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Fishing business sets the standard with climate commitment

10:00am February 23 2024

Over a career that has seen him rise from deckhand on a prawn trawler to CEO of a multi-million dollar fisheries business, David Carter didn’t find success by playing it safe.  

That’s why Carter never had any doubt he would succeed in turning his business carbon neutral, despite having many sceptics among his industry peers. 

Commercial fishing has a substantial carbon footprint mainly through its giant diesel-guzzling vessels. The advent of industrial-scale fishing saw the sector’s carbon dioxide emissions quadruple from 1950 to 2016, according to a study published in the Marine Policy journal in 2019.

It was on a trip to Antarctica in 2015 that Carter had what he describes as a “personal epiphany.” Seeing at first hand the impact climate change was having on the polar ice caps convinced him of the importance of transforming his business, Austral Fisheries. 

“I felt I’d finally found my voice. I had permission to talk about climate,” Carter says. “As sizeable emitters of diesel fuel and emitters of CO2, we’ve got to be thinking about how we can make a difference in this.”

In 2016, Austral was certified as a carbon neutral business by the Australian government’s Carbon Neutral Program, just over a year after Carter first pitched the idea to the company’s board.  

For a business to reach net-zero carbon emissions it must balance the amount of carbon released from its operations with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset. That was a challenge for Austral which consumes close to 9 million tons of diesel fuel every year, making up around 85 per cent of its total emissions. 

Lacking commercially-viable options to decarbonise Austral’s fleet of 18 vessels, Carter initially had to lean on carbon offset purchases. The company bought offsets equivalent to planting around 220,000 trees annually through a native reforestation program in the eastern wheat belt of Western Australia. 

Carter has also committed to having all the company’s offices run on renewable power by 2025 and continues to explore greener fuel alternatives to diesel.

In 2021, Austral launched a hybrid electric vessel which Carter likes to call the “Prius of the sea” in a nod to Toyota’s popular hybrid car. Westpac helped fund the state-of-the-art boat and has been fully behind Carter’s drive to make his business more sustainable, deepening a relationship that has already endured for more than three decades.  

“They really care about the big issues like illegal fishing and climate change,” says Paul Chapman, a Senior Relationship Manager with Westpac who has worked alongside Austral for nearly a decade. “It’s not just about offsetting their carbon emissions, it’s now about decarbonising their business and finding new alternative fuels for vessels.”

Climate change is likely to have a direct impact on the fishing industry if global warming continues on its current trajectory. A 2020 study published in the New Scientist magazine found that 10 per cent of the world’s fish species are likely to disappear over the next century even if the Paris Agreement target to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is met. A 5 degree warming would wipe out 60 per cent of species by 2100, the study found. 

Austral is committed to sustainable and ethical fishing practices, with all four of its fisheries certified by the Australia and New Zealand Marine Stewardship Council as sustainable and well managed.  

The company also uses blockchain-driven traceability technology within its prawn and toothfish operations that allows consumers to see details of the history and supply chain of the product. 

“I'd love to see more customers like David that are pushing us to be more creative, to be more supportive and create solutions to help them drive sustainability, so that we can learn from them and then support other customers and have a multiplier effect,” says Siobhan Toohill, Chief Sustainability Officer at Westpac. 

Taking a risk to make your business more sustainable may come with some extra costs initially, Toohill says, but as in Austral’s case, the long-term value will play out in the end. 

Josh Wall is the Head of Video at Westpac Wire. Prior to joining the team, he spent 10 years as a video journalist and documentary filmmaker, most recently as Head of Video for the Guardian Australia. He also worked across numerous News Corp mastheads in Sydney as a presenter, producer, writer and video journalist. Josh is originally from Perth, Western Australia where he began his career by co-creating a video magazine that focused on music and the arts.

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