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Sustainable Fishing Families - Health and wellbeing of Australian fishers

By Brad Roberts, Liaison Officer Victoria

Dr Tanya King talks to us about the Sustainable Fishing Families program which addresses the health, wellbeing and safety issues facing those working in the Australian seafood industry.

Fishing operators and their families experience unique challenges and high levels of psychological distress—almost twice that of the national average. These are the findings in the preliminary analysis of a recent survey led by Dr King.

With common symptoms including difficulty sleeping, stress and trouble concentrating and remembering, it is easy to see how these symptoms could pose further safety risks for fishers on the job, and impact on productivity.

The survey results pointed to a need for the Sustainable Fishing Families program. The aim of the program is to offer practical and positive strategies to promote the health and wellbeing of fishers, their families and the Australian fishing industry.

What the survey revealed

The anonymous survey captured responses from nearly one thousand fishers and family members from around Australia. People’s responses to the survey showed two types of stressors impacting the fishing sector.

  • Traditional risks: These include things like fluctuating markets, severe weather, and the physical dangers of fishing.

  • Modern uncertainties: Of this category, the top three stressors are unnecessarily complex regulation, livelihood insecurity, and regulatory change.

While many fishers find it easier to deal with traditional risks, fishers said they are less able to deal with the current set of modern uncertainties because they can’t control or anticipate these decisions.

The Sustainable Fishing Families program not only focusses on providing practical ways to deal with the stress caused by these factors, it builds resilience and positive wellbeing so that fishing operators and their families can better ‘ride the bumps’ of a challenging profession while enjoying happy and fulfilling lives.

How the program works

The program consists of three workshops delivered over 12 months, during which families learn from health professionals about issues, dangers and risks specific to the fishing industry and what individuals can do to maximise their productivity and improve their quality of life.

The workshops are based on the model of the successful Sustainable Farming Families program, which has been running for 10 years in Australia and adopted in other countries.

A key feature of the program are the personalised action plans identifying personal goals and strategies that the participant can track over time. The workshops cover a range of important topics relating to health and wellbeing—from men and womens’ health, to discussion about depression and suicide. Individual health testing, one-on-one health checks and specialist referrals are also included in the program.

Dr King said the workshops—which are already underway in Victoria—have seen extremely positive results and the Victorian Government has funded another workshop.

‘I’ll never forget one participant saying, if it wasn’t for this program, I’d have been dead on the side of the road by now, for sure. But here I am, working harder than I have in years … and feeling fantastic! That’s a gratifying process to be a part of,’ said Dr King.

‘Seeing the health and productivity of participants improve in ways even they didn’t think was possible, has been amazing,’ she said.

Dr King said the results have confirmed that the Sustainable Fishing Families program is viable and they are looking to other state and territory governments to step up and demonstrate their commitment to the people of the seafood industry by funding programs for their fishing communities.

‘I’d love to see this program rolled out to as many fishing communities as possible across the country. Without the fishing families, none of us would enjoy the fresh sustainable seafood we’re lucky enough to have access to in this country,’ she said.

The project to develop the Sustainable Fishing Families program was funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC), hosted by Deakin University and is also in partnership with the National Centre for Farmer Health in Hamilton, Victoria.

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