Australia’s first industry-specific mental health program to support commercial fishers is now underway with a new pilot program starting in three iconic fishing communities.

The Morrison Government is investing $600,000 for Seafood Industry Australia (SIA) to deliver a package of mental health initiatives for the seafood community.

The program will be piloted in industry-selected regions including Darwin, Northern Territory, Lakes Entrance, Victoria and Newcastle, New South Wales. It will provide industry advocates with the training and resources to reduce barriers and respond to mental health issues affecting fishers.

Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries Jonno Duniam said studies had shown a range of factors including job insecurity had led to poor levels of mental health among Australian commercial fishers.

“It’s important that we reduce barriers and stigma when it comes to mental health issues, which we know are prominent in the fishing industry,” Assistant Minister Duniam said.

“Three advocates in each of the pilot communities will receive mental health first aid training and provide support to those in the industry.

“Our fisher men and women are a hardworking bunch, and the industry has been hit hard by the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. We want to ensure they have access to the help they need.”

The program includes mental health first aid training for national industry leaders, and community resilience grants of up to $2000 to provide funding for industry events to be held with information about mental health.

SIA Interim CEO Veronica Papacosta said it was evident that industry needed a specialised program to connect fishers with existing services.

“We understand the pressures our fishers face are unique to industry, and research showed a third of fishers who were suffering psychological stress hadn’t reached out for support because they didn’t feel health professionals would understand the pressures of the fishing industry,” Ms Papacosta said.

“This pilot program has been specially developed to help break the stigma associated with poor mental health within industry, develop a network of trusted industry advocates who fishers could reach out to help them find support, and educate primary healthcare networks about industry pressures.”

The pilot started in June 2020 and will run to April 2022.

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