Austral Fisheries’ image and market point of difference are in good hands with David Carter at the helm.
A distant, but memorable, chapter in my life was the part of my childhood when my father owned two prawn trawlers that operated out of Darwin and fished in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
The unfortunate part of this was that, boats being boats, they occupied my father a great deal, and he spent most of his time away from the family.
Even when I joined him in Darwin and on board, an experience that was unforgettable, I would rarely see him as he was too busy fixing the mistakes of others – people who were paid to do a job, without which the boat couldn’t legally operate, yet would be unable to perform when challenges arose.
It was usually due to drink or drugs, or a combination of both.
Imagine being at sea on a 30-metre vessel and hardly seeing your own father because he was in the bowels of some engine room repairing a generator (while the engineer slept off a big hangover).
I learned boats were expensive, time-consuming beasts, whose imposition on the owner grew exponentially with their size.
As a result, I have paid close attention to the fishing industry when I was full-time journalist, but never managed to part with my money to invest in anything more seaworthy than a stand-up paddleboard.
Mr Carter seems like the opposite of me. There was no family history in boats or fishing when he decided (fresh from a marine science degree) the industry was about to take off.
He joined Kailis & France as a graduate and started as a deckhand in 1978. He was probably in Darwin or on the waters of the gulf at the same time I was.
Unlike me, Mr Carter took to the idea of fishing and has been at ever since, all with the very same company, albeit with a name change.
His rise to the top of Austral is well documented in Jordan Murray’s article ‘Austral’s Carter proves a good catch’, which can be found online or in the news pages of this magazine.
What I found as intriguing as his divergent path from mine when confronted by the opportunity of a seafaring life was the way Mr Carter has pushed the envelope at Austral in terms of challenging the status quo.
Generally, I think fishing is a misunderstood business. It operates away from prying eyes, in most cases, and it is perceived to be a laggard in many practices. In part this is because it is mainly a low-margin business producing a commodity product. It has to keep costs low.
Mr Carter is a very strategic thinker and has mustered some threads of innovation around the concept of property rights.
As much as professional fishing is a mystery to many, its right to exist is increasingly under threat from an ever-more-distant consuming public, which wants a clear conscience when purchasing food.
Fishing property rights are, in the main, quite tenuous.
Mainly they are the whim of governments subject to scientific advice and the noise of community activists.
What Austral has done, therefore, is contrary to how I imagine many companies in primary industry would act.
Austral has become more public and transparent, setting standards in areas that seafarers would normally avoid.
It was a leader in moves to drastically cut the number of licences in the northern prawn fishery.
It is half-owned by a Japanese company, yet it has acted in league with controversial activist Sea Shepherd.
It has invested in trees, recognising that it is a heavy user of fuel, which results in high emissions. Its new $45 million boat will have all sorts of ways of generating and saving power to cut back on diesel consumption.
Instead of being defensive about the accidental death of a deckhand, Austral opted for an enforceable undertaking which was more expensive, and riskier – promising to change its ways and opening itself up for inspection.
Austral has been involved in a blockchain experiment to track its Patagonian toothfish through its journey to the dinner plate, helping to ensure its provenance is traceable and further add to the clean and green credentials embedded in its own brand, Glacier51.