Deckhand to CEO - A Forty Year Sustainable Seafood Journey
Mr Carter graduated from Melbourne University in 1978 with a science degree, specialising in marine zoology. Soon after his graduation, he reached out to what was then KFV Fisheries from Melbourne. He spoke to Murray France, a man who has since become Mr Carter's lifelong friend and mentor, enquiring about a position at KFV.
“The initial interview took place between David and I by phone. He explained that with his science degree he could apply to one of the scientific institutes (the likes of CSIRO et al.) or he wondered if there was an opportunity in the fishing industry. He had learned that our business was rapidly expanding. It occurred to me that we would be wise to recruit a suitable person as a management trainee. David agreed to fly to Perth for further discussions,” explains Mr France.
“I outlined my ideas of a program for a management trainee scheme. It would require David to spend time (years) working in all areas of the business and perhaps after five or so years he may be able to become a productive member of our management team. I wanted David to spend time at sea working as a fisherman (not a supernumerary visitor); in the engineering
and shipbuilding and vessel refit industry; in the seafood processing factories; and in the office learning the admin, finance and marketing side of the fish business. David agreed and the training began. And what a journey it has been. I vividly recall seeing David - with a wild ‘Afro’ hairdo if you can imagine - on the deck of a prawn trawler some years after he joined and he asked me ‘you haven’t forgotten me have you?’ No, I hadn’t forgotten David.”
Mr Carter has indeed been exposed to all aspects of the fishing industry, as was Mr France’s intention 40 years ago when it all began. Throughout this journey there have been some significant and arguably career-defining moments.
While more of a 25 year concerted effort than a “moment”, Mr Carter was a key player in the drastic reduction of over-fishing in the Northern Prawn Fishery (NPF). A flourishing fishery in the 1970s, the NPF soon turned into a 300 vessel free-for-all by the early 1980s, perpetuated by the absence of sustainability regulations and proper management.
The Federal Government funded a vessel buy-back scheme to reduce the amount of prawns being caught, and industry influence from the likes of the late Theo Kailis and then David Carter were pivotal in the eventual turnaround of the fishery.
As Murray France recalls, “His patience, perseverance and intelligence earned him respect in industry and government circles and allowed him to play a pivotal role in the dramatic restructuring of the Northern Prawn Fishery.”
In 2012, the Northern Prawn Fishery was the first tropical prawn fishery to be independently certified as sustainable under the standards set by the Marine Stewardship Council. Today, the fishery flourishes and is buoyed by continued efforts to improve its sustainability credentials. A fair effort for a fishery once on the brink of collapse.
Down to the inhospitable sub-Antarctic waters and home of the highly prized Patagonian Toothfish and Mr Carter's influence at the helm of Austral Fisheries followed a similar trend.
In 2003 Austral Fisheries became founding members of the Coalition of Legal Toothfish Operators (COLTO), established by legal industry members to eliminate Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing for toothfish.
At the time of COLTO’s formation, IUU catches were double the legal catches of Toothfish and various fisheries were facing a crisis of overfishing. Today, through the collaborative efforts of COLTO Members, CCAMLR, Flag States, Port States and conservation NGOs, IUU fishing for Toothfish has been virtually eliminated, and seabird bycatch is at ‘near-zero’ levels.
“David’s lead role in the successful development of the extremely sensitive sub-Antarctic fisheries is without equal. His liaison and cooperation with leading conservation groups - beginning with an MOU with WWF - was and still is a pacesetter in the Australian and international fishing industry,” recalls Murray France.
It’s clear that sustainability has been at the forefront of Mr Carter's leadership efforts whilst CEO of Austral Fisheries. This was evident again in 2016 when Austral Fisheries became the first seafood company in the world to be certified as carbon neutral, under the Australian Government Carbon Neutral Program.
The result? 100% of Austral Fisheries’ carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions are now offset each year through a native biodiverse revegetation project in the Yarra Yarra Biodiversity Corridor, 400 km north east of Perth. Austral’s commitment has resulted in over 200,000 native trees being planted each year, emphasising Mr Carter's leadership and vision for a fully sustainable seafood industry.
More recently it has been cutting edge technology, a passion of Mr Carter's in his spare time, that has captured his attention at Austral, spurning a collaboration with a platform focussed on traceability and transparency of provenance; OpenSC.
For over a year Austral Fisheries have worked with Boston Consulting Group Digital Ventures and World Wide Fund for Nature by providing access to the supply chain workings of Austral’s premium product, Glacier 51 Toothfish. Powered by blockchain technology, OpenSC has been the latest path forged by Austral’s sustainability journey. OpenSC aims to allow consumers to observe the supply chain of a participating product by simply scanning a QR code with their phone. A compatible product will display a range of information regarding its source, how it moved along the supply chain, the measures in place to ensure that it is sustainable and more. Mr Carter hopes that Austral’s entire Glacier 51 Toothfish catch for 2019 will be traceable using the OpenSC platform.
A notable personal achievement for was his induction into the National Seafood Industry Hall of Fame in 2012 for recognition of his significant contribution made to the Australian Seafood Industry.
With no signs of slowing, it’s onwards and upwards for David Carter as he continues to lead Austral Fisheries from the front.
“I owe much to my mentor and guide Murray France for his patience and generosity and his ability to see in me that which I may not have seen in my self. By his example I was able to see leadership first hand and to witness the many plusses that come from thinking big and tackling the big issues for understanding that a rising tide lifts all boats!” – David Carter, CEO, Austral Fisheries