OceanWatch's Master Fisherman program a hit in Australia

Published on
September 16, 2022
Members of OceanWatch Australia's Master Fishermen program.

OceanWatch Australia has certified 60 graduates from its 2022 Master Fisherman program, raising the number of program graduates to over 240 now operating in a range of artisanal, inshore fisheries nationally.

Established in 1989 as a national nonprofit company, OceanWatch Australia has managed a broad range of successful projects aimed towards improving environmental practices, protecting threatened marine species, reducing bycatch, introducing sustainable technologies, changing behaviors, and restorinf important marine habitats. The 2022 focus has been to improve fishing practices in the Australian seafood industry. The graduates have ranged from next-generation fishers all the way to fishers with 20 years of experience, as well as from a range of places such as New South Wales, Queensland, and South Australia.

One of its major projects in 2022 has been developing an industry training program – the Master Fisherman Program – to improve and recognize individual fishermen’s knowledge, experience, and environmental performance. The program is supported through funding from the Australian government.

It was developed as a direct response to fishing industry of the New South Wales' call for prioritization of improving workforce-development skills improving the industry's in local communities. Following its initial success, the program was then expanded into South Australia and Queensland, under the WetFEET program – which consists of multiple projects aiming to assist Australian inshore fishers to embed best practice environmental stewardship into commercial fishing and aquaculture operations.

The program includes workshops to teach best practices across all aspects of the internationally recognized UNFAO code of conduct. These workshops were developed in collaboration with the Australian seafood industry, federal and state governments, natural resource managers, private enterprises, and local communities. Master Fishers are schooled in quality assurance, bycatch reduction, threatened species interaction reporting, animal welfare, catch documentation and online reporting, protection of environment and reducing pollution, improving knowledge of Indigenous culture and cultural fishing, health and safety, and social reputation management.

Master Fisherman campaign are also taught to prioritize transparency and traceability due to increasing calls from seafood distributors, chefs, and consumers for proof their seafood is being caught in a responsible and sustainable way.

OceanWatch Australia Fisherman Program Manager Michael Woodon was motivated by a need for a program that recognized artisanal fishers’ commitment to responsible and sustainable fishing practices.

“The response we have seen this year – from both seasoned fisherman and younger guys – enrolling and graduating in the Master Fisherman Program, is a great reflection of how the seafood industry is rising to the challenge of transparency in everything they do," Wooden said.

OceanWatch Australia developed a QR code-based traceability labeling program to identify the fishermen, origin, and history of the catch. This label is attached to each box of seafood to improve consumer awareness and to guarantee where and when it was caught.

The QR code brings users to a profile page of the specific fisher for that product on the Master Fisherman OceanWatch Australia website. Each profile comprises some background on the Fisherman, the fish they supply, the fishing methods they are endorsed to use, and their sustainability and training.

“As a fisherman, I’m committed to supplying fresh, local, seasonal, and sustainable seafood to my community. I love the additional information we can now give customers about what we do and how we do it, thanks to the information they can find out about each of us Master Fishers on the OceanWatch website,” said Yamba, Australia-based fisherman Troy Billin, who is also a 2022 Master Fisherman graduate. “I’m now supplying Neil Perry at Margaret Restaurant in Sydney, and he’s able to educate his whole team about what I do, and why my product is sustainable and high quality. Him knowing I’ve graduated the Master Fisher program comes with a set of indisputable information you can guarantee about the product supplied from an Australian Master Fisherman.”

Each OceanWatch Master Fisherman voluntarily adopts industry codes of practice. These codes are aligned with the objectives of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to commit to environmental best practices. The topics covered by these codes include most of Australia's commercial fisheries.

Fishtales, a seafood marketing business based in Sydney, Australia, has been collaborating on this project.

Photo courtesy of Rob Locke/FishTales

Contributing editor/Reporting from Hawaii, U.S.A.

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