Next time you enjoy your fish and chips on a Friday night, spare a thought for the person who caught the fish.
Hundreds of people who fish (fishers) head out to sea each day to ensure we have the best kaimoana in our supermarkets and restaurants. Then there are the marine farmers too.
There is no job like it — but if we want to keep enjoying our amazing seafood, we need to better look after those who catch it.
Each week I talk with fishers and those in aquaculture throughout the country who often tell me something similar: they are finding things tough.
In recent years, those in the fishing sector have come under increased challenges. Economic stresses and regulatory change have made the job difficult for many.
More recently, the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle has left a trail of destruction not appreciated by many. Much of the ocean floor around the affected coastline is full of debris and silt, making fishing difficult.
Working at sea or as a marine farmer is a great job. It’s a lifestyle choice for many, and when you get the bug it’s hard to think about any other career — but it does come with challenges. We know that some people in our profession are struggling, and anxiety, depression and burnout have become all-too-common words on our wharves.
As a country, we have become more aware of the unique mental health pressures many in the primary industries face, and those in the fishing sector are no different.
I work with FirstMate, an organisation set up to help support the wellbeing and mental health of those who work in the commercial seafood sector and their whānau. In the short time we have been operating, FirstMate has been able to help people from across all walks of the commercial seafood sector navigate the choppy waters of professional fishing.
Whether you are a newbie, an old seadog or a land-based seafood worker, anyone is welcome to contact FirstMate. Many people remark that being able to talk openly with those who understand some of the harder parts of the job is a huge relief.
What has amazed me is the pressure some of our people feel at the moment. Consistent negative news about the sector has meant some in the community view fishers as reckless, pillaging the sea and not caring about the future.
The reality is that professional fishers in New Zealand are passionate about sustainability. Their livelihood will disappear without sustainable practices. They care deeply about the waters they fish in and want to ensure our ocean continues to have a richly diverse fish population available for all to enjoy.
If we want to improve our fishers’ mental health and wellbeing, we need the help of ordinary Kiwis. It doesn’t take much. Next time you see your local fisher, go and say hi. Ask them how they are. Thank them for their work. These little gestures go a long way for people who help to ensure we are well fed.
I have been in this industry my whole life and am passionate about people getting involved in such a rewarding career.
That is why I, and my colleagues, want to turn the tide to improve mental health and wellbeing in our seafood sector. I believe we can do it — we just can’t do it alone.
– Darren Guard has more than 30 years’ experience in the fishing sector and supports the FirstMate Navigators. If you are a commercial fisher or their whanau and need support, reach out to FirstMate at firstmate.org.nz or 0800 ADRIFT