Ben Diggles wins 2018 Ron Dempster Award

Winner of the 2018 ANSA Ron Dempster Award, Dr Ben Diggles.

THE Ron Dempster Award is the most prestigious award of the Australian National Sportfishing Association Queensland and is given to an individual for outstanding contribution to the enhancement of recreational fishing in Queensland.

Dr Ben Diggles was formally recognised at the Bundaberg Sportfishing Festival last Saturday evening. Learn more about Ben and his contributions that lead to this recognition below.

Ben is also a very handy and passionate angler, landing the nice snapper pictured above on light gear and soft plastic presentation while up at Bundy on the weekend.

Dr Ben Diggles 

Ben Diggles grew up in Brisbane in the 1970s and was introduced to the fundamentals of fishing at an early age by his father George and grandfather Ken Diggles. Ben spent these formative years fishing around the Brisbane River mouth where his father was working as a draftsman and project manager developing the international wharves at Fishermans Island and while holidaying at Inskip point near Fraser Island.

Ben is great grandson of Silvester Diggles, who arrived in Brisbane in 1855 and was a founder of the Queensland Philosophical Society, the predecessor of the Royal Society of Queensland and helped establish the Queensland Museum. Silvester studied natural history in his spare time and is still well known by historians for writing the Ornithology of Australia containing 325 plates illustrating some 600 Australian birds. Ben has continued this strong family tradition as experts in natural history, be it with a slight deviation away from bird identification and towards fisheries sciences influenced by the many fond memories of fishing in his formative years. There is no doubt that the recreational fishing community has been the winner of this change.

Like many young lads finishing school, Ben’s initial plan was to fly jet fighters, but eyesight crossed this option off the list and with a keen interest in fishing decided upon a career as a marine biologist. When Ben finished his degree, job opportunities for marine biologists were scarce. There was emphasis on diseases of fish in aquaculture at the time and so Ben initially gravitated towards this, which had the benefit of instilling a fuller understanding of both the fish with along with their environment in order to understand the associated diseases. Going fishing to collect the specimens was an added bonus!

Since this time Ben has amassed over 200 publications, including more than 50 peer reviewed journal articles. The topics are varied and range from hooking mortality, to fish disease and parasitology, to Ecology and Welfare of aquatic animals in wild capture fisheries, to Saddleback deformities in yellowfin bream to Fish and pain studies and shellfish distribution, habitat and status studies. What sets Ben apart from many other researchers however is his commitment in translating and communicating this scientific information to the fishing rank and file through writing of regular columns in sportfishing publications.

About the same time Ben finished his PhD in 1996 that focussed on fish health he also began writing a fish biology column for Fishing World magazine as a way to extend interesting fish related scientific information to fishers. Ben continues to write articles for Fishing World, the monthly Queensland fishing publications and Sportfishing magazine more than 20 years later, with a tally approaching 500 articles. Topics covered have even greater variety than his publications and all are designed to try and raise angler awareness on interesting things about the fish they catch. Ben is a firm believer that if people understand their fish more, they will be less likely to do the wrong thing and more likely to recognise the need to conserve the fish and in turn conserve and restore the habitat these fish are dependant upon.

Ben was a big fan of the late Vic McCristal, our second Ron Dempster recipient who received the same award some 21 years ago. A much younger Ben penned a letter to Vic in 2005 after reading the book Rivers and the Sea. Vic’s insight into man’s exploitation of fisheries resources and his thoughts of improving ethics on fishing which helped spark the sportfishing revolution in this country struck a strong chord with this young man at a time when the burdens of a big mortgage, young family and low income were taking a toll. Needless to say, Vic replied to this letter with positive words as so often was the case and in due course many of the aspirations outlined in this heartfelt letter from a young professional with a passion for fishing came to fruition.

Ben’s involvement in the development of the fish attractant know as S factor is in itself worthy of this award. Many anglers across Queensland rub a bit of ‘lipstick’ on their favourite lure and swear by the improved hook-up rate. Put simply, the stuff works!

But it doesn’t end there! Ben is responsible for developing NEATFish, the worlds first Environmental Standard for Fishing Tournaments and preparing, a world first information portal for humane dispatch of finfish. The ANSA QLD Insightful Anglers Best Management Practice self-assessment includes many practices identified and promoted by Ben and even includes recommendations on use of circle hooks based on findings from his first paper hooking survivability. This kind of work centres on angler education and shoring up our long term social licence to operate as the clouds begin to form over the horizon in the form of vegan extremists veiled as fish welfare activists.

Ben Diggles, ANSA QLD and many others in our sector can see the writing on the wall and are proactively working to knock the wind out of the sails of this argument using facts and science paired with advocacy and awareness raising. Ben sees habitat restoration as one of the keys and has recently taken a keen interest in the value of oyster reefs and the work with both OzFish Unlimited and with values that strongly align with the ANSA QLD’s central tenement in the Sport-Conservation-Integrity triad of values. The understanding is that working on fish habitat equates to the best way to preserve our social license to fish, increases fish numbers, and combat the new upcoming challenges to fishing.

The good news is that Ben is still only halfway through his career and has plenty more time to continue advancing recreational fishing in Queensland before hanging up the gone fishing sign. Ben recently provided some insight on how he intends to address the current issue of applying traditional welfare definitions used for farmed animals to wild fish. Ben explained that these definition simply don’t work as all fish are part of a food chain and they eat each other and so it is impossible to weigh the welfare benefits of the top end predator like a shark against the welfare benefits of the baitfish and secondary predators. In a healthier the environment, there are many more fish but there is also more death of fish as the fish eat each other. Ben perceives there is a need to develop and promote a more accurate welfare definition for wild fish and believes there is no better way humans can improve the welfare of wild fish than to try to fix the environmental problems affecting them by giving them clean water and providing fish homes to live in by restoring natural reefs and creating artificial reefs to replace those previously destroyed homes while protecting and restoring nursery areas for their offspring to feed and grow. This is a noble goal and one of many we will work with Dr Ben Diggles in the years ahead.

Learn more about the award and previous recipients at:

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