Evolving our crisis response

Patrick Hone, Managing Director, FRDC

 

When the FRDC began developing its next research and development plan early in 2019, few could have believed the next 12 months would bring not one but two major events capable of scarring the nation’s psyche: widespread, intense bushfires, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Patrick Hone, Managing Director, FRDC

In developing the FRDC R&D Plan 2020–25, stakeholders identified changes they thought could happen in the world. But those engaged in the process did not foresee the emergence of a society in lockdown, traditional markets closed and extreme disruption to all aspects of commercial, Indigenous and recreational fishing and aquaculture.

While we will not completely understand the long-term consequences of either the bushfires or the pandemic for some time, Australia has survived the fires and it will survive the coronavirus too.

The impacts of the virus that causes COVID-19 are far reaching. As part of the FRDC response we have developed a shorter, more timely COVID-19 edition of FISH, with another out in about six weeks. Via these editions, the FRDC will provide updates and analysis of the impacts the coronavirus has had on Australia’s fishing and aquaculture sectors.

For FRDC, our reason for existence is that science can make a difference. The open debate society is having on science and its importance in ensuring informed decision-making occurs, both at a personal and government level, will hopefully strengthen the role of science in civil society.

In the face of the pandemic, we are witnessing the dynamic nature of science in real time. Continuous adaptive interpretation in the light of new evidence is the strength of the scientific process. It is also its vulnerability. There are no absolutes or guarantees.

Each country and region is an experiment. Data is collected, interpreted and used to inform the range of responses. But for each case these variables differ, making it difficult to reduce uncertainty or tease out clear reasons for different outcomes. As we collect new data, these problems are reduced; they strengthen patterns in the overarching body of evidence.

However, where human health is concerned, even at this early stage, decision-makers should be adhering to the precautionary principle when applying model assumptions and when recommending options and making decisions.

Over the past couple of months, we have been speaking with many of our stakeholders to gain an understanding of the impact of the coronavirus. We know the two biggest impacts are social and financial. We know jobs have been lost and the value of fisheries production will fall, potentially by 20 to 30 per cent.

These financial and employment losses extend across all sectors including recreational and Indigenous fisheries. Indigenous commercial fishers are being affected in the same way as other commercial sectors. The implications for Indigenous fisheries are less well known; there may be impacts on cultural practices due to the isolation restrictions.

For the recreational sector there are significant downturns in charter and guiding operations, as well as throughout the tackle industry.

The full impact will not be known for some time. But we are seeing wonderful stories of our fishing and aquaculture community contributing back to society, whether that be by providing seafood to frontline health workers or restoring aquatic habitats affected by the summer bushfires.

Governments across Australia have responded, providing support for individuals, companies and industry sectors at levels never seen before. This, without question, has helped enormously. But the sheer scale of the impact and unknown time frames will see governments, the community, businesses and individuals continuing to evolve their responses.

The FRDC is assessing and responding to the pandemic. We have set up a page on our website for stakeholders to provide comment and feedback on issues they are facing. See http://frdc.com.au/media-publications/fish/FISH-COVID19.

Likewise, our staff are happy to speak with stakeholders and will continue to keep in touch to identify areas where we can help.


The FRDC is assessing and responding to the pandemic. We have set up a page on our website for stakeholders to provide comment and feedback on issues they are facing. See http://frdc.com.au/media-publications/fish/FISH-COVID19.