8 Apr 2016


To be honest, I can’t believe my luck. It’s a beautiful Tuesday morning at Lakes Entrance, southeast Victoria. I’m here aboard the Danish Seine trawler “Nungurner” to learn what sustainability means for the ocean and for the people catching our fish. And the conditions are near perfect.

Sunrise at Lakes Entrance
© WWF-Aus / Nigel Smith

As the sun rises, the scene reminds me of when I was a boy growing up in Wollongong. I used to be sat at the harbour, watching the trawlers coming in after another day’s fishing. It’s an industry that has been integral to the livelihoods of many coastal Australian towns for generations. However, increasing demand for seafood is putting tremendous pressure on fish stocks and marine ecosystems around the world. It’s a shocking fact that in 2011, 29% of fish stocks are fished at unsustainable levels and therefore overfished. And over 60% of fish stock are also fished to their full capacity, meaning any further fishing pressure will be unsustainable (FAO, 2014).

To get the much needed food from the oceans without causing great impact, fisheries need to be managed to the highest standard. Whilst Australia manages most of its fisheries very well, there is still work to be done to manage the potential impacts on the entire marine environment. So, making improvements consistent with the Marine Stewardship Council’s certification standard for sustainability will help ensure the marine life remains healthy and plentiful in our own waters.

This is why I and my colleagues at WWF work with Wayne, and the skippers of boats like his, on a Fishery Improvement Project for the South East Trawl Fishery.

Simple measures like “windy-buoys”, inflatable buoys that push birds out of the way of the wires (warps) used to tow trawls can reduce harmful interactions with bird life by 75%. Also, by switching the catch data-logging from paper-based to electronic (called e-logbooks), information needed to manage quotas and monitor bycatch is greatly improved in speed and reliability.

Skipper Wayne Cheers and Dermot O'Gorman in boat
Skipper Wayne Cheers explains the challenges of fishing responsibly to me on board the Danish seine trawler “Nungurner”. © WWF-Aus / Nigel Smith

Fisheries Improvement Projects (FIP) like this aim to raise the fishery practices to the highest levels of sustainable management in the world. Together with SETFIA (South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association) and supported by Coles, this Fishery Improvement Project aims to secure the continuing marine health in the South East Trawl Fishery, so that children can continue to watch the trawlers returning home for generations to come.

Thanks to: Wayne Cheers and the crew of the Nungurner; Simon Boag, Executive Officer, SETFIA; Coles, for their commitment to sustainability and to their support for this Fisheries Improvement Project.