When most people try to gauge the sheer scale and vastness of Australia, thoughts often turn to the Red Centre, the Outback and mile upon mile of unpaved roads traversing the wilderness for hours on end. However, the size and scale of the Australian Oceans can match that of any outback scenery and you just have to turn to Western Australia to really appreciate the diversity on offer underneath the waves. It is for this reason that when the Department of Fisheries looked to undertake an in-depth review of the commercial and recreational fisheries in Western Australia, they broke the work down to four geographically distinct Bioregions. This allowed all involved to really start to understand outcomes in more digestible, bite-sized chunks of information.
Ranging from the tropical snapper fisheries bordering the Timor Sea and the Northern Territory to the temperate shark fisheries flanking the Southern Ocean off Esperance, each fishery within these bioregions is to be reviewed against an independent third party certification process to add credibility, rigour and impartial outcomes to this approach. And this is where my role as Australian Fisheries Outreach Officer with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) comes in. The MSC is recognised as the environmental standard by which the DoF will benchmark Western Australian fisheries against. I’m here within this capacity to liaise with the WA industry (that’s both the fishers and processors), to increase awareness of the programme and show value for fisheries when demonstrating their sustainable credentials by engaging in this process.
With all this in mind, I recently spent some time on the road with the Department of Fisheries and the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council (WAFIC) to catch up with a variety of fisheries to discuss the MSC approach. The focus was on the West and South Coast Bioregions, running from just north of Kalbarri to Eucla near the South Australian border. The first stop on what was to be a very busy week was Albany, 420km South East of Perth. A range of fishermen attended what was an informative and positive meeting discussing the perceived sustainability of the regions fisheries and what could be done to further improve the situation and also communicate this positive message to consumers.
Consumer appetite for knowing where their food comes from has grown significantly in recent years and whilst often keen to make the right choices, shopping for the sustainable choices can often be a minefield. For those fisheries like the Western rock lobster fishery or further afield, the New Zealand hoki fishery who have both achieved MSC certification for their sustainable fishing practices, the choice for the consumer is an easy one – just look for the MSC ecolabel!
Whilst some of the fisheries in the coastal towns I visited (Albany, Esperance and Geraldton to name a few), were not just looking at MSC for market based benefits, there were other more subtle social benefits recognised in proving you are doing the right thing by society and fishing sustainably. Demonstrating the sustainability of a fishery through an independent process like the MSC is like having your vehicle independently serviced. It gives others the peace of mind that all is in check and operating at a level which ensures future benefit from that common resource.
I’ll be blogging and tweeting my may across WA for the next two years whilst I work with the MSC on the Western Australian commercial fisheries third party certification programme. Keep checking for updates!