Catch of the Day

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-By Kristy Attard

“Don’t believe all the garbage that you read in the newspapers about the fish business!” warns David Carter, the CEO of Austral Fisheries. “Folks should feel good about eating Australian seafood; it’s the ultimate guilt free indulgence”. Australian seafood is known worldwide for its taste and quality. However, in recent years there has been growing consumer awareness about environmental concerns like overfishing and poaching rapidly depleting the world’s oceans. Leading the way in sustainable, responsible fishing is Austral Fisheries based in Perth, Western Australia. With a strong focus on both quality and sustainability, Austral Fisheries is continuing to tackle the big issues.

Simply The Best

“It all starts with our crew onboard the boats; they need to understand that the seafood they’re harvesting is destined for the fine dining experiences of the customers, in our case all over the world.” Besides distributing to local markets including all major Australian cities, Austral supplies markets in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and America who appreciate the premium quality of its seafood. Mr Carter comments “across our business, whether our customers are buying fish we are catching and landing ourselves or products that we import from valued suppliers, the common link is the sustainability of those products.”

Austral Fisheries owns a proud fleet of eleven vessels, two of which venture out for deep sea fishing in the sub Antarctic, well equipped to handle the harsh weather conditions. The Southern Champion, a factory stern trawler, is Australia’s largest fishing vessel measuring 87 meters in length. This vessel fishes for Mackerel Icefish, described by chefs as tasting similar to whiting, and the Patagonian Toothfish which is known in the industry as ‘white gold’. Austral Fisheries has held MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certification on the Mackerel Icefish that the company catches around Heard Island for over five years now. Recently, the company underwent the mandatory recertification process ensuring responsible fishing practices are still being undertaken in ecologically sound fisheries.

MSC certification is the gold standard in sustainability assessment. Austral is about to publicly announce that its operation in the fisheries around Heard Island for the Patagonian Toothfish has successfully passed the certification process. The Austral Leader II, both a trap and longliner vessel, fishes for the species exclusively and is capable of processing around 12t per day.

Besides deep sea fishing, Austral Fisheries is involved in sea prawning. Its nine prawn trawlers operate in Australia’s Northern Prawn Fishery catching delicious Banana, Endeavour and Tiger prawns. After leaving university, Mr Carter began his long career with Austral Fisheries as a deckhand onboard one of these prawn trawlers. When it comes to the crew onboard vessels, Mr Carter values expertise and experience. “In order to get to sea and operate safely they need to have a measure of independence and capacity to function away from home; they need to enjoy the experience.” He sums it up as “Success for us is operating in well managed fisheries with people who are happy being at sea.”

In the Long Run

Globally, overfishing has led to declining fish populations which has scientists worried. Austral Fisheries is strongly committed to the future of our oceans by practising sustainable fishing, creating marine reserves and having worked to eliminate illegal fishing in the sub Antarctic. Mr Carter comments, “We like to think our edge is in this sustainability space. It’s a bit trite to say, but I feel we own this like no other company in the country can, the time and energy that we put in, the sort of people that we have on the team…” The team has a real expertise and understanding of fisheries biology and management principles, and communicates that to a range of stakeholders.

Along with overfishing, illegal fishing or poaching is a threat to intricate marine biodiversity and the fishing industry. A decade ago the Patagonian Toothfish came under the target of poachers in the sub Antarctic. Austral Fisheries took action to help authorities detect and apprehend these vessels. The company hired private investigators as a part of its plans for surveillance operations. Overall, its strategy delivered incredible outcomes on a national and international scale for the security of the stock. A series of changes were made to the law that take into account the full cost of illegal fishing to the industry. Mr Carter comments, “we worked hard and spent a few dollars building the political will necessary to bring a very effective action to bear which has now really eliminated illegal fishing in the southern ocean.”

The impressive environmental work that Austral Fisheries involves itself with, past and present, has been formally recognised many times – although Mr Carter remains humble about Austral’s prestigious awards. “We don’t like to gloat too much, but we’ve had a few environmental awards over the years compliments of the WA Fishing Council who has recognised our efforts on a number of occasions, and also nationally we’ve been winner of the Fishing Industry Environment Award”. The WWF (World Wildlife Fund) recognised Austral Fisheries’ creation of marine reserves in the sub Antarctic as a ‘Gift to the Earth’. The team at Austral believes that marine reserves are a part of broader fisheries management and play a key role in preserving marine biodiversity and ecosystem function.

Keeping It Real

To maintain a consistent standard of excellence the team at Austral Fisheries takes an honest approach. After 31 years with the company, Mr Carter is still passionate about what he does and gives credit to the crews of Austral Fisheries for the valuable contribution they make in catching the finest seafood. “I think it’s a fabulous industry; you get involved in something as I have for so many years and it’s the people we have at sea; they’re real, there’s no pretence, they’re not trying to be something they’re not… clearly without them we are nothing. I think it’s the people that make the difference. It’s a global business at a bigger level; at a small level we’re a family.” Being involved in eliminating illegal fishing is his biggest career highlight so far, Mr Carter admits. “Without that success, today we’d really have no business, so that was a frenzied, anxious time for us, but no, we kicked some serious goals there. I’m very proud of what we achieved.”

With a proud history of eliminating poaching in the sub Antarctic and a present mandate to supply sustainable, high quality seafood to an appreciative customer base, what does Austral Fisheries aim to do in the future? Mr Carter predicts “a very bright future. I think some of the partnership work we’ve done with Woolworths has been critical and it gives us a blueprint for profiling the good work the industry is doing in a number of fisheries. The supply chain is likely to have a greater influence in moulding the kind of products Austral provides and will open up further opportunities for growth. Mr Carter is clear: “We are certainly equal to any challenge that comes our way on that front.” If the past is anything to go by, Mr Carter’s prediction is looking good.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 19, 2018, 9:23 AM AEDT