Henry Oak has been an observer with Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) for over two years and he says his career is just getting started.
Observing on commercial fishing vessels has taken me right around Australia and down to the Sub-Antarctic, it’s a pretty exciting and adventurous job. I’ve done a number of trips to the Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) Fishery, so it’s great when I can snag a trip up north in the Northern Prawn Fishery as I love the warmth. HIMI trips are always long and cold, and in the two and a half years I’ve been an observer with AFMA my tally is up to 330 sea days for HIMI trips alone.
HIMI has some of the wildest weather conditions with powerful winds and huge swells. There was an occasion where we were met with a series of 16-18 metre waves. The force was strong enough to send the flat screen TV in the mess area crashing onto the floor and pulled the fridge off its wall brackets.
I’ve also done a couple of trips on purse seine vessels that target southern bluefin tuna (SBT). The amount of effort invested in catching these fish is absolutely mind blowing. From planes flying overhead spotting schools of fish miles away to smaller vessels towing cages, purse seine vessels shooting nets around a school of fish, and dinghies and divers working to transfer the fish to the tow cages. The one tow trip I have done took 19 days as we were towing two cages and the weather was working against us – so much so we were travelling backwards some days. Once we arrived at our destination, the fish were sampled to obtain an average weight, and counted using a video feed as they were transferred to the grow-out cages.
I’ve also come across interesting non-target fish from areas in the Southern Ocean and off the East coast of Australia like the jellynose fish, striped cowfish, anglerfishes, sea toads, dragonfishes, snailfishes and icefishes just to name a few.
One memorable assignment I was involved with was the retrieval of an Australian Marine Mammal Centre’s acoustics whale recorder located near Heard Island. During one of my Southern Ocean deployments, I was tasked to operate the deck box that signalled the acoustic release of its mooring at a depth of 1000m, allowing the recorder to float to the surface. The crew on board did a superb job locating, retrieving and securing the recorder for its journey home.
Becoming an observer has been a really fulfilling experience. After studying a marine science degree and working in various roles in the marine science field in Commonwealth and state government departments I submitted an application to AFMA’s Temporary Employment Register and was stoked to receive the offer to become an AFMA Observer. I love working with marine life and the variety of work and environments I get to work in, it’s a real adventure.
AFMA places observers on Commonwealth commercial boats in many Commonwealth fisheries to collect, accurate and reliable data on fishing operations, catches, and interactions with the marine environment by the vessel and its fishing gear.
More information on the AFMA Observer Program can be found at afma.gov.au