Rob Fish: It’s Time to Define Ourselves

Written by Rob Fish, Chairman of the Northern Territory Seafood Council

Rob Fish

The seafood industry is finally working on establishing an effective peak body for the industry and I, for one, am thankful and excited.

I have been involved in these issues for some time, and the discussions go round in circles for good reason.  Everyone you speak to is expecting something different from the peak body: industry promotion, development of export or domestic markets, lobbying and, of course, in some cases people don’t want the body at all. Just ask yourself what you think a peak body should do and see if you can find one person with the same view. Trying to be all things to all people is destined for failure, so something has to change.

With this recognized, it should still be a relatively simple matter to define the aims and roles of a peak body. But this is not the case. Why?

Because as an industry, we have failed to define ourselves, never mind our goals.

There are certainly those that see the industry as any business involved in seafood, from producers to wholesalers to farmers and importers. Am I interested in such a group? My answer is maybe. What I do know is that I am definitely in the fisher / farmer / primary producer camp. So before I consider a broader group of possible allies, I need to know where we (the producer camp) are going. We need an agreed direction for producers before we can consider the value in any proposed strategies.

For over 10 years now, despite unprecedented demand for seafood, we have been treading water at best. I can hear the comments: ‘we just need to promote ourselves better’, ‘we need to pay a better lobbyist’, ‘we need to become more sustainable’, ‘get third party accreditation’, or even ‘just market seafood with importers to increase demand’. They may all be great ideas or strategies, but why? What is it that we are trying to achieve?

Somehow we have let our strategies become our goals.  Issues like social license, public image, and even sustainability are not, and should not be, industry goals. They may well be essential strategies but they are not what should be driving us.

Now the actual goals will need to be set by the broader industry, but this might be a good start:

‘Australian wild harvest and aquaculture producers seek growth in value and volume for their world class seafood.’

When I ask myself ‘what are the risks to achieving this goal?’ I know why sustainability and the need to improve and maintain our social license are so important. These things are vital to industry growth. Surely growth is our goal.

More importantly, with this goal set we can assess our risks, strengths, competitors, and allies, and agree on strategies to go forward. We won’t be treading water once we know where we are going.

A call to arms if you want. We, as the Australian seafood production industry, need to define ourselves and set some targets for industry growth. We will have allies in restaurants and wholesalers and even importers, but it will be planned and we will know why. Jobs, growth, and Australian seafood.

I can clearly see the need for a modern peak body, but importantly, we must know what it’s for.


This post originally appeared in Rob Fish’s Chairman’s Report for the March Northern Territory Seafood Council newsletter

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