Adapt or Fail: Risk management and business resilience in Queensland commercial fisheries

Project Number:



James Cook University (JCU)

Principal Investigator:

Andrew & Renae Tobin

Project Status:


FRDC Expenditure:



Communities, Environment, Industry


Change is inevitable, whether it be management, environmental, or economic change. Improving how industries cope with and adapt to change becomes increasingly important as rates and cumulative impacts of change escalate. Some commercial fishing operators are better able to cope with, and adapt to change than others. In part this is due to the inherent capabilities of some individuals to cope with change, learn, plan, and manage risk – elements we can measure through resilience frameworks (Marshall and Marshall, 2007). Other differences relate to access to adaptation options, which may rely on factors such as business structure, diversity of operation, access to information and financial capacity. We do not yet know the specific role such factors play in improving adaption options and hence resilience. What we do know is that more resilient operators are better able to cope with change and adapt to it, and that these operators are less likely to seek compensation when change occurs (Sutton and Tobin 2012). Given these findings, it is vital that we identify factors that improve access to and uptake of adaption options, and that factors constraining uptake of these options are identified. We need to develop appropriate communication tools that relate to the nature of risks faced by fishing operations depending on their current behaviour and business structure, options for change, and access to / uptake of information. We also need to assess possible management options which could reduce some constraints on adaptation and hence increase resilience. This proposal meets QFRAB priority #2 (business models in relation to resilience), and FRDC’s “Resilient and supportive communities” Strategic Challenge.


1. Document the current diversity and develop typologies of business models and operation types employed across all commercial fisheries on Queensland's east coast

2. Explore the current adaptation options for different business model types regarding risks associated with economic, management and environmental changes

3. Document the common constraints affecting uptake of adaptation options between and across business model types

4. Provide information tools regarding adaptation options for different business model types to fishers and managers, to enable the improvement of adaptive capacity and hence resilience

Adapt or Fail: Risk management and business resilience in Queensland commercial fisheries

Final Report
Author(s):Tobin, R.C., Nicotra, B., Innes, J., Ellis, N., Tobin, A.J., Kung, J., and Perez, E.
Date Published:July 2019

This study sought to explore how different types of fishing businesses adapted to different types of change within Queensland’s east coast fisheries. The project team first sought to classify fishing businesses into ‘types’, exploring the industry structure in a new and innovative way, given the diversity of business capacity and mobility, and the overlap between fishery types on Queensland’s east coast. Through surveys of just over 200 fishing businesses, they then explored what types of change and challenges different business types were exposed to and / or constrained by, whether businesses were able to successfully adapt to these changes or challenges, and if there were any specific driving characteristics that improved the likelihood of success. The aim was to identify common challenges and constraints, and ideally to lead to recommendations of what different fishing business types could do to adapt their business in the face of ongoing environmental, economic and management change.

The findings of this report highlight the complexity of the industry and the generally individual nature of responses to change. We fine there is no clear ‘recipe for success’, or predictor of failure. Consistencies in the types of change and constraints that different business types experience may help in future planning, however the lack of consistency in characteristics that determine adaptation behaviour and success makes it difficult to develop a clear plan to assist in improving adaptation to change.

adapt or fail

Author(s):Renae Tobin
Date Published:July 2019

Change in the commercial fishing industry is inevitable, ongoing and it builds up over time. Change can be gradual or rapid, and can relate to management, economic, or environmental change. We know from previous research that individual fishers have different abilities to adapt to all sorts of change. In part, this relates to a fisher’s own capacity to cope with uncertainty and risk, but also to how individuals structure and operate within their business, and whether they can identify and benefit from opportunities.