Australian fishermen are enduring levels of psychological distress almost double that of the general population, according to a new study.
Deakin University researcher Dr Tanya King released the initial findings of her study this week, the first nationwide examination of the health of Australia's fisher workers.
Dr King said the results showed levels of high and very high psychological distress among fishers that are higher than would be reasonably expected in a random sample.
“As worrying as this data is, it isn’t surprising,” Dr King said.
“For many years those working in the fishing industry have shared their stories of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide, but we’ve never had the statistical data with which to support the overwhelming anecdotal evidence until now.”
About 1000 registered commercial fishers across Australia responded to the 13-page survey, demonstrating a 19 per cent rate of depression among industry workers compared to the estimated national diagnosis of 10 per cent.
Eden commercial fisherman Drew Mudaliar said that while he was not personally affected, it was definitely an issue in the industry.
“There are a lot of push factors like poor home life, no sleep, drinking and smoking, not to mention government reform,” Mr Mudaliar said.
“I work offshore, but a lot of fishermen in the estuaries are always under pressure because of the reforms, whether it be for tourism or otherwise.”
He said the image of the fishing industry needed to be improved.
“We’re not held in the same regard as other agricultural producers. Just look at the milk industry,” Mr Mudaliar said.
“The last five years have been tough. A lot of fishermen have lost their livelihood.”
Dr King said 39 per cent of respondents said they had been dissuaded from addressing their physical and mental health problems because they felt their general practitioner did not understand the pressures of the fishing industry.
“Despite the industry contributing more than $3 billion to the national economy each year, Australians don’t culturally value fishers like we venerate farmers,” she said.