would encourage them to connect with existing services, which is exactly what the Stay Afloat program does.

“As an industry we need people on the ground in our fishing communities who are trained to look out for warning signs and know how to approach a conversation with someone regarding their mental health,” Veronica said.

The Trusted Advocates will provide their colleagues with information and referrals to local support services and coordinate activities to build awareness of, and reduce, the stigma of mental illness within their communities.

SIA Stay Afloat program manager Jo Marshall said there are commonalities to the issues all fishing communities are facing.

“There is stress related to uncertainty about future changes to regulations, COVID-19 impacts, access to fishing grounds and red tape, however there are also localised issues which are unique to each community that the Trusted Advocates are each familiar with and can speak to.

“We need to educate, raise awareness and start building a network of support, because currently the challenges our industry faces are not well understood by those outside the industry,” Jo added.

Commencing in 2021, SIA will make available mental health first aid training for members of the national seafood community, along with a series of Community Resilience Grants which will provide funding for industry events to be held where mental health information is available, or a speaker can talk about their lived experience.

The outcomes of the Stay Afloat pilot program will help inform ongoing national industry-specific mental health and wellbeing programs, projects and outreach activities.

For more information visit and keep up to date with the program via the Stay Afloat Australia Facebook page at

Pictured (LtoR) are the Stay Afloat Darwin trusted advocates Michael O’Brien, Toni Hedditch and Fran Davis.