Ep 68: David Carter on becoming the world's only carbon neutral fishing company

David Carter’s 40 year career with Austral Fisheries has been defined by an ethos to make the tough decision, not the easy decision. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his commitment to sustainability. 

Starting as a deckhand and rising to CEO today, David has been instrumental in guiding Austral Fisheries, and the industry more broadly,  to act on issues including overfishing, illegal fishing and bycatch, and emissions reductions and climate change.

In this episode we talk about

  • Austral’s journey from commodity to branded, premium product

  • The bold goals that Austral has set on issues like bycatch and carbon emissions

  • How technology can help companies respond to consumer demands & social license issues

  • The 'unlikely alliances' powering Austral Fisheries’ market leading position

One obvious theme from the conversation is how Austral has looked to shape the sustainability conversation for the fishing industry through participating in certification processes and policy-making. For producers in any industry looking at social license issues, or concerned about the increasing visibility of agriculture’s environmental impact, Austral is a great case study of how these conversations can be collaborative rather than combative.

“Sometimes you just have to say yes and work it out as you go” 

Whether it was reducing bycatch, addressing illegal fishing, or acting on climate change,  the sustainability commitments that David has helped Austral to make have been pioneering. 

David talks about what he calls “fearless transparency” - where Austral took a stand on a problem, knowing that it wasn’t pretty, but sharing openly where they started and where they hoped to get to.

On bycatch for example, Austral set a public goal to reduce bycatch by 30%. At the time, they didn’t know if this was even possible. But by making the commitment to find out, and creating incentives for others- especially those on the front line- to help drive progress, they were able to reach the goal within 2 years. Even today, they continue to improve.

Unlikely bedfellows 

Austral has a long history with surprising partners, including NGOs like Sea Shepherd and the World Wildlife Foundation. David shares how these relationships have become extremely fruitful collaborations, explaining that there’s a major incentive for these NGOs to partner with commercial actors who are in a position to enact change.

For David and Austral, stepping up to collaborate with these organisations has helped to make Austral the market leader it is today. Rather than fighting the trends and retreating, David’s stories show how producers and agricultural industries can advance by engaging with the voices demanding change, and help to set the standards by participating in tough, uncomfortable conversations. 

Additional Resources

Key takeaways