Grassroot actions earn OceanWatch stewardship role

A favourite organisation with fishers has been asked to serve as the marine environment Natural Resource Management agency

By Gio Braidotti

For 25 years, OceanWatch has helped seafood producers nationally reap productivity benefits through projects as diverse as developing best harvest practices at a grassroot level through to restoring important coastal habitats and improving water quality in waterways.

Its role underlying the industry’s sustainability-linked profitability was recently recognised by the Australian Government, which nominated OceanWatch to serve as the Natural Resource Management (NRM) organisation responsible for Australia’s marine environment.

The not-for-profit group was also awarded $440,000 to help it transition to the new role. The grant adds to recurring funding from three sources: a voluntary contribution from the seafood industry; federal and state government grants; and fundraising activities and donors.

“The NRM recognition will improve OceanWatch’s ability to work strategically, instead of being solely reliant on short-term project funding,” executive chair Brad Warren says.

“More importantly for the seafood community, OceanWatch’s recognition as the marine NRM organisation for Australia will lead to an improved profile for seafood community priorities within Australian Government NRM investment streams, such as the National Landcare Programme.”

The new status allows OceanWatch to expand its environment and marine programs even as it maintains its trademark approach, building partnerships with communities and businesses that aid the adoption of world-best industry practices.

“OceanWatch has always worked with grassroots seafood producers to improve their environmental performance, as well as championed the value of healthy, productive marine ecosystems,” Brad Warren says.

“We will be continuing with that work while we also engage widely with industry and communities in the development of Australia’s first national marine NRM plan.”

OceanWatch was established in 1989, in response to reports of poor water quality and high levels of contamination in fish due to Sydney’s inshore ocean outfalls. Today it has a national focus, working with fishers to find practical solutions to environmental problems that affect coastal environments and estuaries.

“The Professionalising Industry project, currently funded through a partnership between the FRDC and OceanWatch, is a good example of NRM in action,” Brad Warren says.

“Through the project, OceanWatch is training, assessing and accrediting commercial fishers in environmental best practice and social responsibility.”

Web-based information on sustainability and management, as well as profile videos of the fishers and their fishing methods, is to be made available to consumers through quick response (QR) codes attached to the fishers’ products.

“The goal is to build provenance, improve transparency of industry practices and create a point of difference between local and imported products,” Brad Warren says. For fishers, services such as these, which provide practical assistance to adopt new technologies and improve practices, are especially valuable.

A typical example of OceanWatch activity is the SeaNet program, a national environmental extension program that operated from 1999 to 2013. SeaNet helped fishers to develop, trial and adopt innovative technologies and practices that improved environmental performance, such as bycatch reduction devices.

SeaNet also supported linkages between seafood producers, regulatory bodies, researchers and local communities, including the provision of education to communities about sustainability measures being adopted by the seafood industry.

While profiling the value of productive waterways through the Tide to Table program, partnerships were also formed with land and marine primary producers, landholders, regional NRM bodies, and government and community-based Landcare and Bushcare groups. This resulted in projects to improve water quality and aquatic habitats.

The partnership strategy has proven a successful one. OceanWatch has received numerous awards including an Award for Excellence from the United Nations Association of Australia, World Environment Day 2005 and an Honourable Mention in the WWF International Smart Gear Competition for the Popeye Fish Excluder developed for use in the Northern Prawn Fishery.

The NRM announcement was made by the Minister for Agriculture, the Hon. Barnaby Joyce, who says the move delivers on a 2013 election promise of further developing Australia’s sustainable fishing sector. The chair of the National Seafood Industry Alliance, Grahame Turk, congratulated the minister on the selection of OceanWatch and has welcomed the evolution of OceanWatch’s status.

“Sustainable seafood is not just about the management of our fisheries and aquaculture production but also must take into account factors impacting the productivity of our natural environment,” Grahame Turk said. 

Photo Captions:

(Top) OceanWatch chair Brad Warren launching the Maybell Environmental Management System at Sydney Fish Market. (Middle) Commercial fishers at Southwest Rocks at a Master Fishertraining session.
(Bottom) OceanWatch’s Tide to Table project works to improvewater quality and fish habitat, to protect the quality of the seafood we eat.

Photos: OceanWatch Australia

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