Taking Climate Change Policy to Industry

By Eric Perez, Queensland Seafood Industry Association

Like all citizens of the world, Australians will face the impacts of climate change. In an iconic area such as the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) the impacts will be felt on both an ecosystem and a human level.

There is near saturation in the print and television media about the primary drivers of climate change. Add to this a robust political debate on how Australia as a nation should address the problem, and then superimpose global activity or inactivity and you can see why the climate change debate ‘noise’ overshadows the actual impacts of climate change on people and businesses, and more specifically the people I represent, commercial ‘wild catch’ fishers.

The Queensland Seafood Industry Association (QSIA) and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) have recognised this and are working together to ensure industry can better prepare itself for the impacts of climate change. The GBRMPA and QSIA have formed a climate change and fisheries partnership to confront the climate change challenge and work with fisheries managers to ensure a sustainable future for the GBR.

My role in the partnership has been to promote attendance at workshops for commercial fishers; to help develop an emissions calculator to assist industry in measuring its carbon footprint; and to develop vulnerability assessments, adaptation plans and conduct ecosystem resilience analyses.  I am also working to better understand the impacts of tropical cyclones (such as Tropical Cyclone Hamish) from a biophysical perspective, and how fishers responded to it in social and economic terms, especially through changing their fishing practices.

I have learnt many things as the QSIA Climate Change Adaptation point person, and consider the following 5 learnings the most significant and potentially useful for other primary industries. More importantly, the difference the efforts that a fisher family can have on their industry has been a key discovery for me as a policy professional.

My Learning Journey

Queensland commercial fishing operators are constantly responding to changes in the legislation that establishes how fishing can be conducted.  Add to this fishing zones in the GBR and it could be argued that this alone keeps fishers busy. Oh, and did I mention they have to run their businesses as well? With youthful optimism I truly believed that as the industry peak body, delivering key messages through the web, email, and a trade magazine would be enough to help generate change. Not so.

Key Learning 1 - Electronic and print communications have a limited degree of success as there is an absence of the human element. Industry wants to see someone leading the discussion and actively seeking industry input.

I have spoken with seafood industry operators about climate change issues on an informal basis. This has provided me with many opportunities to not only create networks of interested seafood industry operators, but also to be welcomed by many fishers and their families.

Key Learning 2 – Building relationships provides valuable feedback. Any barriers to information exchange need to be explored and alleviated (potential industry champions can be identified).

The scene: it is mid-2009 and I have sought and convened a mix of industry operators with commercial fishing, wholesale, and retail experience. The task: provide the group with an opportunity to comment on a fishing industry emissions calculator. The event must have resonated with Tony and Karen Collard (based in Townsville, Queensland).

They both became interested in using the calculator and exploring how they could reduce their operating costs and in doing so lessen their carbon impact while operating in the GBR. They agreed to provide their perspectives on using the emissions calculator as a way to share what they were doing.

Key Learning 3 – Commercial fishers seem to be more willing to listen to someone who knows what it means to be a fisher.

Key Learning 4 – Getting industry to share their stories is a powerful way to deliver climate change messages.

As a result of that one meeting, both Tony and Karen have become actively involved in helping me deliver climate change messages to the commercial fishing industry, most recently at an inaugural Australian seafood industry and climate change symposium held in Brisbane, Queensland. (Keep an eye out in mid-May 2011 for extensive coverage of the event on www.climatechangefishing.com.au).

Karen has also had extensive involvement in developing the fishing industry emissions calculator. In drafting this article, I of course approached Tony and Karen, and they wanted me to relay the following three things that they have learnt from being involved with the fishing industry emissions calculator.

1)        Climate change impacts are still being studied, disputed, and debated. Threats seem to outweigh benefits. The only certainty is that changes to the way we do things are inevitable. Commercial fishers, and indeed all of humanity, need to prepare for future changes to our businesses, our eating habits, and our lifestyles.

2)        Most Queensland commercial fishers are conservationists. They are concerned with the environment, continued sustainability and access to fish stocks, and reducing energy usage (carbon emissions).

3)        To ensure the future success of the Australian commercial fishing industry Commercial fishers, researchers, fisheries managers, and scientists need to develop respectful relationships that value each other’s knowledge and expertise.

The journey continues. My ability to adapt learning related to the climate change issue has been influenced by formal and social networks created through my work with the Queensland seafood industry. This leads into my fifth learning and one that I believe will assist those in the government, not-for-profit and private sectors dealing with climate change to achieve longer-term outcomes.

Key Learning 5 – Talk to each other in as many settings as you can, from formal workshops and symposia to informally sharing a meal or a drink (or an Aussie BBQ). Seek information from ‘on the water’ to understand where people are at.