By Catherine Norwood
Economic awareness and capability in Australia’s seafood sector is steadily increasing with the completion of more than a dozen PhD research projects and a new, ongoing advisory process for FRDC-funded research.
More than five years ago the FRDC initiated the Building Economic Capability project under the leadership of Sarah Jennings at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) to address an identified skills gap in fisheries research and management.
Sarah Jennings, an adjunct researcher at UTAS, says the project has successfully raised the profile of fisheries economics in Australia, while providing valuable research to improve resource management.
“It has also raised the profile of Australian fisheries economists internationally, with more than 20 papers from our student researchers published in international peer-reviewed journals, and more to come,” she says.
The project initially helped fund 14 higher research degrees at UTAS, the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and the University of Adelaide, which included both theoretical and applied economic research. Funding was later extended to support a further three PhD research projects that are now underway.
In one of the initial PhD projects French researcher Sophie Gourguet undertook a comparison of the Bay of Biscay demersal mixed fishery and the Australian Northern Prawn Fishery. Her thesis looked at the trade-offs associated with balancing ecological, economic and social objectives to sustainably manage these fisheries.
Both fisheries have direct and indirect effects on a range of marine species. Multiple fleets operate in the Bay of Biscay and catch a range of fish species. A single fleet operates in the Northern Prawn Fishery, using several different fishing techniques to catch several prawn species.
Sophie Gourguet says her modelling found that, based on the target species, both fisheries were well managed for biological sustainability. However, the ongoing socioeconomic viability of the French fishery was at risk unless vessel numbers declined. For the Northern Prawn Fishery, current management was found to result in a high probability of both ongoing biological and economic viability.
“Despite very different management contexts and objectives, reducing the number of vessels in both cases would increase the viability of the fisheries under current management strategies,” she says.
In the Northern Prawn Fishery modelling different scenarios also suggested that flexibility in the species harvested (as under current management) would help to manage economic risks, compared with specialised harvesting.
Sophie Gourguet’s research was conducted jointly with UTAS and the Université de Bretagne Occidentale (France). In 2015 she received the PhD award of the Monaco Oceanographic Museum, given to a young researcher for PhD research in marine science and related publications. She has now joined the French national research agency, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, as a bioeconomic modeller.
Other fisheries to feature among the completed PhD theses include Sydney Rock Oyster, Southern Rock Lobster, Queensland East Coast Trawl Fishery, Pacific Island tuna fisheries and aquaculture in Sri Lanka. Topics include individual transferable quotas, effective use of fishing capital, recreational fishing, marine protected areas, life cycle assessment of fisheries, and new systems of fisheries modelling.
At QUT, Samantha Paredes investigated environmental offsets for marine and coastal developments for a Master of Business (Research) (Economics), supported by the Building Economic Capability project. She says offsets usually involve “like-for-like” compensation.
After avoiding and minimising potential impacts on coastal wildlife, developers are required to offset their impact by establishing a similar environment to the one the development will affect at a nearby location.
However, her research found that community members were willing to accept alternative offsets, provided the conservation value of the alternative was greater than the standard offset required. This research was part of the National Environmental Research Program’s Marine Biodiversity Hub.
After completing this work in 2015, Samantha Paredes has begun a PhD, also supported by the Building Economic Capability project, which has taken her in a new direction: commercial fishing. Her aim is to examine the value of local fisheries in their local communities as an industry and as a source of fresh seafood. She will also investigate the value of local seafood for tourism.
She says the project has been inspired in part by her own love of seafood and by her interest in the growing farmers’ market trend. She will look at consumer preferences in coastal communities for local seafood as well as the preferences of tourists.
“My early reading suggests that for tourists, eating local seafood helps provide a sense of place, and is part of the cultural experience of travel,” she says. Her research will help put a value on that experience for the local community.
Samantha Paredes says she also plans to investigate different supply models, based on the findings about preferences for local seafood. This might help fishers to connect more effectively with markets in their local communities.
The legacy of the Building Economic Capability project includes the skills the participating researchers have developed, and ongoing efforts to incorporate resource economics into the management of the Australian seafood sector.
Sarah Jennings says there is now a strong network of practising fisheries and marine economists within Australia with a regular newsletter and social media presence. The Australian Fisheries Economics Network has a LinkedIn group to facilitate discussion and there is a recognised annual forum for face-to-face interactions.
The FRDC has also established a Social Sciences and Economics Research Coordination (SSERC) program to better integrate economics and the social sciences with the biological and physical sciences in the research it funds.
The SSERC program leader is Emily Ogier, from UTAS, who works with a steering committee of six experts to review research proposals and identify opportunities to better address social and economic dimensions of the Australian seafood industry. The SSERC committee members are Sarah Jennings, Nicki Mazur (ENVision Environmental Consulting), Sean Pascoe (CSIRO, QUT), Nyree Stenekes and Robert Kancans (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences), Ian Curnow (Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries, Northern Territory) and Jo-Anne Ruscoe (FRDC).
The committee also reviews research proposals to assess whether the suggested methods are likely to provide the best outcomes for the research, or whether there are better alternatives. Emily Ogier says sometimes it is difficult to identify what kind of social or economic information needs to be collected, what can realistically be collected or measured, and what information will be useful.
She says it is also becoming increasingly important to ensure research addresses the societal and ethical components of fishery practices, which reflect changing community attitudes about what is acceptable and most valued. This includes consideration of the well-being of the people behind Australia’s productive fisheries and aquaculture and their capacity to be future innovators.
“Managing fisheries is actually about managing the people, so it’s important that we integrate the social and economic aspects into research,” Emily Ogier says.
As part of the Building Economic Capability project, a Future Harvest Masterclass in Fisheries Economics was also developed. The masterclass is designed for managers, researchers and fishers and begins with the core principles of economic thinking, building up to fisheries management, modelling and optimising harvest returns.
First launched in 2010, the one-day masterclass has now been revised and will be offered again this year. It has also been developed as a self-paced online program, which will be available via the FRDC website.
FRDC Research Code: 2015-300
Sarah Jennings, firstname.lastname@example.org
Emily Ogier, email@example.com
Samantha Paredes, firstname.lastname@example.org