9 October 2019

Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) Fisheries Officers undertake a wide range of operations, patrols and tasks as part of their duties. Here, AFMA Fisheries Officer David Roberts shares with us his experience on patrols as he achieves over 365 collective days at sea in the Southern Ocean.

As a Fisheries Officer, I have gone from living my normal life in Darwin, enjoying the tropical weather one day, to watching icebergs out of portholes in the Southern Ocean the next.

I have been an AFMA Fisheries Officer for 12 years, working within the National Compliance Operations section based in Darwin and recently celebrated achieving a year on Southern Ocean patrols throughout this time.

I have been on over 16 Southern Ocean patrols, and some have lasted 90 days, but most are for 40 days. Twelve of these patrols were completed alongside the French Marine National under the Cooperative Fisheries Enforcement agreement between France and Australia.

To set the scene for the joint patrols with the French, we are deployed on a vessel with warship comfort in mind, trying to sleep in racks (beds) that are constantly rocking, rolling and moving with every wave.

Some readers may have heard of the strong west-to-east winds in the Southern Hemisphere known affectionately as the Roaring Forties. Well, within my role I have also experienced the Furious Fifties and Shrieking Sixties, which, if their names are anything to go by, are ferocious winds to sail through! It’s an incredible experience witnessing the power that comes from the huge waves only found in the weather patterns that circle the bottom of the globe.

One of my most memorable experiences as a Fisheries Officer is walking out onto the bridge of a patrol vessel and observing 360˚ views of icebergs and a super-pod of whales, which were numbered in the hundreds.

 It’s certainly no holiday, but being deployed to patrol and endure one of the world’s last wild frontiers is an experience I have enjoyed immensely and am very grateful for. Not many people get the opportunities to experience or observe the parts of the world that I have, or experience representing their country on an international stage.

Spending over a year of my life at sea has also come with its challenges, such as the crew on the vessels are often not native English speakers, which makes things interesting. However, the biggest challenge of all is being away from your loved ones, missing anniversaries, children’s milestones and birthdays. That is the biggest challenge working as a Fisheries Officer undertaking long patrols to the Southern Ocean, but I’m passionate about the work that I do and how collaboration with international counterparts contributes to AFMA’s goals.

David Roberts

Fisheries Officer, AFMA