Sardine Fisherman are pioneers, innovators & visionaries

Australian Year of the Farmer Introducing Executive Officer of the South Australian Sardine Industry, Paul Watson. Paul was a prawn fisherman for many years before taking on this role in the Sardine Industry. His passion for sustainable fishing is clear and I thank him for being a part of my blog.


1. Summary of the Sardine Industry

Port Lincoln plays host to a broad range of primary production enterprises, from a vibrant agricultural grain belt on lower Eyre Peninsula, to the famous Coffin Bay Oyster, and a host of other aquaculture and wild catch fisheries.

An amazing but lesser known growth story has stemmed off the back of the Tuna ranching industry and the South Australian Sardine Industry was born in the early 1990’s.

Paul Watson - Executive Officer SA Sardine Industry

Paul Watson - Executive Officer SA Sardine Industry

This wild catch Industry is the primary food source for the growing out and fattening of the Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry destined for the Japanese market.

The humble little Sardine, while possibly the smallest of all commercially fished species, now sits firmly as Australia’s largest single species fishing industry by volume and sustainably harvests a whopping 34,000 tonnes annually from the waters of lower Spencer Gulf and the Great Australian Bight.

Amazingly this only represents about 15 % of the estimated biomass per annum. A 30% harvest is considered conservative in most other fisheries of a similar nature globally.

The future looks bright for the sardine Industry as it assures a reliable feed source for the Tuna ranchers reducing the need to import from less sustainable resources.

There are also un-tapped opportunities for the Fishery to develop new ranges of products for the Human consumption market. Several operators have already taken this path and are installing specialist equipment to capitalise on a growing seafood appetite from sustainable fisheries.


Sardine fishing off the Great Australian Bight

Sardine fishing off the Great Australian Bight

2. What is the best lifestyle factor that your industry enjoys?

The fishermen in Port Lincoln have been pioneers, innovators and visionaries and their drive and passion have helped them weather the stormy environment that is such a normal part of doing business on and off the ocean in this incredibly tough Industry.

For most, it’s a way of life and almost without exception even the most successful fishing families have at some point experienced the agony of defeat at the hands of the elements, and variables beyond their control.

Mechanical failure, failed partnerships, weather, banks, exchange rates, family feuds, you name it they’ve seen it all……….No different to farming really!

Joe Tapley on the Sardine fishing boat, Karie

Joe Tapley on the Sardine fishing boat, Karie

3. What do you foresee as your biggest short term and long term challenges in farming? (e.g. Global debt? Food Security? Water Security? National Security? Carbon Tax? Other?)

Like all primary production, although the future looks bright, the looming global issues weigh heavily on the minds of all. Rising fuel and operating costs, red tape, over regulation, political correctness, marine parks, are all generic issues that most fishermen face regardless of their target species.

Food security across the globe may stand to re-shape the way fisheries are managed and harvested, and the expansion of countries like India and China will no doubt turn their attention to cheaper protein sources like Sardines.

Australia and particularly South Australia have been world leaders in Fishery resource management and unfortunately as fisheries around the globe are often painted in poor light as being less that environmentally conscious, we have done a poor job at showcasing just how well our resources have performed and will continue to perform if managed in the current conservative manner.

Many environmentalists consider all fishing to be just plain bad, and don’t bother to dig a little deeper. There are some fantastic good news stories in SA Fisheries.

Sardine Fishing on the Markane, Port Lincoln SA

Taking a break from fishing on the Markane, Port Lincoln, SA

4. What do you wish non-farmers / city people & the Australian Government understood about farming. What message would you like to put on a billboard in Collins Street?

If I could put a billboard in Collins St, or ask Government leaders one question or point out one thing about the fishing Industry, I would ask “ Do you know which primary production enterprise leaves the least environmental footprint?”

I have asked this question many times to the unwary…have a guess…

…its commercial fishing.



You can contact Paul Watson at the SA Sardine Industry via email:

SA Sardine Industry

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