A common future for food security

The role of fishing in global food security – often overlooked in Australia – was one of the ‘big picture’ issues to emerge from Wayne Dredge’s 2014 Nuffield Scholarship international study program

Dalian seafood market, northern China.

By Wayne Dredge

When I applied for a Nuffield Scholarship in 2013 it was an opportunity to study different fishing practices being used overseas in the hope of identifying some that could provide benefits for my business and the Australian industry. However, the experience has far exceeded my expectations.

Throughout the course of the scholarship I have been able to meet some of the world’s most respected marine and fisheries scientists, leaders in fishery management practices, fishers from more than 20 different countries, policymakers from Brussels to Washington, DC, and several of the world’s most successful seafood-based businesses.

I have travelled to more than 100 different fishing ports talking with hundreds of fishers from varying scales of production, cultures, backgrounds and fishery sectors. I have been fortunate enough to go to sea on vessels that ranged from a simple Arab Dhow still using a single lateen sail off the Kenyan coast, to ships using some of the most advanced technology available globally.

Most recently, through an additional Nuffield program, I was able to join an agribusiness tour through China to gain a true understanding of exactly what 1.4 billion people looks like and what it takes to feed them.

Chinese capacity

In China’s far-northern port city of Dalian I stood in a freezer cold store that housed 3000 tonnes of capture-fishery products in one room. The facility had 11 other similar cold stores – a total capacity of 36,000 tonnes. There were another five facilities in Dalian, each of which could hold the same volume. This one Chinese city could store 216,000 tonnes of fish at any given time.

By comparison, the entire combined production of Australian seafood nationally (capture and farmed) is about 233,119 tonnes – only marginally more than the storage capacity at Dalian.

In Australia, it can be easy to overlook just how important fish and fishers are to global food production and global food security, given our relatively low seafood production volumes.

Globally, food production industries from dairy and livestock production, to rice farming, cropping and tea plantations are facing significant problems due to the ageing demographic of food producers. In China we visited valleys with thousands of years of rice farming history that were now being tended to mostly by people in their 50s and 60s. One could not help but wonder whether we were witnessing one of the last generations of family food production in those regions.  

In Australia’s capture fisheries the average age of fishing vessels is now well past 30 years and the average age of those operating them is nearing 60 years. In this context, the steady reduction of fishing capacity and skills in Australian capture fisheries, not from an environmental sustainability point of view but from an industry perspective, will be very difficult to remedy.

Photo of trawler on water  Photo of a 3000-tonne cold store in dalian, northern china. Bottom: a 3000-tonne cold store in Dalian, northern China.
Photos: Wayne Dredge

Food demand

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), seafood accounts for about 31 per cent of all animal meat protein supply. Given that supply is split roughly 50/50 between capture and farmed products our global capture fisheries provide about 15 per cent of the world’s animal protein needs.

Considering there are already 800 million people who lack sufficient protein to maintain basic human health and that the FAO estimates our global human population will continue to rise to 9.5 billion people over the next 30 to 40 years, countries with fisheries as sustainable as Australia’s should be looked to as part of the solution to this problem.

Through all the research I have done during the course of my scholarship, I believe that Australian fishers are among the most technologically advanced, innovative and environmentally conscious of any in the world.

We can only continue to hold this position and make a significant contribution to global food solutions through greater collaboration among fishers, greater willingness to adopt new and innovative technologies and greater accountability to our consumers. We need more engagement with management, more transparency of our industry and a vision to look towards the future rather than the past.

As an Australian capture fisher, it is highly unlikely that I will ever personally solve any of the numerous problems that the world faces. However, the exposure that a Nuffield Scholarship gives to selected people means that they get to meet and discuss the big-picture issues, concepts and ideas with the very people who are solving the problems of the world.

As a result of the program I have dramatically changed the management approach towards my own business. I have invested in new technologies to further improve economic efficiency and have recognised the need for professional and personal development training to build the capacity within my staff.

In meeting with vessel and equipment manufacturers, I witnessed what I believe to be the infancy of next-generation trawl technologies that use electricity to decrease benthic disturbance and increase fuel efficiency. This technology has doubled catch-per-unit effort in Belgium.

While in Norway, I discussed automated and semi-automated longline fishing technologies that can increase selectivity, decrease environmental impact and provide alternative harvest options for Australian producers. In every country I visited, I witnessed how Australian fisheries could benefit from a significantly expanded trap-fishing sector.

At present there are many hurdles to overcome in implementing industry innovation on both an operational and management level. I hope the experience I have gained through the scholarship may help provide some positive input for Australian commercial fishing when working through these problems.

Nuffield commitment

Undertaking a Nuffield Scholarship program is a serious commitment. It involves an extensive period of time away from work, businesses, family and friends. However, the knowledge imparted, the truly global perspective gained and the international contacts made make it a great personal and professional investment.

The diversity of perspectives that a Nuffield Scholarship offers is one of the most valuable aspects of the program. I never imagined I could have learnt so much that was relevant to commercial capture fisheries through conversations with livestock producers, sugarcane growers, dairy consultants, agronomists or dry-land croppers, to name a few.

Each industry has its own grounding principles in economics: environmental sustainability, social awareness, consumer engagement and possibilities for the future. Once shared, the principles become beneficial to all sectors. It has been a life-changing experience for me, and I am indebted to the many people who have been part of this remarkable opportunity.

Photo of Sharing different net-making practices on the northern Kenyan coast.Sharing different net-making practices on the northern Kenyan coast.

Nuffield applications open

Applications for 2016 Nuffield Scholarships are now open and close on 30 June 2015. The scholarship provides $30,000 towards a 16-week international study program, to be completed over two years.

This includes a six to seven-week international group tour, with the remaining time for an individual study. The program enables scholars to travel to countries of their choice.

Wayne Dredge

Wayne Dredge is the owner and operator of a commercial fishing business active in the Tasmanian and Victorian Southern Rocklobster sectors and the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF). His scholarship was sponsored by the FRDC and Woolworths.

Before entering the rocklobster industry he had 10 years of experience in the south-east trawl sector. In 2014 he was awarded an Australian Nuffield Scholarship to study different fishing methods of potential benefit to the SESSF.

FRDC Research Code: 2009-324

More information

Wayne Dredge, dredgewa@gmail.com

Nuffield Australia