Sustainable Fishing Families: Developing industry human capital through health, wellbeing, safety and resilience

Project Number:



Deakin University Geelong Waterfront Campus

Principal Investigator:

Tanya King

Project Status:


FRDC Expenditure:





By developing an evidence-based health and safety training program for Australian fishing communities, this project meets the needs of the commercial wild-catch and aquaculture industry identified in FRDC’s RD&E Program 3, ‘Communities’ and particularly theme 10, which promotes resilient and supportive communities who are able to adapt to the social impacts of change in industry business environments. The project will address a national need, identified by VicFRAB, to better understand the social and economic contribution of commercial fisheries, by identifying and addressing potential losses incurred through the poor health and wellbeing of the industry’s human capital. Fishers tend to work in rural and remote communities, which means they have higher rates of mortality, disease and health risk factors than urban dwellers, further impacted by reduced access to primary health care services. Fishers are at particular risk of certain kinds of illnesses (eg. skin and diet-related), as well as injury (fatality rates are more than double those in the agricultural sector). Mental health concerns are higher than average in the fishing industry, exacerbated by uncertainties within the industry including often high debt and insecurity of tenure and licencing. While both women and men are at risk, 86.9% of fishers are male, a factor placing them at greater risk of suicide. Fisher ‘attitudes’ also impact health, such as the culture of self-reliance, particularly among males. This may make fishers resilient, but also makes them less likely to adopt preventative health practices or to use health services, and they will usually wait longer before seeking medical assistance, particularly for issues of chronic poor mental health. The Sustainable Fishing Families project will benefit fishing families’ health, safety and resilience by promoting a self-awareness of the value of the industry’s human capital, and building their health capacity.


1. To improve the health and wellbeing of fishing families by promoting safer and healthier work practices

2. To develop strategies to inform fisher families of appropriate physical and mental health care programs and information, including strategies to address barriers to uptake

3. To provide rigorous research that will raise the profile of the health issues and needs of Australian fishing families, and inform government, industry and health services of specific health issues and needs of, and effective support pathways for, fishing families as distinct from farming families.

4. To develop a targeted, industry-led program that will address the health issues and needs of fishing families based on the proven Sustainable Farm FamiliesTM protocol

Sustainable Fishing Families: Developing Industry Human Capital through Health, Wellbeing, Safety and Resilience

Final Report
Author(s):Tanya J. King, Kirsten Abernethy, Susan Brumby, Tracey Hatherell, Sue Kilpatrick, Katarina Munksgaard & Rachel Turner
Date Published:January 2019
This project conducted the first national survey of the health, safety and wellbeing of the Australian professional fishing industry in 2017. The results of the survey provide a baseline for the state of the wild-catch industry members across a range of indicators, including reported physical and mental health, factors affecting health and safety, factors affecting levels of stress, health and safety behaviours, and access to health services and information.
The project also conducted and evaluated an intensive pilot program on health, safety and wellbeing tailored specifically for fishing families. The program was modelled on an existing and highly successful program with farming families, Sustainable Farm FamiliesTM developed and delivered by the National Centre for Farmer Health, at the Western District Health Service, Victoria. The materials and presentations were reviewed and modified to reflect the specific strengths and challenges of the fishing industry. For the first time, this award-winning program is now available for use by fishing communities across the country.

The State of Health and Wellbeing in the Australian Fishing Industry: Brochure

Author(s):King, T., Abernethy K., Brumby, S., Hatherell, T., Kilpatrick, S., Munksgaard, K. and R. Turner.
Date Published:October 2019
In 2017, the National Health, Safety and Wellbeing survey was posted to 4,584 professional wild catch fishers across all jurisdictions of Australia through peak bodies, industry associations and large fishing companies. The survey was also made available online to capture those fishers without membership to an industry organisation. 872 surveys were returned for analysis. The survey focussed on self-reported health relating to work, and asked respondents about their physical and mental health status and perceived causes, health and safety behaviours, and access to health services and information. The survey was part of the project Sustainable Fishing Families (FRDC Project 2016-400).

This factsheet provides a summary of the key findings from the project survey.

Moreover, this document brochure is intended for GPs to have the information to aid them in better understanding the health issues in the Australian fishing industry.

If you are a fisher, please take this brochure to your doctor.

Managing Stress for Fishers: From deckhands to skippers to the office

Educational material
Date Published:October 2019

This resource is a way of enabling fishing families to understand stress, its impact, and learn skills to help balance stress when fishing in difficult times.

This is a resource for all people who work in the business of fishing — from deckhands to skippers to office staff.

This resource has been developed by NCFH and Deakin University as part of 'Sustainable Fishing Families' project 2016-400 funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.

Sustainable Fishing Families Program

Date Published:October 2019

Sustainable Fishing Families is a health program specifically designed for fishing families to address the health, wellbeing and safety issues facing the fishing industry through an evidence-based health program run by rural health experts