• Mibu Fischer is a descendent from the Noonuccal, Ngugi and Gorenpul clans of Quandamooka. (csiro)Source: csiro
This young Indigenous scientist wants to ensure we don't lose entire species of fish, simply because we didn't realise there was a problem until it's too late.
By
Alyssa Braithwaite

27 May 2016 - 3:09 PM  UPDATED 27 May 2016 - 3:11 PM

Mibu Fischer grew up by the ocean.

For as long as she can remember, Fischer would join her parents and grandparents collecting eugaries (pipis) and quampees (pearl oysters) from the beaches and shores of North Stradbroke Island. 

"We would always be fishing off the jetty, eating berries from the bushes," says Fischer, a descendent from the Noonuccal, Ngugi and Gorenpul clans of Quandamooka (which covers Moreton Bay and its southern bay islands, including parts of the adjacent mainland from the Brisbane River down to the Logan River in Queensland).

"I have done that probably ever since I could walk. We just always did it."

It gave her a life-long affinity with the ocean and coastal environments, but it wasn't until she went on a biology field trip at school that Fischer considered marine science as a possible career.

"I remember we collected sea water and looked at it under a microscope and just seeing all those things that are there every day that I had never seen before, it was amazing," she tells SBS Science. "I guess that kind of started it."

Fischer went on to complete a Bachelor of Marine Science and Management at Lismore's Southern Cross University, and took up an Indigenous cadetship at CSIRO in 2009. In 2015 she was selected as one of the CSIROseven, seven of the organisations brightest young scientists.

Spurred on by a passion for keeping ocean ecosystems thriving for future generations, Fischer researches sustainable marine resources in Australia and in the South Pacific.

Recently her research has taken her to the Solomon Islands, where Fischer has been working with the government inputting their environmental data into Spatial Data Infrastructure computer systems to allow them to make decisions about their marine resources.

Her other area of focus is working with communities on Torres Strait Island, gathering fishing data.

"The Torres Strait Finfish Fishery is 100 per cent Islander owned, but it's not 100 per cent Islanders [who] fish. So non-Islanders can buy a licence from the Torres Strait Regional Authority and fish within certain limits as to where they can fish and their total allowable catch," Fischer explains.

"What we are trying to do is gather more information on the traditional fishing because even though a lot of the Torres Strait Islanders in the fishery go out and fish for commercial gain, they actually keep some for themselves for subsistence use or they give some to their neighbours and family.

All this leads to a discrepancy in numbers, because the fishery only measure commercial output, not these extra amounts. Fischer says it's better to get a total number of all fish caught.

One of the fish species they are monitoring is Spanish Mackerel, which is simultaneously targeted by commercial, recreational, and Indigenous fisheries.

These days one in five Australians say they enjoy fishing for fun and our ocean industries generate $42 billion each year, so the Brisbane-based scientist is quick to reassure that "I don't want to shut down fishing or anything like that, because I understand the cultural and commercial importance of it, but I definitely think that recreational fishers need to be more aware of their impacts."

Seeing her work make a difference to the lives of people in these communities is what makes Fischer most proud, and it's something she would like to do more of in the future - particularly in her own community.

"I would really love to work on Country, so within Moreton Bay," says Fischer.

"I just read this morning about the government closing the sand mine down on North Stradbroke Island and it's got quite a number of people in the community who rely on that as their source of income, so I really want to be able to produce new opportunities for people in the community to be able to stay living on Country and work there - whether that be through opening up more fisheries or just generally things like that.

"I like to work in areas that are going to improve the livelihoods of Indigenous communities."

Fischer has just been selected for the 2016 Queensland Indigenous Youth Leadership Program, which allows participants to develop leadership skills and learn about democratic processes.

"I'm pretty excited about that," she says.

"Just being at CSIRO has opened up so many things for me to grow, and my mum was just saying how proud they are of all that I've achieved so far, and that hopefully it's setting me up to be able to make more of a difference as I get [further] into my career."

And also, perhaps, inspire the next generation of Indigenous scientists.

“As a young person you need those role models to say, ‘you can get into science, it is a real job opportunity’,” says Fischer. “You can do it.”

SBS Science in collaboration with NITV is showcasing Indigenous Australian scientists. Check out the stories below and check back for more! 

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To learn more about the seafood we eat in Australia, tune in to SBS On Demand for "What's the Catch?" with Matthew Evans. First episode - below!