The financial year 2019–20 was one of many extremes. Australia has faced not one but three major events: widespread, intense bushfires and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic — both off the back of one of the country’s worst droughts. These events had a significant impact on Australia, those working in fishing and aquaculture as well as on the FRDC.
Throughout the second half of the year, the FRDC monitored and assessed the impacts of COVID-19 on both stakeholders and the organisation. key impacts felt across fishing and aquaculture revolved around workforce shortages, disruptions to supply chains, restrictions on recreational fishing, Indigenous biosecurity zones being locked down, instances of panic buying which made stocking vessels difficult, and collapse of markets and lack of sales, requiring companies to hold stock. The most exposed parts of the seafood industry were those with products destined for export markets or associated with food service. Indigenous communities were affected and were even more isolated than usual due to travel restrictions. Likewise, industries related to tourism such as recreational fishing were also damaged by the pandemic, albeit this impact was only for part of the year during lock down. As a result of these restrictions there was an increase in seafood consumed at home.
It is clear the impacts of the COVID-19 will continue well past this reporting period.
At the macro level the Australian economy, up until COVID-19, was tracking well. The Reserve bank of Australia (May Statement on Monetary Policy) downgraded this view noting that combating the spread of COVID-19 had led to severe restrictions on economic activity in Australia and many countries around the world. The result was a large and near simultaneous contraction across the global economy. Heightened uncertainty about the future has exacerbated the contraction, both directly through weaker investment and consumer spending and via tighter financial conditions. Australia’s economic output contracted significantly over the first half of 2020.
There was a decrease in the gross value of production (GVP) for commercial wild-catch and aquaculture, though this was not as pronounced as initially estimated. This will have a downward impact on the FRDC’s income in both the short and longer term despite revenue being calculated using a three-year rolling average of
the GVP. Fishing and aquaculture have many positives that will be fast tracked to assist the Australian economic recovery. The New South Wales (NSW) Government’s agreement to fast track the building of the new Sydney Fish Market is one example of many where governments are investing for jobs and growth, in sectors that show promise.
Australia’s ecosystems continue to be influenced and impacted by a range of issues such as climate change, species interactions (sharks), pollution (in particular plastics), urbanisation and use by humans. These topics continue to hold the attention of the community. In particular, the broader community remains focused on the sustainability of fishing and aquaculture — although COVID-19 did alter some societal views — and what people value and trust (local versus imported).
There was a continued focus on biosecurity during the year partly as a result of the re-emergence of White Spot Disease in south Queensland. All sectors are focused on increasing biosecurity readiness to reduce risks. As part of the broader biosecurity debate the FRDC delivered the National Carp Control Plan to the Government in early 2020 for review and future decision making.
A major change through the year was on how Australia’s community interacted and engaged. Fear, worry and stress are normal responses to perceived or real threats, and at times when we are faced with uncertainty or the unknown. While COVID-19 is a physical illness, it also brought with it a range of mental health issues. Of key concern during this period were vulnerable populations and how to best protect them. It was pleasing to see the research by FRDC on quantifying mental health needs in the seafood sector, supported by the $600,000 funding from Commonwealth Government for a Seafood Industry Australia led national mental health program.
Indigenous communities faced greater challenges both from a health and economic perspective. Work continued to understand Indigenous communities’ values and priorities and how best to incorporate them in the development of policy and regulations to enable Indigenous people to achieve a greater engagement in fishing.