Faces of Fisheries – Wez Norris, AFMA CEO

Last month, Mr Wez Norris was appointed by the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, David Littleproud, and Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Richard Colbeck, as the new CEO of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) for the next five years.

With over 20 years’ experience in fisheries management, regulation and development, Wez has always had an interest in fisheries and marine resource management. Wez comes to AFMA after 10 years as the Deputy Director-General at the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency in the Solomon Islands, so the move to Canberra is quite the change in climate and lifestyle for Wez and his family, but as avid skiers and snowboarders, he says they are excited to live close to the snow.

Hear more from Wez below on his career so far, and what he’s looking forward to focusing on at AFMA.

Can you tell us about your background?

I studied a Bachelor of Applied Science in Natural Systems and Wildlife Management at Queensland University. This is a quite broad-based natural resource management degree and I actually tailored my studies towards terrestrial wildlife research and management, including specifically studying outback koala populations. Looking back though, the combination of subjects, including things like resource economics, population dynamics, statistical analysis, project management and environmental law are actually very well suited to a career in fisheries management.

After university, I took a job with Queensland Fisheries for eight years before a brief stint at AFMA in 2006-07 as the Manager of the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery. My next role over the following 10 years at the Pacific Islands FFA focused on the international management of tropical tuna species with FFA member countries, including Australia.

I have worked on a number of significant fisheries reform projects, including prawn trawl, hand-line and hand-collectable fisheries, and have also worked in the Torres Strait and a Minister’s office.

What is the proudest moment of your career in fisheries management so far?

To be honest, it was hearing about my appointment as AFMA CEO. I really do view this as the best fisheries job in Australia, so gaining the confidence of the selection panel and Minister really is a career highlight, especially given the calibre of the competition.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career?

I have been fortunate to have opportunities to work on many significant fishery issues throughout my career, and they all come with their own particular challenges. The most difficult single task that I have undertaken is probably the renegotiation of the fisheries Treaty between the United States and 16 Pacific countries (including Australia). The Treaty is a very complex arrangement, combining elements of fisheries management and development, international relations and strategic geo-politics. My job was to facilitate discussions amongst the Pacific parties to form negotiation positions and assist them to engage with the US to carry those positions forward. This was a very long and arduous process, spanning more than 20 negotiation sessions, but we achieved a fantastic outcome that not only raised the annual value of the Treaty from $30 million to over $110 million, but also created additional flexibility and control for the Pacific in keeping with their rights under international law that have evolved since the Treaty was first negotiated.

What is your best piece of advice for people seeking a career in fisheries management?

Do it! Fisheries management (including fisheries economics, development and enforcement) is a pretty specialised field and organisations like AFMA really do need a good stream of people looking to move up the ranks. The diversity of jobs within a fisheries management organisation is extremely impressive and there are tasks and challenges to keep even the highest achievers busy. It’s also a rewarding job where the successes (and unfortunately failures) are clearly visible.

My advice would be to choose tertiary studies carefully – take a look around for something that provides as wide a skillset as possible including economics and law. That will give you a good grounding for the day-to-day challenges that a fisheries professional faces.

What do you envisage for AFMA over your five-year term?

AFMA does a fantastic job on sustainability. The combination of smart management strategies, effective domestic and foreign compliance regimes and the comprehensive research AFMA undertakes through partnerships all contribute to great outcomes for Commonwealth fisheries.

I am excited to be leading the regulator for Commonwealth fisheries into the future and over the next five years I’d like to focus more on economics, particularly working with industry in making sure management arrangements are economically efficient, and enhance AFMA’s performance and reputation as a global leader in fisheries management.

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