Life as a commercial fisherman is a far cry from the idyllic dream of being paid to fish for a living.
For one thing, there’s no beer at hand for the thirsty worker, no deck chairs to sink into while casually throwing a hook into the water in the hope of a catch, and certainly no time to bask in the morning sun.
Commercial Broome fisherman Adam Masters is a testimony to that reality, and no one can accuse him of taking his profession lightly.
The 41-year-old spends approximately 200 days of the year at sea, sometimes for up to 14 days at a time, scouring the deep waters for tropical reef fish with only a handful of crew and Mother Nature for company.
The work is not for the nimble fingered or the faint-hearted. The crew spend their demanding 16-hour days repetitively setting heavy traps to lure beautiful, pristine red emperor, gold band snapper and other reef species and haul the traps back up to reveal a treasure trove of their catch, glistening in the sun.
Then comes the sorting and the packing.
Breaks are short and irregular and conditions volatile at times.
But the challenges don’t stop there.
Commercial operators such as Adam are locked in a constant battle with the State Government over strict fishing regulations, competing with giant oil and gas companies, and protecting Australian waters from illegal fishing activity.
This, however, is the life Adam has loved, maintained and fought for more than two decades.
A professional fisherman like his father Bob Masters, the two share more than work ethos.
As he begins to delve into his fascinating 24-year history of life on the water, it is clear Adam is as equally outspoken and fiercely passionate about his profession as his father.
Adam is an active voice in the Kimberley fishing community and continues to battle alongside fellow commercial operators for a fair go from the Department of Fisheries.
His battle, he says in his own words, is to ensure the “next generation of fishermen are out there” with the same opportunities he had.
Adam started his career aged 17, in the crayfish industry in Geraldton. He worked there for eight years, gained his qualifications and worked as a part-time skipper.
He left in 1996 to join his father Bob in Broome and set up a commercial fishing business together. The remoteness of the town paired with the abundant opportunities on offer were attractive incentives for Adam, and he decided to stay.
“There were good opportunities in those days for people in all walks of life,” he said.
“There was a good future in the fishing industry up here.”
But the following year, the Government imposed new regulations on the commercial fishing sector and the fishing fleet at the time, announcing the consolidation of licences which forced operators to fish in “uneconomically viable” circumstances.
It didn’t stop there. Since then, Adam has continued to battle for commercial fishermen’s rights to fish sustainably.
Careful and viable management regulations were needed, not over-managed, over-regulated policies, he said.
“Our job as commercial fishermen is sustainability … since it has been managed, our catches have increased a lot, due to boats being capable of staying out longer,” Adam said.
“At the inception of the fishery, 23 boats existed with 365 days fishing access, which was reduced to 11 licences at 89 days per licence.
He said he believed this many times over reduction was based on flawed science.
But adhering to the Government’s strict fishing policies have in recent years added increased pressure to local operators.
The Federal Government’s announcement to establish a marine parks network which stretched from the Kimberley to the State’s south coast evoked concern and outrage throughout WA’s fishing and recreational communities.
Adam said there were already management structures in place for sustainable fishing and the marine park posed a threat to food security.
“I believe huge marine parks are unfounded,” he said.
“There is no scientific basis for implementation, there are no threats to fishing.
“More than 70 per cent of our seafood is already imported, and the Federal Government’s marine park is the second largest fishing zone in the world.”
Australia produces 0.3 per cent of global seafood, but makes up a lion’s share of its marine parks.
“Forty-three per cent of all marine parks on the planet are in Australian waters,” Adam said.
Both Adam and Bob have campaigned against the Federal Government’s decision to allow bottom-trawling in waters off the Kimberley, which they say conflicts with the Government’s policy to protect the environment.
“The policies are totally contradictory, it destroys habitat, it’s destructive and unsustainable,” Adam said.
Over the years, he has helped protect Australian waters from illegal fishing activity and was recognised along with his father for their tremendous work with one of the highest accolades in the fishing industry.
“The result of our efforts was the Government providing $300 million in funding to the Customs Department for patrol boats and infrastructure to our northern region to help protect our fish resource from foreign illegal fishing,” he said.
“We did a lot behind the scenes as fishermen who have a right to fish on behalf of the public who own the resources.”
As most of Broome’s commercial and recreational fishers will attest, a major difficulty facing the community is the lack of boating facilities.
Adam said royalties from of WA’s oil and gas resources should fund adequate infrastructure.
Despite continuing to fight to preserve the industry, Adam said he had no regrets about going in to this profession.
“There is hope for the future — it’s arguably the best demersal fishing in the world,” he said.“It’s a lifestyle, not a job,” he said.
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