Inshore challenges

Working with other sectors to prevent loss of access to fisheries resources is a top priority for Australia’s inshore commercial fisheries

Photo of Myall Lakes and Port Stephens Inshore fisheries such as those at Myall Lakes and Port Stephens, NSW, are competing with urban, environmental and recreational interests for a share of marine resources.

By Peter Horvat

Some of Australia’s most sustainable fisheries, from both an economic and social perspective, are not hundreds of miles off the coast; they are adjacent our major cities. Proximity to urban centres provides ready access to markets, but has also become a significant challenge in the competition for resources.

Inshore commercial fishers from across Australia came together at a recent national workshop to talk about the key issues they face, their successes, and opportunities for industry leadership and engagement.

Challenges for small-scale inshore fisheries across Australia were first raised at a national level eight years ago when industry representatives attended a workshop in March 2008. This workshop led to the creation of A Strategic Plan for Australia’s inshore fisheries.

The plan provided a guide to help relevant industry bodies focus their actions to improve the industry’s leadership and capacity and strengthen the future security for Australia’s inshore commercial fishers. However, few of the findings of the plan were ever fully realised. In some fisheries, problems identified in 2008 have continued to escalate.

Small-scale inshore fishers in Australia and overseas are subject to high levels of social, political and management intervention. The reasons may have nothing to do with the sustainability of the fishery. As business operators, fishers also face a range of pressures including succession planning, training and financial, such as increased production costs and a competitive market place for their catch.

During the FRDC’s engagement with stakeholders during the past year, fishers around the country highlighted a need to revisit the issues facing inshore fisheries and update a plan of action. In October 2015, following the Seafood Directions conference, the FRDC hosted a National Inshore Fisheries Workshop at Sydney Fish Market (SFM), with 26 fishers and industry representatives from 20 inshore fisheries attending.

Fishers came from as far away as Karumba, Queensland, in the north; Albany, Western Australia, in the west; Sandford, Tasmania, in the south; and Myall Lake, New South Wales, in the east.

The focus for the two-day workshop was listening to fishers and understanding what they saw as the key issues, successes and opportunities. However, to set some context and provide a wider range of views, it included presentations from six guest speakers who provided insight into their successful experiences involving small-scale fisheries.

International speakers discussed how their organisations had sought to change the sociopolitical landscape for small-scale fisheries in the UK and the US.

Guest speakers were Tom Pickerell (Seafish, UK), Sevaly Sen (SFM Research Centre), Joshua Stoll (Walking Fish, US), John Susman (seafood marketer, Fishtales), Brad Warren (OceanWatch Australia) and Herman Wisse (Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative).  

Presentations focused on engaging with communities to help them understand and support local commercial fisheries and the role of fisheries in the community. It was shown that this process, done well, helps to secure industry interests and access to fish stocks when there is competition with other interests such as recreational fishing, coastal development and conservation expectations.

The range of concepts presented included: 

  • providing alternative sources of information that links producers and their products to consumers;
  • profiling fisheries and offering information to help consumers make choices about the products they may buy and consume with confidence based on the fishery’s ecological footprint and resource sustainability;
  • identifying and developing management tools to improve the management outcomes of fisheries and engage fishers in benchmarking of those processes for inshore fisheries with limited resources and, at times, limited data;
  • developing an in-depth understanding of the opportunities that exist to profile species and apply branding strategies to increase the market penetration and consumer acceptance of seafood;
  • creating alternative mechanisms for directly linking fishers with consumers to increase the industry’s profile and social licence within their communities; and
  • understanding processes associated with third-party certification of fisheries and what it can mean for consumer confidence and fishery security.

Path forward

The workshop also provided an opportunity for participants to share their experiences with fishers from other inshore fisheries, and to share initiatives that other regions may be able to benefit from. It was clear from discussions that there were many common or related issues across fisheries and jurisdictions.

The workshop reviewed the list of issues and opportunities to identify a small number they believed could be effectively acted upon during the next three to five years.

Findings from the workshop will require industry leadership to engage fishers, managers and government to work on the key issues at local, regional, state and national levels.

The highest-priority initiatives identified were those that could develop the fisheries and improve access such as the reopening of some closed areas. Increasing profitability, particularly through marketing and the development of new products, was also identified as a priority, as was the need to improve social and economic factors. This included better ways to value inshore fisheries and to recognise their contribution to the regional communities they are a part of.

The industry will work with fisheries managers to improve management models suited to small-scale, multi-species fisheries based upon best practice in co-management and harvest strategy development to improve access security. Workshop participants also agreed to revise the 2008 strategic plan and develop a more coordinated industry approach across different inshore fisheries.

They identified that putting the plan into action would require an ability to work with a wide range of interests, such as fisheries managers, seafood consumers, other extractive and non-extractive stakeholders, research providers and governments across a diverse range of jurisdictions.

The industry will need a strong and committed program for ongoing engagement with the community, and activities to enhance fisheries management outcomes will be part of this. Strategic projects will be needed to enhance the capacity of fishers and their representative organisations to improve governance and communication.

The fisheries considered in urgent need of support are those facing or most susceptible to reduced access. Causes of this were identified as a current trend by governments to redistribute fishery resources away from food production for consumers to non-commercial users, and changing access arrangements to deal with conflicts (real or perceived) with the urbanisation of coastal zones.

This has promoted the concept that inshore fisheries are incompatible with the “sea change” movement, increasing demands for conservation and the needs of “modern” communities.

The Australian Fisheries Management Forum, which involves the heads of Commonwealth and state/territory fishery management agencies, has also indicated it is keen to better manage and engage inshore fisheries. Strengthening the relationships and building more effective partnerships between managers and industry will be important in supporting changes into the future. 

Challenges and opportunities participants used to identify priorities

Key challenges

  • Reduced access – need to maintain viability/certainty/investment
  • Poor public perception – need to raise profiles/political capital/relevance to the community
  • Clearer seafood labelling for all products – need to increase confidence in purchases
  • Lack of social acceptance – problems/access security/educate recreational and community
  • Uncertain future – need to build job security
  • Increased government regulations – need to review and remove
  • No next generation – families/ease of entry for new entrants
  • Too much latent effort – hard to manage and is a risk to fishers

Key opportunities

  • Industry works together – greater strength/coordination of efforts is more efficient and impactful
  • Increase industry profile – will help improve social acceptability
  • Maintain sustainability – fundamental/future
  • Develop and use codes of practice – consistent story
  • Demonstrate social responsibility – profile/certainty/trust 
  • Promotion – product differentiation/tell story
  • Optimise industry branding – product diversity/selling your story
  • More flexible management – improve diversity/survival
  • Safe seafood – consumer trust/community perception

What we mean when we say ...

Inshore commercial fishing 

Fisheries along the seashore – carried out by small, open boats and other craft usually within territorial waters. They include lobster, crab and prawn fisheries; the breeding and fattening of oysters; and the gathering of cockles and mussels.

Inshore waters

Waters of the shallower part of the continental shelf. Similar to nearshore waters.

More information

Neil MacDonald,