2019-20 Year in review, AFTA has been busy!

Michael Starkey

President, Australian Fishing Trade Association

Presidents Report AGM 2020

Well, what a year it has turned out to be!

When I stood up at the Gala dinner in 2019, having just taken up the reigns as the AFTA President and spoke of my vision for AFTA, I could never have imagined the challenges that we were all to face this year. I spoke of seeing AFTA continuing to grow as a strong industry body that that not only helps fight the political fights when necessary but can offer greater value to its members through enhanced member benefits. If we all join together, we can ensure our great industry and sport continues to grow.

Let’s go back to the 2nd half of last year. The committee decided that the time was right to add some additional resources to assist the board members. Given the inability to employ any contractors over the previous three years, and a board who wanted to take AFTA to the next level, things were becoming unmanageable and unfair to those taking up the slack.

The first part of this was to confirm the Honorary Bob Baldwin as a contractor for AFTA, to fulfil the duty of being the political liaison as well as the Committee chairman. This chairman position was to provide governance and general AFTA duties. Bob has been with us for a year now, and I have to say, it has been a great benefit with his contacts and ability to read and navigate the political minefield. There has been a massive amount of work behind the scenes to keep our industry secure. Bob will present his report, which highlights some of these initiatives.

The next stage was someone to communicate with our members and take care of the general administrative tasks required for AFTA to run smoothly. Unfortunately, this process has taken longer than planned, and after our first contractor didn’t work out, there was some reassessment of what we required in the role. We now have a contractor with previous experience with AFTA and the industry. Heatha has been assisting the Board since July 1st, and we are now able to move forward with our plans. 

Looking back to the summer holiday period, we had the worst bushfire season Australia has ever seen, and that really hurt some businesses in our industry. With the overwhelming push from the general public to help, we as a committee decided the best way to do so, was to fundraise, with local committees to decide how the money was to be used. More details on this will be covered at the AGM, but AFTA decided to kick the fundraiser off with a 20k donation. It was great to see other companies also donate; I think all donors deserve a mention, regardless of the amount, a full list of people and companies can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/australian-fishing-industry-disaster-appeal . However, a special mention must go to those generous companies who made more substantial donations of 5k+ . These include Fuji Kogyo (Fuji Rod Building Components), Shimano Fishing Australia, Daiwa Australia, Pure Fishing Australia,  J.M. Gillies, Tackle World Group and Frogleys Offshore. Thanks to everyone, AFTA raised a staggering total of over $129,000.

We created a National Committee (chaired by Billy) and a Southern NSW/Eastern VIC committee (chaired by myself) and allocated the majority of the funds to the Southern NSW/Eastern VIC region that was most devastated by this disaster. The balance of funds will be distributed in the area that needs it most.  AFTA is holding the money in trust until we can safely move ahead with plans. These plans have stagnated since being put into lockdown, we are continually discussing what this assistance will look like, and how we move forward, but this cannot be finalised until the current crisis settles down.

The COVID-19 situation is a delicate one to discuss, with some areas and stores not faring especially well, notably an eight week period where Victoria was locked down and unable to fish. Some stores around the country have done some fantastic business during this time and continue to do so.

At the start with all the unknowns, I think you would have to be crazy to say you knew what was going to happen; the unknowns were the biggest problem, can we fish, can we go outside, are we locked down to the house, do I need more toilet paper?

After the initial shock and the media created panic, Australia came together and settled down; this is where a more common-sense approach came into play from the public and not fighting the government restrictions. This is where AFTA shone, making a massive difference in helping governments try and make an informed decision regarding fishing, in came Bob. In Victoria, we worked hard, but the health directive in Victoria was so strong; the government made a decision and stuck to it, right or wrong, who will ever know, but at that stage, it did stop the cases in Victoria from spreading.

It was mostly due to AFTA’s hard work, that the massive win for the NSW rec fishing community was apparent. We didn’t feel it was the time to release our involvement but having been privy to the conversation; I feel that AFTA should be recognised for the assistance it provided. NSW actually shut recreational fishing down at the start of COVID-19 in stage 3 lockdowns. It took the public a few days to realise that fishing was not allowed, during this time AFTA was conversing with various departments on behalf of recreational fishers. Like most states, the power for the decisions was in the hands of the health department and the police department in enforcing the restriction that the health department and Premier put into place.

In NSW, we had a direct line to one of these departments and we highlighted to them the benefits of fishing on mental health. For many rec fishing participants, this activity is the release from the world and is that is especially important in this crisis. Contrary to popular belief, it was not exercise, really how much exercise can you get from sitting in boat or on the bank fishing? It was due to the mental health benefits that the previous decision was overturned and fishing was allowed as a Level 3 lockdown activity. If AFTA had not had a contact to communicate with, it may not have been the case or may have at least taken a lot longer for the NSW government to overturn and allow.

In the middle of all this and the governments’ announcements, we had the annual AFTA tradeshow coming up, the problem with the show was that it was getting close to 3 months out. At that time, there were full cancellation fees, and we were already up to 80% cancellation fees. While everyone says the venue should not have charged, their hands were also tied, the governments’ restrictions at that point were until the end of June, our show scheduled for July meant at that stage there were no restrictions on having the event.

