Back to FISH Vol 29 4
PUBLISHED 30 Nov 2021

World Fisheries Congress delegates identified collaboration and communication as key to the urgent action needed to address fisheries issues and equitable access to aquatic resources

By Catherine Norwood

What a difference 20 years makes. When Australia hosted the 2nd World Fisheries Congress (WFC) in Brisbane in 1996, many were predicting the demise of marine fisheries. Two decades later, the status of Australia’s fisheries is far more positive. 

For eight consecutive years, Commonwealth fisheries have not been subject to overfishing. Internationally, the depleted Southern Bluefin Tuna (SBT, Thunnus maccoyii) stock is rebuilding. Australia has led the stock monitoring and assessment science and partnered in the regional fisheries management to make this possible. SBT in Commonwealth waters are now classified as “recovering”. 

With successes such as these proving that science, management and stakeholders working together can result in sustainable harvest of fish stocks, many new challenges have emerged that were not even considered 20 years ago. 

photo of a school of fish
Photo: Shutterstock

Guide to new issues

The 8th WFC in September 2021 provided a guide to many of these emerging issues, with conference organisers providing public access to the keynote presentations. The WFC speaker videos are a must-watch resource to help the public understand these challenges and what can be done to make a difference. 

Hosted from Adelaide in South Australia, the virtual congress saw more than 1200 delegates from over 60 countries come together online to discuss the future of the world’s fisheries, with more than 800 presentations and posters.

Several speakers identified the coming decade as critical to establishing new or adaptive management to help fisheries respond to the changes in oceans and distribution of marine life that are already underway.

These included the opening keynote speaker, Ambassador Peter Thomson, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean. He said despite the climate “red alert” in August 2021 from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there were significant opportunities for international action at a government level in the next 12 months to support the future of fisheries globally.

Innovation was a prominent theme in many sessions, with discussion about offshore platforms producing clean energy, carbon-sequestering seaweed and satellite technologies for precision harvesting in capture fisheries. 

The congress identified common challenges and opportunities for the sector such as communication, community trust and the need for collaborative effort to achieve common goals. 

Congress Chair Gavin Begg said it was clear from the more than 800 presentations and posters at the congress that there has been significant and ongoing progress in fisheries science and management, and industry innovation since the first congress was held almost 30 years ago. 

This was despite some familiar challenges remaining, such as overfishing. Although these issues persist, the thinking around them and the strategies used to address them have advanced. New issues have also emerged, such as climate impacts and plastic pollution.

Key challenges highlighted during the congress included:

  • understanding and managing the complexity of whole systems;
  • sharing oceans and rivers with multiple users;
  • improving workforce safety, gender equality and recognising the significant role women play in the seafood sector;
  • recognising the importance of traditional customary fishers and their participation in decision-making processes;
  • preventing overfishing and recovering overfished stocks; 
  • addressing and responding to climate change;
  • stopping plastics from getting into aquatic systems and other pollution;
  • developing the resilience to recover from COVID-19 pandemic impacts and preparedness for similar future challenges; and
  • securing sustainable small-scale fisheries and equitable access to resources.

Common solutions included: 

  • developing and applying new and emerging technologies;
  • promoting coastal and inland fisheries in food security and economic development;
  • co-managing fisheries to provide stewardship of resources, with participatory decision-making involving scientists, fishers, managers and other stakeholders (doing it together);
  • co-designing solutions across scientific disciplines and stakeholder groups to develop innovative, locally tailored solutions to industry issues, such as bycatch; and
  • building capacity across all sectors – commercial, Indigenous, recreational and research and management.

Begg says a clear message is that communication is key to all work being done. 

“It needs to be open and transparent, knowing that stakeholder engagement takes effort and trust, and it is an ongoing dialogue. As noted in a number of presentations, fisheries are about people; the importance of building relationships is critical.”


He says recognising the importance of stakeholders in fisheries, organisers made a concerted effort in the design of the congress to ensure those who depend on fisheries – commercial, Indigenous and recreational fishers, as well as their communities – were included as a key part of the event.

“I think their involvement and contribution to discussions has made the event richer,” Begg commented. There were also more than 200 students who joined sessions from around the world.

Despite planning for an in-person event, Begg says the move to the virtual format in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions proved a success. 

“The live Q&A and discussion forums available in the portal for each session encouraged broad and active participation, which lead to in-depth debate and discussion of key topics. These were a highlight for many. 

“One of the biggest benefits of the virtual platform is that all sessions and presentations were recorded, providing a valuable resource that is available to all delegates until March 2022. The virtual format also allowed those who were previously unable to travel to participate in the congress, and it was great to see delegates from many countries attending the event.”   


The Government of South Australia, and the Australian Government, through the FRDC, were major sponsors of this international event. 

FRDC Managing Director Patrick Hone is optimistic about the future of Australia’s aquatic fisheries and aquaculture sectors. He points to the Fish Forever 2030 sector strategy developed in conjunction with fisheries stakeholders as showing a broad commitment to having healthy aquatic habitats supporting healthy community renewable use.

Next congress

The 9th World Fisheries Congress will be hosted by the American Fisheries Society in Seattle, Washington, from 3 to 9 March 2024. The theme will be ‘Fish and fisheries at the nexus of the food, water and energy debate’. 


More information
World Fisheries Congress 2021