Australia’s fishing industry bands together

Tanya King

In recent years a nationwide examination of mental and physical health among Australia’s fishers and their communities has uncovered a serious need for targeted health services. Now Australia’s close-knit fishing communities are tackling the issue from within to provide crucial assistance to those in need.

Emerging support services include the Stay Afloat program in Tasmania, a phone helpline which will soon become available nationwide.

Meanwhile, Women in Seafood Australasia (WISA) continue to raise awareness of mental health issues within the seafood industry through initiatives like Project Regard. Other work includes the Sustainable Fishing Families pilot health program.

The wellbeing of people in the fishing industry is also a key priority at governance level, starting with peak body Seafood Industry Australia. The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) continues to support the research underpinning this sea change. Even the major political parties have pledged funding to support mental health programs for the fishing industry going forward.

This groundswell response across industry and government has taken place after research undertaken by Dr Tanya King substantiated the anecdotal evidence pointing to poor mental health – and more recently understood, physical health – in the fishing industry. Dr King is a Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at Deakin University and also a Director of WISA.

Dr King’s nation-wide survey delved beneath the anecdotal evidence to discover the reality behind mental health and wellbeing of the fishing industry – including attitudes to safety and help-seeking behaviour – and she uncovered some concerning trends.

“The key finding was the high levels of psychological distress reported by the people who took part in the research,” Dr King said.

“Of all the people who took part, 22 per cent indicated psychological distress at ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels – almost double that of the general population.”

Dr King added that 39 per cent of those surveyed felt that their GP did not understand the pressures of the fishing industry, magnifying the perception they were not understood by their wider community.

A more recent addition to the study has now revealed that in addition to poor mental health, the physical health of participants is also suffering.

“We found that within the survey group, rates of health conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, type 2 diabetes and cancer were higher than the general Australian population,” she said.

Further analysis is underway to more clearly identify these concerning health results.

Read the full FRDC report—Sustainable Fishing Families, Developing Industry Human Capital through Health, Wellbeing, Safety and Resilience. Projects/2016-400-DLD.pdf

Download the free Sustainable Fishing Families Managing Stress for Fishing Businesses Handbook and the summary of the report findings at fishing-families

Watch fishers around Australia share their experiences in WISA’s Project Regard: QQqx3qGck&

Source: Australian Maritime Safety Authority Working Boats, January 2020


Published since 1978, Ausmarine is the foremost magazine servicing the Australian and New Zealand commercial, military and government marine sectors.