Provider, responsibly; teacher, definitely


Hugh and Chris Bayly run a family fishing business since 1983 in the South of Australia. They mostly catch fish called ocean jacket, but also cockles and crabs, and then they sell their catch. They are also a couple with children and hobbies, but in the end, as Hugh tells us, all of it is intertwined.“I have always had a love of the sea and nature. Living in rural South Australia near Port Lincoln, it was natural to start working in the fishing industry. I first started working as a fisherman in the mid 70’s, and have been full-time since 1980. My relationship to the sea and the eco-system is very close and very deep, to me the ocean is not just a provider but also teacher, it teaches us what we should and should not do, to try to find a balance.

My wife and I have been running our family fishing business together since 1983; our professional and personal life have been closely intertwined ever since. Our children have all been involved to different degrees; what we can and can’t do has always been dependent on the fishing. My passion outside of fishing is surfing, while my wife is a keen gardener and likes to draw.

We have two boats, one is a 48 foot fiberglass boat we use for fish trapping. We target a fish called ocean jacket, it is a type of leather jacket that we fish offshore. Fish are caught in rectangular steel cages and we have less than 0.5 percent by-catch. The fish are usually 2-5 years old, they have a short life cycle and very high reproduction rates. We are taking only a small catch relative to the biomass of the species, and our method of fishing is aimed at quality and sustainability. As long as the government is sensible and big business is kept at bay, the fishery will be here forever. We also own a 5 meters dinghy for inshore fishing, harvesting cockles and some crabs. My wife spends on average one or two days a week doing book work (wages, billing taxation, etc.).

Our routine is flexible and changes with the weather, the transport and the markets. When the weather is too rough to go fish trapping, we can use the dinghy to fish inshore bays near were we live. But I would say an average day at sea starts at daybreak, the traps have to be baited and set. The traps will be set in a straight line or a square depending on the weather and sea conditions. It generally takes between 2-3 hours to pull the gear, and we will usually pull each trap 3 or 4 times a day. The last trap will come on deck at the end of daylight, then its time to steam to the next days spot, drop the grapple, have some tea and then off to bed!

When we are fish trapping it is myself and two crew members, but over the years all our children and even the extended family have helped in different ways. When fishing from our dinghy it is just myself, or my wife and I. Selling is also a very important part of our business; we sell to fish markets, to wholesalers, to restaurants and to the public.

Sometimes the job can be hard. At times you get tired, and you’re not earning a lot compared for the effort required. Also, during some periods, our children did not see much of their dad, that was hard. But being a professional fisher also has many bright sides, including being in touch with nature and enjoying the environment.

Nature and the way I was brought up would not allow me to fish like some people do. But I believe, more often than not, your individual fisherman would be doing things very differently if given the chance.

We have been trying to run our business as responsibly as we can, both for the environment and those that we have employed. At times it has been very frustrating, sometimes even infuriating, because of the politics and lack of understanding amongst the broader community, but it is a wonderful environment in which to live in and work, and keeps one well grounded. It is also an important basic necessity and we live in the hope that one day society will value it and realign some of its priorities.

The people that we need to be making the tough decisions need to be better documented on what they are dealing with and who they take their advice from (“industry leaders” all too often only means the ones making the most money). It is easy just to close things down, but we need fish as part of our food supply. So the harder, but much more important thing to do, is to find ways of letting the fishermen fish in the right way.

The fishermen and women should be given more opportunities to help educate the public, the politicians and the bureaucrats. Decision makers should be seeking out the advice of people with years of experience, not just at public meetings but on a one to one basis.

Of course we, fishermen, are the custodians of the sea, like farmers for the land, however the decision makers’ responsibility is to support, encourage and promote best practice among those people who are trying to catch or grow food in an ethical sustainable manner.”

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