Part of the fabric: professional fishing in NSW coastal towns
Planning to tuck into some fish and chips on your next coastal holiday? Spare a thought for the professional fishers who keep your plate piled high. According to a recent UTS-led research project, they’re bringing a lot more than fish to the table.
Associate Professor Kate Barclay
Fisheries Research and Development Corporation
A collaboration with the Professional Fishermen’s Association, the research was based on conversations with hundreds of professional fishers, business operators and community members in fishing towns across the state. It was the first study to properly quantify the value of professional fishing in NSW.
“The project came about because the industry felt a need to identify what their contributions are in dollar terms, in job terms, in more social and cultural terms, to their communities. That sort of information hasn’t been collected before,” says UTS Associate Professor Kate Barclay, a social scientist who led the project.
The research revealed that professional fishing is integral to the economics of coastal NSW. The industry, including secondary sectors like seafood processing and wholesaling, is worth approximately A$436 million — a significantly higher figure than previous government estimates — and provides nearly 3300 jobs. It’s also economically important to Indigenous communities.
But beyond dollar values and job creation, the study painted a rich picture of professional fishing’s contribution to the community. For example, its interdependencies with a range of community businesses — from gear and fuel suppliers to mechanics, tourism operators and hospitality providers — makes it an important part of small town business networks.
Professional fishers themselves make a significant contribution to local knowledge, despite fishing being an almost completely informally-learned profession that requires no formal study.
“As a fisher, you need to have a lot of environmental knowledge, you need to know what kind of things can be caught where, at what times and under what conditions, otherwise you’re not going to be able to make a good business of it,” Barclay says.
“Some families we talked to have records of the environmental conditions in areas going back decades, so there’s a treasure trove of knowledge there.”
Professional fishers also deliver a range of benefits and services to their local communities, such as providing advice to their recreational counterparts on where to fish, and performing a range of informal search and rescue duties while they’re out on the water. In return, the vast majority of NSW residents value the local fishing industry, with 94 per cent wanting NSW to continue producing seafood.
The research highlights the role of professional fishing as part of the fabric of coastal town life. It will provide an evidence base to guide the ongoing management of fisheries, marine parks and other coastal activities in NSW.
A second study into the value of aquaculture in NSW was completed in 2016. The research team is now making plans for a study to evaluate professional fishing and aquaculture industries in coastal and inland Victoria.
- Valuing Coastal Fisheries: project report and documentation
- Using a well-being approach to develop a framework for an integrated socio-economic evaluation of professional fishing
- Connections or conflict? A social and economic analysis of the interconnections between the professional fishing industry, recreational fishing and marine tourism in coastal communities in NSW, Australia
- Fishing is worth more than jobs and profits to Australia’s coastal towns