The fishing sector is an economic powerhouse, a new Government report has confirmed.

It is the reason why so many communities exist and thrive.

Fishing and seafood are part of our national identity, contributing social as well as economic wellbeing, the report said.

It is the first time the national economic contribution of the seafood industry has been reported.

“Fishing and aquaculture sectors contribute to the economic stability of regional communities through providing a baseline of economic activity throughout the year where other industries operate seasonally, such as tourism,” it said.

But it was not our Government offering this welcome support.

It was the Australian Government in the form of Senator Jonathon Duniam, Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries, in opening the Seafood Directions biennial conference in Melbourne last week.

He said fishing was so important to local communities that his home state of Tasmania was more accurately the Fish Isle, rather than its commonly known title of the Apple Isle.

If fishing declined, he said, the quality of life in the regions will decline as a result.

“We will not achieve the outcomes we have been striving for in employment, investment and healthy, fresh food.”

The Aussies, never shy in extolling their virtues, are keen to champion seafood’s cause.

The report, commissioned by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation on behalf of the Australian Government and undertaken by the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, puts seafood’s economic contribution at $5.3 billion and direct and indirect employment at 41,200.

It notes other benefits such as “commercial fishing vessel skippers and marine farm operators provide assistance and rescues to recreational users of the sea, supporting maritime safety for all”.

Duniam also praised the social licence campaign being run by Seafood Industry Australia, the industry’s peak body akin to Seafood NZ.

The Our Pledge campaign is modelled on this country’s Promise, which introduced a code of conduct and seeks to raise seafood industry trust and reputation amongst the general public.

Duniam said the Pledge was a great example of industry taking the lead, as it should, on an issue critical to its future.

‘We’ve seen in too many industries the crippling damage that the vocal minority can do. And the seafood sector is not immune.

We cannot be complacent.”

Australia’s pro-active positive approach is in contrast to New Zealand where the fishing sector, like farming, is beleaguered, under assault from urban elites who have no concept of food production.

An Australian fisheries leader commented at the Melbourne conference that every time he visited New Zealand he was surprised at the remoteness of officials and what he saw as a failure to get alongside the seafood industry.

That needs to change if the New Zealand seafood industry, celebrated far more overseas than it is at home, is to realise its full potential and help maintain an enviable standard of living.

We need champions.

One of the biggest cheerleaders for the seafood industry is re-elected Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese.

She features in the industry’s Our Promise television campaign this year on the importance of fishing to communities around the country.

And Reese was even more effusive in the lead interview in last Sunday’s edition of Graeme Sinclair’s Ocean Bounty series.

Nelson is Australasia’s biggest fishing port and its activities and all the related services are vital to its economy.

Reese is a keen recreational angler – catching plenty of snapper and blue cod – and recognises the Quota Management System is the key to a sustainable fishery that serves all sectors.

“We are people of the sea,” she says.