THE Australian Fishing Trade Association (AFTA) is extending its reach to build on the existing grassroots relationship between recreational traders and fishers under the direction of new CEO Allan Hansard, who took up the role in January this year.
AFTA currently has 200 recreational fishing retailers and 80 wholesalers as members. Hansard says retailers in particular are “barometers for the health of recreational fishing”.
Local fishing outlets are often the first port of call for recreational fishers when an issue or policy adversely affects the industry.
“If recreational fishing is excluded from an area, tackle store owners are quick to feel it,” Hansard says.
“Our objective is to improve the flow of information to and from that grassroots network in establishing a system of branches.”
Recruiting members and establishing the first AFTA office in Canberra have been priorities for AFTA as part of this strategy. The new AFTA office has been strategically located in Australia’s capital city to provide a “national hub” for the recreational fishing community with proximity to government policy-makers.
The tactical benefits of this arrangement were highlighted when AFTA hosted a breakfast at Parliament House in March. This event provided a forum for 50 recreational fishers and industry trade members to address policies affecting the sector with more than 30 Members of Parliament.
The Canberra home base, which officially opened in April, is expected to become the nexus for a network of offices that AFTA plans to introduce in each state and the Northern Territory. Moves to set up a pilot branch in Victoria in the next few months will test the viability of the proposed network to better link Australian recfishing retailers and wholesalers, and ultimately fishers.
Allan Hansard’s appointment as the CEO of AFTA has spurred a new direction for the organisation.
A keen recreational fisher himself, Allan Hansard is drawing on his background as a senior economist with Commonwealth Government departments and as an industry advocate to help implement changes and extend the reach of AFTA. He worked for the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) before leading the National Association of Forest Industries as CEO for the past five years.
The changes for AFTA include a new official position that likens the environmental consciousness of fishers in protected areas, such as marine parks, to bushwalkers in state and national parks, and this approach underpins lobbying governments on behalf of the recreational fishing industry. For example, AFTA made a submission in response to the Victorian Department of Primary Industries Future Fisheries Strategy released earlier this year.
Emphasis on strengthening the existing channels of communication has also recently seen AFTA launch a new monthly newsletter, News Reel, the contents of which are expected to filter through to fishers from retailers. The newsletter is circulated to a large pool of non- members within the recfishing trade sector, including 600 retailers and 70 wholesalers to broaden AFTA’s industry influence and attract new members.
AFTA is also taking steps towards two major research projects to generate scientific knowledge to help inform government policy on a range of issues with implications for the rec fishing industry.
Allan Hansard says a national assessment of the annual contribution that rec fishing makes to the Australian economy and society is set to start this year as AFTA’s foremost research priority. In particular, he says further along the inland waterway alone annually contributed about $1.3 billion to the Basin’s regional economy. The task of quantifying the economic and societal benefits will be made more difficult by estimates of the number of Australian recfishers, which vary from three to five million, he says.
A second national study to determine the impacts of recfishing on marine conservation values to help inform marine park planning, implementation and management is another major research priority for AFTA. Following preliminary discussions with government, Allan Hansard says the study examining how rec fishers affect marine conservation is likely to be a collaborative effort involving DAFF and AFTA.
“AFTA is keen to see monitoring in marine park areas where recfishers are excluded to pinpoint whethe rthere is a scientific basis for prohibiting recfishing activity indifferent marine environments.”
While acknowledging certain situations where the marine environment may benefit from excluding rec fishers, such as mangrove habitats that provide fish nurseries, Allan Hansard says that, overall, the sector plays an important role in protecting marine and freshwater habitats.
“Recfishers are often the eyes and ears of the sea and waterways. If there is illegal fishing activity going on, they’re usually the first report it to authorities.” He says the rec fishing industry also demonstrates an “outstanding capacity” for proactively responding to the perceived impacts of fishing pressure through ‘adaptive management’. For example, in circumstances where boat anchors have been found to be damaging kelpbeds, policy has been implemented to prevent this disturbance to the sea floor, while still allowing access for rec fishers.
“There are a number of ways you can adapt recfishers’ practices to minimise their environmental imprint, without locking them out of marine systems. This is why we draw the analogy that recfishers are the bushwalkers of the sea aspart of our new national policy to help guide government decisions and achieve rational outcomes, especially in the context of marine parks,” he says.