By Catherine Norwood
Confidence in the future of the Australian seafood sector was high at the national Seafood Directions 2017 conference in Sydney in September, although the event also exposed the “dark side” of the industry, documenting ongoing health and safety issues.
More than 350 delegates, representing all parts of the seafood supply chain, attended the biennial conference, which had the theme ‘Sea the Future’.
Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Senator Anne Ruston officially opened the event, also launching the Commonwealth Fisheries Policy Statement and the National Aquaculture Strategy. These set out the Australian Government’s support and aspirations for the industry.
“Our fisheries are an important resource that must be carefully and sustainably managed for future generations,” Senator Ruston said. “Our fisheries are owned by all Australians and shared between numerous stakeholders ... We must explore all opportunities to sustainably grow the economic return from our fisheries.”
The National Aquaculture Strategy includes provision for ocean aquaculture in Commonwealth waters, with the government projecting a doubling in the value of aquaculture production to $2 billion by 2027.
Also outlining the sector’s future direction was Veronica Papacosta, chair of the new peak body Seafood Industry Australia (SIA).
She said SIA and its members would demand good policy from government based on sound scientific and sustainable principles. “We’re not going to tolerate other industries or other associations who would use us for their political agenda,” she said.
“Through collaboration ... we want to amplify the right messages, we want to tackle issues of national importance and provide a single point of consultation for government, NGOs and stakeholders.”
She said SIA would also ‘hunt down’ misinformation and sensationalism in the media using science-based information, but also recognising that science and fact would not always be enough.
“We need to rebuild the trust we have with the community. It’s not just about fishing, it’s not just about people – it’s about families and the healthy meal on the family table.”
She said SIA would focus on five priorities identified by the industry: improvement of social licence and community respect; country of origin labelling in the food service sector; biosecurity; resource allocation and access (including seismic testing); and continued access to the diesel fuel rebate.
The collaboration she spoke of was reflected in the conference agenda, which included for the first time a session on aquaculture. Indigenous fisheries were also well represented.
Technology was a feature of many presentations, looking into how digital innovations and automation could revolutionise the efficiency of the fishing sector, provide more information and new business opportunities throughout the value chain.
Keynote speaker and business futurist Craig Rispin said there were many science fiction-like technologies that were already realities, with the potential to transform the food processing and seafood sectors. These included a testbed ocean aquaculture facility being trialled in Norway that was capable of producing 1.5 million fish a year with a staff of seven. Or the world’s first robotic kitchen for Moley Robotics, which can reproduce meals created by leading chefs in your own home.
He said eight “exponential technologies” had been identified that were transforming the world: infinite computing; sensors and networks; robotics; 3D printing; synthetic biology; digital medicine; nanomaterials; and artificial intelligence.
Robotics is expected to have the greatest impact on the seafood sector, particularly in aquaculture production systems and food processing.
Craig Rispin said the seafood sector should also consider the potential impact of all these technologies, as well as on broader food production, retail and service trends. He said information from Food
Industry Foresight indicated that the food service sector was more ‘growable’ than retail in the next five to 10 years.
Spending by Australians on takeaway food and restaurant meals is projected to increase by more than half in the next 15 years, he said. Pre-prepared meal services such as Hello Fresh and virtual marketing through software such as GForce were already disrupting traditional sales systems.
Other technological presentations included the SmartCatch system developed in the US to improve catch targeting, and the use of environmental sensors in estuaries developed by The Yield, which has allowed oyster growers to take advantage of more harvesting opportunities (see The internet of oysters).
South Australian fisher Dennis Holder discussed his pursuit of electric over diesel power for his fishing vessel. The aspiration of National Seafood Industry Leadership Program members for Australia’s commercial fishing fleet to become carbon neutral by 2030 was also highlighted, following the example of Austral Fisheries, which became the world’s first carbon-neutral fishing business in 2016.
Several presentations focused on factors contributing to workplace health and safety issues and the difficulties in addressing these.
The manager of vessel operations at the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), Michelle Grech, told the conference there was no accurate information about safety in the fishing industry.
Information on injuries and accidents was limited and disjointed, and it was likely that relevant incidents were under-reported. Even so, available figures suggest that compared with shore-based workers, seafarers are up to 27 times more likely to die from work-related injuries.
She reported on an exploratory study in south-eastern Queensland research that sought to understand the maturity of safety culture on fishing vessels and identify benchmarks. Kate Brooks presented on a new research project that has been driven by NSW and Western Australia in the wake of persisting rates of injury and death.
The FRDC-funded project is being conducted in conjunction with AMSA and will begin in 2018 (see In brief for details on how to participate).
Tanya King, from Deakin University, also presented the preliminary findings of her research into the health of fishers, with almost 1000 registered commercial fishers responding to a survey earlier in the year as part of an FRDC-funded project. She said the study was providing evidence that supported anecdotal information about the impact of uncertainty, including regulatory uncertainty, that affected the mental health of fishers and their families.
Representing Indigenous Australians and young people, respectively, Stan Lui and Daniela Schwartz both talked about their hopes for the future of the sector in Australia, before FRDC executive director Patrick Hone summed up the conference. He identified a series of achievements he believed the seafood sector should aim to report positively on at the next Seafood Directions conference, in 2019.
The 2019 Seafood Directions conference will be held in Melbourne and coordinated by Seafood Industry Victoria.
FRDC Research Code: 2017-090