AFTA took a stance early and decided to cancel the show. This decision was to give anyone who had already booked flights and accommodation the chance to arrange a refund as it was unknown how long the COVID-19 crisis would last. We didn’t want to be like other countries leaving it to the last minute to cancel.

The Gold Coast Convention Centre helped out where they could; initially, they could only change our dates without financial penalty to the same financial year, meaning we had to book for June 21. This date presented some conflict with overseas shows and the COVID-19 crisis was showing no signs of letting up, fortunately, the convention centre allowed us to push back a month to July 21 without penalty.  This date is a good result for AFTA members.

I started this report with my vision that AFTA continues to promote the growth of our sport. We know AFTA needs to offer more significant value to our membership; it needs to be more than just in the political arena.  Given the issues this year with COVID-19 and new delays in staff, we have not achieved everything we planned. We have, however been busy, and I want to give a little insight into what AFTA has been working on.

AFTA has been finalising the NSW School’s program. We have had video’s produced, which have been distributed to NSW schools that run a marine program. This is done as an entry-level, ‘how to fish program’ which we hope to expand upon going forward. The initial release of this has happened, and we can make these videos public soon to assist the whole industry with the teaching material to help young people get involved in fishing.

AFTA is currently deploying a Kiosk program. This program involves the setup of 6 trial kiosks (iPads on a stand) with loaded with a survey. We hope the data generated by these kiosks will provide more insight into our industry. This Kiosk program can also be used by government agencies to access more up to date data. There is already keen interest from FRDC in reaching the rec fishing community, which will hopefully allow AFTA to obtain more grants to expand the program to more Kiosks to obtain further industry data.

AFTA has been chasing other things to help the members out; I am happy to announce that we have now signed an agreement with Network Steadfast to provide insurance at reduced rates to members.  AFTA will receive a percentage of their commission which will help AFTA setup the new Kiosk program. Check it out as their rates are very competitive, Shimano has been a member for time and found their services very good. Frogleys Offshore has also obtained a quote to compare rates, and I can say they have come up very well. More information is now on our website.

Another member benefit that we will be releasing in the coming months is some industry insights. AFTA has decided to purchase regular updates from Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) the import data for the Fishing industry, while the data is not broken down into depth, it does provide the quantities and value and locations of what fishing products are coming into Australia. We have also purchased backdated data for comparison purposes. This data will be released to members only on our website and will be updated as we get new information, quarterly or every six months. This data will give us a better idea of the recreational fishing industry and is broken down into Rods, Reels, Terminal plus a couple of other smaller categories.

We have created a pilot video campaign, which includes a series of 15 second tv ad clips, as well as a longer compiled version for use on Social media and events. While not yet complete, with footage still to come, we aim to run the campaign within the next year.

The basis of these clips is ‘Lets Go Fishing’, which we are going to change to ‘Lets Fish Australia’, but the idea is the same, every clip is a heartfelt moment with people fishing. We wanted these to send a clear message, getting back to the roots of why people fish. I admit I am slightly biased, as I have been involved in the making these clips. So far, we have been able to do so with minimal budget allocation. I hope that after seeing some of these clips, you are enthusiastic about the benefit to the industry. If the industry gets behind the message and produces their own clips with their media personalities or local fisherman, then the message becomes stronger, Lets Fish Australia, simple, easy and emotional!

These pilot clips can be downloaded on the following page https://afta.net.au/lets-fish-australia-pilot-videos/ Please remember the main one uses stock footage, we are still obtaining the right footage, but this will give you the idea of what we are trying to achieve.

I would also like to mention that both Shimano and Frogleys Offshore have produced similar videos with their profile anglers, Steve Starling, Paul Worsteling and Rob Paxevanos.  These portray a similar message and are available for you to use if needed by contacting these companies. It gives you an idea of what you can do as a brand to help once we launch this message and get it throughout Australia.

I want to take this opportunity to thank our Past President, who is stepping off the Board this year, Colin Tannahill. Col has put in a massive effort during the last few years, especially with the lack of staff, meaning there were many after-hours calls and emailing to get the AFTA work done.  AFTA would not be in the great position it is to get through COVID-19 and still have a solid footing to grow and provide more benefits for its members without the assistance of Colin. Thankfully, he will still be around and available for us to draw on his wealth of knowledge; he was and still is an excellent ear for me bounce ideas off. We don’t always agree, but that is what was great about the working relationship, we listened to each other, made up our minds and once the decision was reached whichever way it went, the support was there. Thanks, Colin from all of AFTA and myself for the support and the bedrock AFTA now has to continue.

As you have read the last year has been a busy period for AFTA, even in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis AFTA has and is still improving what it does to help the members. This will continue into 2021, and with some fresh blood we can draw on, we hope that 2021 AFTA will continue to improve its members’ benefits and help support and grow the recreational fishing sector.

Michael Starkey