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Seafood industry offers regional hope after bushfires, COVID

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By Milthon Lujan

Australia – The uncertainty of the pandemic has emphasised Australians’ desire for high-quality local produce. A study of Victorian fisheries and aquaculture, led by marine social scientist Professor Kate Barclay, shines a light on a sector that underpins many small towns and produces around 100 million serves of seafood a year.

The seafood industry injects $323 million into local regions across Victoria, and provides more than 3000 jobs in production and processing and produces 18,000 tonnes of seafood a year.

These are the findings of a new report, Victoria’s fisheries and aquaculture: economic and social contributions, which for the first time provides comprehensive information demonstrating the contribution made by Victoria’s seafood sector towards community wellbeing.

“Our Victorian seafood industry produces approximately 100 million serves of local seafood for Victorian consumers. We know that Victorians want to eat local seafood, and through this report we can advocate the economic and social significance of our local Victorian seafood industry,” said Joanne Butterworth-Gray, chair of Seafood Industry Victoria, welcoming the release of this report.

With the uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 crisis, Australians have been drawn to and reassured by continued access to high-quality local produce, making these findings particularly timely.

The study was led by UTS Professor Kate Barclay who has previously researched the social and economic value of fisheries to the NSW community.

Professor Barclay said the report fills a data gap on the economic and social contributions of professional fisheries and aquaculture in Victoria, and demonstrates the industry’s potential to boost communities ravaged by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the bushfires of early 2020.

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“Our findings will help show the public and policymakers why it is important to support and grow the sustainable development of seafood production in their state.”
Professor Kate Barclay, UTS

“For the first time, seafood industry advocates have comprehensive information showing the contributions their sector makes to community wellbeing,” she said.

“Victoria has had a professional seafood industry for over 170 years. Yet we found there is often poor understanding of the fishing and aquaculture industries among Victorians, both in metropolitan areas and in fishing and aquaculture communities themselves. Our findings will help show the public and policymakers why it is important to support and grow the sustainable development of seafood production in their state.”

Professor Barclay said the research also explored challenges and opportunities for these industries, including unmet demand for local seafood, strengthening the hospitality sector’s ability to work with local and seasonal seafood, and expanding Aboriginal participation in professional fishing and aquaculture.

Professor Barclay’s research was funded by the Australian government’s Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.

Key findings include:

– Nine out of 10 people surveyed say it’s important to produce seafood in Victoria, reducing imports – the professional fishing and aquaculture sectors are important suppliers to metropolitan and regional markets

– Fresh local seafood is an important underpinning of regional tourism – eight out of 10 people consider fresh local seafood an important eating experience during coastal holidays; tourism operators say local seafood production is good for business

– International visitors, particularly Asian tourists, are attracted to cultural delicacies, such as abalone and rock lobster, and the clean environment in which local seafood is caught/farmed

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– The seafood industry collaborates in projects to improve environmental health – 82 per cent of assessed Victorian fish stocks are classified as “sustainable” or “recovering”

– Fishing and aquaculture are important to cultural heritage and community identity, as well as the character and appeal of coastal towns

– Most people (85%) in fishing and aquaculture towns believe seafood industries are important for economic diversity and resilience in their towns.

The final report, Victoria’s fisheries and aquaculture: economic and social contributions, is available to download here. A summary of the report is available to download here.  

Individual factsheets on professional fishing regions and aquaculture industries are also available to download.

Fisheries: Far East Victoria; Near East Victoria; Near West Victoria; and Far West Victoria.

Aquaculture: Abalone; Barramundi; Mussels; Trout & Salmon; and Eel Fisheries.

Source: UTS

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