Empowering recreational fishers as champions of healthy fish habitat
Adoption, Environment, People
Recreational fishers are natural champions for Australian fish habitat. Taking leadership in this role is critical in the rehabilitation of the Australian recreational fishery. Fish habitat throughout Australia is in trouble. Progressive degradation of fish habitat has occurred since European settlement and continues today. Recreational fishers stand to lose significantly through diminished fisheries productivity and access if this degradation continues. The degradation of the recreational fishery has significant implications socially and economically. Degradation of fish habitat needs to be slowed and the big challenge is to rehabilitate what has been lost and this will bring benefits not only to recreational fishing but also to local environments and the broader community. However, these changes are not happening to the degree needed, nor will they happen, without the active support of the recreational fishing community. This was recognised by Australia's recreational fishing community who called for the development of a national fish habitat rehabilitation plan as a priority output of the 2012 National Recreational Fishing Conference and in the Keep Australia Fishing Report (Salter, 2011). In order for progress to be made, the current skills, knowledge, capability and collaboration among Australia's recreational fishing community regarding fish habitat and habitat rehabilitation must be escalated. That is the primary objective of this project which meets the Investment Priorities as identified in priority 2 for People Development – “Building Capacity within the recreational fishing community to improve fisheries productivity via delivery of fish habitat enhancement initiatives and associated R&D”. The approach to this work needs to reflect the differences in where various recreational fishing communities are in terms of their knowledge and skills, and the different ways in which fishers get information and whose information they trust. This project takes an approach that is evidence-based and specific to the recreational fishing community in Australia.
1. Deliver activities that increase the capability of recreational fishers to define, participate, and lead activities that improve fish habitat outcomes.
2. Enhance awareness and understanding within the recreational fishing community of the primary role habitat plays in sustaining and improving fisheries
3. Prepare the recreational fishing sector’s framework and contribution to a National Fish Habitat Strategy and Action Plan
Who was involved?
The project was a massive effort on behalf of the recreational fishing community to do things that would both improve fish habitat and enhance fishers’ capacity to take on this work. This report documents these activities and the outcomes for fishers and for fish that have been achieved.
OzFish Unlimited coordinated the project on behalf of the Fish Habitat Network, a group of like-minded organisations from government and non-government sectors.
The project was funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC), on behalf of the Australian Government. Additional financial support was provided by The Nature Conservancy and Recfishwest. Valuable in-kind contributions were provided by Amateur Fisherman’s Association of the Northern Territory, Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, Healthy Land and Water (formerly SEQ catchments), NSW DPI Fisheries, VR Fish, Arthur Rylah Institute, Victorian Fisheries Authority, Recfish SA and Primary Industry and Regions SA. The contributions provided by these organisations were enhanced by the thousands of hours of work contributed by individual recreational fishers.
Through this shared effort a lot more recreational fishers were able to be engaged with a common message about the status of fish habitat and the role that they can play in its management.
What we learnt and how we can build on the project
It is especially important to involve fishers directly in sharing information, both at a local level and as ambassadors, and to provide opportunities for fishers to talk with, learn from and work with each other. Partnerships build partnerships and we found as more fishers got involved, more wanted to be involved. However, follow-up is an essential aspect of the capacity building process so that the good work on engagement builds into sustained capacity to deliver local habitat improvements.
While this project has been successful there are over 4 million recreational fishers and we need to continue to expand this work to enhance recreational fishers’ involvement in fish habitat management. While successful engagement initiatives have to be continued, the use of social media needs to be improved particularly using our newly established habitat engaged fishers to communicate with other recreational fishers. The development of the National Fish Habitat Strategy is an essential platform to sustain these efforts and work needs to occur to ensure its widespread adoption and underpinning of the actions it recommends.
Finally, despite efforts by OzFish and FHN partners, the efforts by recreational fishers in improving habitat are still not well known among the broader community and efforts to promote or recognise the great efforts by volunteer recreational fishers should also be a priority.