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OzFish Volunteers of the Year Awards Recognise Outstanding Contributions to the Cause

Organisations like OzFish Unlimited can only survive and thrive because volunteers put their hand up and it’s time to recognise those going above and beyond the call of duty.

The National OzFisher of the Year Award winners have been announced with the deserving volunteers lauded for their tireless efforts in creating better habitat for better fishing for Australia’s only fishing conservation charity.

All seven individuals have made outstanding contributions and are key members of the OzFish community.

David Hastings, a dedicated volunteer from the Central Moreton Bay Chapter, has been named the national OzFisher of the Year for 2023.

OzFish Chief Executive Officer Craig Copeland said all the award winners exemplified the spirit of Australia’s fishing conservation charity which aims to encourage recreational fishers improve our waterways.

“We’re a growing organisation based on trying to restore rivers and habitat but also engaging rec fishers in doing so,” he said.

“These people are the epitome of what that looks like. This is what we want – people caring for their local waterways and these people show that by their deeds.

“We thank them as an organisation and we should recognise that without their efforts and all of the volunteers across the country, all the good stuff that we’re doing just wouldn’t be happening.

“All our volunteers feel happy to give back and proud to be able to contribute. It’s not as if it’s an effort for them, they like their fishing and their waterways and they like to feel good by looking after their backyard.”

National OzFisher of the Year

David thoroughly deserves the honour of winning the second ever National OzFisher of the Year award for his many hours devoted to several projects for the Central Moreton Bay Chapter.

“My first introduction to OzFish was when I saw the Landline program (on ABC) and I thought ‘that’s wonderful’,” he said.

“I’ve been an amateur fisher for ages thinking about the diversity of fish and how poor the actual fishing was and I was thinking of a way to give back and this came up and it was brilliant. It fitted in right with what I wanted to do.”

Affectionately known as “Muttley” by his fellow OzFishers, he has taken the lead on monitoring the largest community-driven shellfish restoration project in Australia.

David drives OzFish’s underwater video monitoring program as well as providing valuable input into process improvements and safety at the Shellfish Recycling Centre while also offering regular assistance to the Chapter’s volunteer oyster shell collection effort.

He is one of more than 300 volunteers who make up the thriving Central Moreton Bay Chapter in Southeast Queensland as they try to restore shellfish reef to the Bay.

“It’s a bit sad there’s so much mud and not much diversity in there so I’m looking forward to the day where we’ve got more shellfish reefs and all those little oysters are sitting back there spitting out the water and giving us some clean water again. That would be fantastic.”

David is retired from a successful career as a professional in the food safety industry and has brought that same necessary attention to detail and focus on safety to OzFish.

He’s too modest to tally up the time he’s spent volunteering, but his Chapter colleagues estimate he’s spent more than 500 hours in the past 12 months alone.

David performs the programmed maintenance on OzFish’s machinery and ensures that everything is running as smoothly as possible.

When there’s a working bee, he is a constant presence, leading and inspiring new volunteers and supporting the more-experienced campaigners in any way that he can.

Collecting oyster shells from restaurants, seafood outlets and commercial shuckers is hot, dirty and smelly work but it is the backbone of the shellfish restoration project and without people like David, it just wouldn’t be possible to keep going.

David is a passionate advocate for increasing the number of female volunteers in the team and always finds a way to include everyone at the working bees.

“We’re happy if someone comes along and just gives us an hour of their time filling Robust Oyster Baskets, shaking them together or stapling them. Or they come along and give us four hours, or they get hooked like me and say, ‘I’m all in and I’ll do quite a bit’,” he added.

On top of all the other work he does, David has taken on the role of Monitoring Manager. This role is responsible for placing and retrieving underwater cameras around the sites where the chapter has placed baskets of oyster shell as part of the research program.

He then coordinates a team of volunteers in reviewing the video footage to record sightings of marine life around the test site.

