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Fisheries leader: the rewards of giving back

Fisheries leader: the rewards of giving back

David Ellis has lived and breathed the fishing industry for decades, and his leadership roles in the field only multiplied after completing Course 13 of the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP) in 2007.

Up until the end of 2013, David managed research for the Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association (ASBTIA), whilst undertaking advocacy and communication with state and Commonwealth entities. In his own words, during this time he “was on a ridiculous amount of boards.”

Now, David runs his own consultancy, David Ellis and Associates, specialising in projects benefitting fishing and aquaculture industries.

The Port Lincoln leader has won countless awards, including the Excellence in Aquaculture Production award from the National Aquaculture Council in 2014.

Having observed and worked with the many different facets of aquaculture, David’s primary focus now is the science and structure behind doing things better.

“I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on things,” David says.

From a childhood love of fishing, to working as a farmhand for Huon Atlantic Salmon in 1992—David has worked from the Kimberley coast to the shores of the Southern Ocean on research, sustainable production, and management of pearls, salmon and tuna.

“I think we can fish a lot more effectively. I’m interested in projects looking at innovative fishing and aquaculture methods; looking at what we can do to make the economics of farming a lot better whilst producing premium products,” David says.

Another project focus for David is the business of feeding commercially farmed fish.

“I’ve been to various places around the world looking at feed manufacturing and feeding methods,” David says.

“Whilst we have a couple of feed manufacturers in Australia, we still haven’t been able to develop a reliable manufactured feed for southern Bluefin tuna.”

David is a member of the SA Aquaculture Tenure Allocation Board and was a member of the SA Marine Parks Council, Agri-Foods Seafood Standing Committee and other boards and committees.

However, despite the many strategic leadership positions he has held, David says that ‘leading’ is something he fell into, rather than planned.

“I was always interested in managing tuna, but then I was placed in a role to manage research for the industry,” he recalls.

“I introduced a range of changes, and ensured that research really applied directly to industry outcomes.”

His success resulted in positive initiatives, and Patrick Hone, Executive Director of the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, suggested there was a program David might be interested in: the ARLP.

“He said to me, I think you need to learn a bit more,” David relates.

“And I did meet a lot of good people through the ARLP and I learned a lot. That is what started the education process for me,” he says.

“It enlightened me to the different areas that needed leaders.”

David acknowledges that following graduation, he went “a million miles an hour”—not always ensuring a healthy ‘life balance’.

“I’ve since learned that the world will keep on spinning if I jump out of it,” David laughs.

And he is enjoying his current opportunity to take a broader focus on an industry he has put his heart and soul into, and do a bit of “blue sky dreaming”.

“I can scan the horizons now,” he says.

For example, in his work organising a regional think tank, Visioning EP, he identified an interesting challenge to the Eyre Peninsula fishing industry, directly connected to Australia’s mining industries and FIFO workers.

“At the heart of this issue is people and skills,” David says.

“Quite a few truck drivers, farming and fishing people were taking mining jobs. We were losing skippers to northern parts of Australia, and had to make sure no industries fell over while adjusting to the boom.”

And as he continues to work to make aquaculture more innovative, and open up more opportunities for those who continue to work in the industry, David frequently draws upon the impact the ARLP had on his leadership.

“When I was introduced to the program, I had done some media training, but I hadn’t done any corporate governance training, and I hadn’t done conflict resolution. It opened my eyes about how you put all those things together,” David says.

“Then, you just build on it.”

David says he is also reaping the rewards of more time to focus on his community, recognising that a region needs more than the prosperity of its core industries to thrive.

David and his local Boston Football Club and Boston Sports Association recently sourced about $400,000 in funding and realised a plan to re-invent a community group based on family oriented values and build a facility worth $1.2 million for the community.

For his contribution to the region he was awarded the Port Lincoln Citizen of the Year award last Australia Day, and the Brand SA community award for the Eyre Peninsula.”

“It is really satisfying seeing the rapid changes that can be made to a community through empowerment, and I feel honoured to be part of it—there is something honest about giving back to the community, especially if you have the skills to bring about positive change.”

It is an honour that reflects David’s conviction that it is people who ultimately make the biggest difference to regional Australia.

“There is often fear around putting money into training and developing people,” he says.

“Industries worry about investing in someone who might then leave. But the flip side is, what happens if you don’t put the money into them, and don’t develop them, and they stay?

“Every industry is better off when it invests in a skills base.”

Leaders involved in a primary industry have until Frday, 27 November 2015, to apply for Course 23 of the Australian Rural Leadership Program. To apply, or find out more, click here.

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