The first nationwide examination of the health of Australia's fisher workers is underway, with Deakin University researchers keen to know more about anecdotal evidence of issues, including stress and mental health challenges, impacting on the industry's workforce.
The project is kicking off with a survey of workers, with the aim to fill important knowledge gaps around a vital industry which contributes $2.8 billion to the Australian economy each year.
Project leader and Deakin University Senior Lecturer in Anthropology Dr Tanya King said the survey, which is part of a project funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC), was being undertaken off the back of widespread anecdotal reports of high levels of stress and poor mental health.
“Thanks to great work by groups such as CeRRF (Deakin’s Centre for Regional and Rural Futures), the National Centre for Farmer Health, and Beyond Blue, we know a lot about the health of the farming sector in Australia but we can’t say the same when it comes to the fishing industry,” Dr King said.
“For example, it’s difficult to even provide an accurate estimate of the number of people in the industry as a lot of the data around professional fisheries, and even recreational fishers, is included in broader categories which include farmers and other food producers in the agricultural sector.”
A current board member of Seafood Industry Victoria, Dr King’s previous research has shown that while issues such as chronic job insecurity and government policy around fishing licences are having an impact on the health of fishers, there is little hard data available.
She said the survey results would provide the clearest picture yet of the state of the Australian fishing industry and be used to inform health literacy tools and programs for Australian fishing communities.
“A lot of focus is given to the health of our fisheries – and they’re in good shape – but we’ve tended to overlook the value of the people within the industry who keep everything ticking over,” Dr King said.
“It is vital that we not only understand the concerns of commercial fishers but also develop some resources that can help support fishing families and communities when times are tough.”
“Without healthy, happy and resilient professional fishers, we can’t have a health and economically viable industry.”
The survey is open to all Australians with a commercial interest in the seafood harvesting industry, including licence holders and business partners, and takes approximately 20 minutes to complete. Deckhands, and women who are the business partners of active fishermen, are particularly encouraged to complete the survey as they’re often overlooked in studies of the fishing industry.
Hard copies of the survey can be requested via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and an online version is also available. The survey will close on 31 May.
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