NSW OzFisher of the Year

Graeme is one of the founding members of the Richmond Chapter in 2015 and has been responsible for numerous projects, including several riparian plantings, root ball snag acquisition and deployment into Emigrant Creek, as well as saltmarsh monitoring and preservation activities.

He has also poured in many hours in monitoring the area’s oyster decline and subsequent replacement of an apparent new disease-resistant oyster now populating the estuary.

Previous Richmond River Chapter President John Larsson, said Graeme was reluctant to have the spotlight on him and avoids having his photo taken due to his selfless nature.

“He’s always there to help when needed,” John said. “He took a team lead with one of our first major riparian projects on a tributary of the Richmond River and all the follow-up work that was needed there.

“The highway redirection provided a lot of root balls for organisations like OzFish up and down the East Coast and he was responsible for getting many of these root balls and woody debris structures in another tributary. It turned out to be another quite successful project.

“He’s also been very helpful with the oyster restoration project on the Richmond River, working with Southern Cross University to provide transport and working out where everyone should go to do all this work.”

Victoria OzFisher of the Year

During the flooding emergency which devastated the north of Victoria last summer, the OzFish Fish Emergency Recovery Teams worked in conjunction with NSW DPI Fisheries, the Murray Darling Basin Authority, Mallee Catchment Management Authority, the Victorian Fisheries Authority, First Nations communities, aquaculture organisations and community members.

The organisations came together to do whatever was necessary to save aquatic species.

Scott and Tracey took time off during the working week and dedicated at least one day every weekend for two months to rescue aquatic species along the flood front.

They also camped out on site after hours to report illegal collection of aquatic species.

Scott and Tracey managed to collect approximately 200 freshwater crayfish out of the 775 that were rescued as well as various native fish species.

Tasmania OzFisher of the Year

Courtney is a newcomer to OzFish, but her enthusiasm and willingness to learn new things and be involved has been incredible.

She has shown a big interest in looking after fish habitat and the outdoors more generally.

She has been a reliable and dedicated volunteer who was attended a range of events in recent times, and is not afraid of getting her hands dirty, including sinking into saltmarsh mud up to her knees.

OzFish in Tasmania is still growing and as we expand, we need more volunteers like Courtney so that we can do more projects that will make a difference all over the state.

Western Australia OzFisher of the Year

Michael has been with OzFish since taking over the reins as Perth Chapter President in the past year. He was particularly helpful through November and December in assisting with the Seeds for Snapper project – Australian largest and longest running seagrass restoration program.

Offering a hand on short notice to help keep the pumps running at OzFish’s seed processing facility at the peak of the season, his efforts saved tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of seagrass fruit from becoming unviable.

He also assisted with volunteer coordination on some of the dive days.

Michael was also heavily involved in the pygmy mussel habitat installations in the Swan River over summer.

Queensland OzFisher of the Year

Julian has helped OzFish’s process for filling Robust Oyster Baskets by building a motorised shaking sieve to remove dry grit from stockpiled oyster shells, instead of throwing the shells against an inclined screen using shovels.

A ramp was needed to improve the reach of the mini excavator which loads shell onto the tumble washer so Julian set to the task with materials and team members to build a ramp, finishing it off with donations of concrete.

At OzFish’s new Port of Brisbane Shellfish Recycleing Centre, the dirt underfoot quickly turned to mud during operations, so Julian obtained a donation of five cubic metres of concrete to provide a safe, even floor.

South Australia OzFisher of the Year

Anne had been a dedicated volunteer in the Seeds for Snapper program since its inception and has been a great support to the project manager, ensuring logistics were taken care of when required.

She ensured that the tanks were monitored and any fruit that was left in the esky by other volunteers was collected regularly and put into the tanks.

Anne kept volunteers up to date regularly on the Seeds For Snapper Facebook page to let them know where fruit had been spotted and to encourage others to collect fruit for the project.

She also attended all the Adelaide Chapter’s working bees to sort and sow seeds into bags and helped to explain the process to other volunteers, so it was done correctly to give the project a better chance of success.

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