Dr Kirsten Abernethy—social scientist

I’m a social scientist and I’ve worked with wild-catch fisheries and fishing communities for more than 10 years as a researcher, teacher and advocate.
Kirsten Abernethy

My aim has always been to work with the fishing industry and fishing families, and this has taken me around the world from Cornwall in the UK, to the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste.

I live in Port Fairy, south west Victoria, consulting on a variety of projects such as determining the value of fisheries to local communities, helping build greater support for Australian fisheries, and examining the wellbeing of fishing families.

How did you become interested in your career?

There is a romance about fishing—fishers are the last of the hunters and from the moment I stepped onto a professional fishing boat I knew I’d found my calling.

Australian fisheries are ecologically sustainable and managed, and catch is often harvested using methods and knowledge passed down through generations, resulting in fresh and healthy local seafood on our tables.

Our fishing families are the stewards of the sea, they are our eyes on and under the water and are fundamental to the fabric, history and identity of our coastal communities.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

My favourite part is when I get to go fishing. I’ve been deck handing with my partner who is an abalone diver and love it even though it’s exhausting work.

I’ve also had the chance to go to sea on a variety of trips from eight-day stints on trawlers 80 miles offshore, to line fishing in a canoe. The thing I really love is talking to older fishermen and women and listening to their stories.

Any career highlights?

In 2017 I won the AgriFutures Victorian Rural Women’s Award. I felt like it was an award for all the women who work in the fishing industry and a recognition of women’s contributions.

What motivates you each day?

I’ve always been really passionate about working with the fishing industry, there is so much to do, every day is different and it’s never boring.

Who are your female role models?

There are some amazing women working in the fisheries space who are passionate about the industry and work tirelessly to secure its future.

It can be difficult working in a male-dominated industry as women are appointed to only five per cent of senior positions, despite making up half the workforce in the fishing industry.

Any tips for others interested in your career?

Try to build relationships with fishers and their families, get to know what they do and go fishing to understand the industry.

How do you unwind?

I am lucky to live by the sea, so a walk along the beach helps me leave behind a big day.

What’s your favourite lighthouse?

Port Fairy lighthouse of course.

Last updated: 

Tuesday 3 May 2022