Aquaculture for all
The Fish Site presents: The Vienna Sessions - Conversations about aquaculture. 9 video interviews with aquaculture thought leaders. Watch here.

Australian Seafood Industry: A Look at Employment


The Australian seafood industry plays an important role in employment. This study looks at current employment information in the seafood industry and highlights the need for more transparent data and available information on employment, education and training.



In 2011, the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation commissioned the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) to undertake a scoping analysis of the employment, education and training data needs of the Australian seafood industry. The analysis is part of an expanded body of work that ABARES is undertaking over the period to 2013-14 under ABARES Fisheries Statistics project. One of the objectives of that project is to improve the current information about employment across the Seafood industry. This study addresses that objective and reports the findings of the scoping analysis and provides general guidance as to the datasets that need to be compiled to adequately inform the industry in its workforce decisions.

Commercial wild-catch fishers, aquaculture producers and post-harvest enterprises are one part of the wider fishing and aquaculture industry and collectively form the Australian seafood industry. The seafood industry captures commercial activities and as such also includes some non-food items such as pearls. Other parts of this broader industry include recreational fishers and associated commercial enterprises and Indigenous customary fishers. However, these are not discussed in this report.

The seafood industry is large and regionally diffuse and makes a significant contribution to Australia’s economy. In 2009–10, the gross value of Australian fisheries production and exports was $2.2 billion and $1.2 billion, respectively. Australia was also a large importer of fisheries products, with imports in 2009–10 valued at $1.5 billion. These figures exclude income generated by fishery product processing, and wholesale and retail activities. A number of factors affect employment, education and training in the Australian seafood industry. These include increasing competition for labour resources, significant gaps in the information base and the existence of uncertainty surrounding industry needs in relation to education and training and the number of people in the industry accessing these opportunities. In this labour market environment, the industry faces a number of challenges, including less skilled people applying for positions, a high turn-over of staff and adapting to the ageing Australian workforce.

This report highlights the information and datasets that currently exist for informing the Australian seafood industry on employment, education and training issues. This is done through:

  • assessing the main attributes of the current datasets on employment, education and training in the Australian seafood industry
  • assessing the workforce development needs by considering whether current employment, education and training datasets are adequate for the planning of industry workforce needs
  • identifying workforce datasets that need to be further developed, collected and compiled to satisfy the needs of the seafood industry.

Accentuating labour market issues for the seafood industry is the increased difficulty in attracting suitable workers to the industry, maintaining and retaining skills within the industry and effectively utilising skills. While some of these issues are being addressed through on-the-job training, in-house training resources are likely to be stretched given the current operating environment. Significant restructuring of fisheries in recent years has led to smaller fleet sizes in many fisheries. Moreover, a number of external factors, including a high exchange rate and higher business input costs, particularly fuel, have increased the industry focus on sustaining profitability. These factors are likely to have reduced the availability of funding for training and development of staff resources.

Datasets and information on employment, education and training are available for workforce planning from various sources. The seafood industry and maritime training packages outline nationally endorsed competency standards and qualification for workers in Australia’s seafood industry, and guide the delivery of training in the industry. The Australian Bureau of Statistics provides employment and education data through the national census data, the labour force survey and the survey of education and work. The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations provides various websites containing employment, education and training data relevant to the seafood industry. The National Centre for Vocational Education Research conducts a number of surveys and obtains a number of collections regarding education and training programs. The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia dataset contains extensive annual information on employment, education and training. Each Australian state and territory also conducts analysis across a broad range of issues affecting their respective fisheries sectors. Many of these databases have been constructed using standard industry/occupational classifications. In many cases these classifications are too broad to capture detailed information on the seafood industry.

A number of industry characteristics affect the collection of employment, education and training datasets. Fishing seasonality, the less formal employment arrangements whereby crew are remunerated on the basis of catch, and the way the fishing industry advertises position vacancies make capturing employment-related data difficult. Workers are only intermittently employed in the industry and in periods that may not coincide with statistical data collection exercises. Also, recruitment is not commonly advertised on popular job search websites such as SEEK, MyCareer, CareerOne and Australian JobSearch, making it difficult to track changes in labour demand in the industry.

As part of the study, ABARES conducted a stakeholder survey to better understand the employment and training data needs of the Australian seafood industry. The stakeholders operate in various Australian states and territories, and include major seafood companies, industry associations, seafood wholesale markets, smaller commercial fishing and aquaculture businesses and experts on education and training. Stakeholders within the commercial fishing, aquaculture and seafood processing, sales and distribution sectors all identified common labour market issues, including the attraction and retention of young, skilled and qualified employees. Stakeholders from all three sectors expressed interest in the availability of employment data. Along with other benefits, stakeholders believed that employment data can be beneficial in mapping out skills formation strategies for the industry. Through the stakeholders’ responses on the availability of education and training data, it was identified that there is a general lack of education and training data available to adequately inform the industry in making decisions for succession planning and future workforce needs.

Following the review of the current employment, education and training datasets and related information, and a review of the responses to the ABARES stakeholder survey, two major conclusions are drawn. First, it is difficult to access the available and limited datasets and information for informing workforce decisions in relation to people development in the industry. Second, there is a gap in the current information available on employment, education and training for the seafood industry in terms of coverage and reliability. Following on from this study, the analysis suggests that an industry-wide survey is needed to collect further workforce data to assist the industry to better plan for its future work force requirements.

A number of considerations are highlighted as being important in future research involving such data collection:

  • The data collected need to accurately identify the labour market trends for the industry.
  • Ideally, data collected will enable profiling of the workforce; for example, age and gender clusters, numbers of workers from culturally and linguistically diverse groups, numbers of workers obtained through immigrant visa schemes, and the educational attainment of workers in the industry.
  • Data should be collected regularly so trends can be determined. The resulting datasets should reflect the significant seasonality that exists in the industry, and record total numbers working and full-time equivalents.
  • Data on education and training need to identify the number of people participating in courses and the geographical spread of that participation. It is important that datasets not only record enrolments in specific seafood industry training courses but also completions.
  • Data on the employment destinations of people who complete graduate or vocational training need to be collected. It is important to better understand where students end up working after graduation, their role/position, the duration of employment and the type of employment—full-time, part-time or casual.
  • It is desirable that data relating to education and training be aligned with the classifications in the Seafood Industry Training Package to make the datasets more relevant to the industry.

January 2012

Further Reading

- You can view the full report by clicking here.