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Summer Newsletter

A word from our FirstMate Chair, Justine Inns

Kia Ora and welcome to the summer edition FirstMate newsletter. You may remember our first edition went out at the end of June, and it’s been a busy few months for FirstMate since then.

I want to start by sharing some exciting news with you. As you will know, FirstMate is a charity. We were provided funding by the Ministry for Primary Industries to set up and deliver our services in 2021, with funding coming to an end in February 2024. We’re very excited to share that we’ve generously been provided funds that will enable us to continue to provide our important services to June 2024.

Kiwis working in the seafood sector will now have more mental health and wellbeing support thanks to the generous contribution of industry groups. The donations total $135,000, including $100,000 from Seafood New Zealand, $20,000 from Aquaculture New Zealand, and $15,000 from the Rock Lobster Industry Council.

Receiving funding has been crucial for our sustainability and to be able to continue to provide our services – it will literally change and possibly save lives. It will allow us to continue supporting our Navigators to connect with our fishers through events, resources, answer the 0800 237 438 phone line, respond to emails and be where our fishers and marine farmers need them most. It’s a wonderful acknowledgement of the value our seafood sector groups see in coming together and supporting their staff and other professionals that work in the sector. We’re enormously grateful for their support.

We’ve also just heard that ShipWreck Relief Fund have kindly donated $30,000 to FirstMate. The organisation, who provides relief to families when family members have been lost at sea, are supporting the mental health and wellbeing focus that FirstMate brings to the sector.

In other exciting news, you may have heard two of our Navigators on The Rock. The MediaWorks radio network are supporting FirstMate to promote our services to their listeners. In less than a week, we’d reached over 200,000 men aged 25-59 years old.

We know that people are engaging with FirstMate – and we have a service people want to know about, because we’ve had a 306% increase in Facebook likes since last year, reaching over 66,000 people through our organic Facebook, with a click through rate from our posts to our website of 4.9% (industry norm is 0.89%). Instagram has had a 1332% increase in followers in the past year, reaching over 7000 people. LinkedIn has had over 130% increase in followers since the start of 2023.

And to help people see the value of what we do, we’ve just released our 2023 Annual Report, a first for FirstMate. This provides a clear overview of everything we delivered from July 2022 to June 2023. This means there is total transparency for anyone who wants to see how we function as a charity and the value we offer.


What’s been happening

What’s affecting our industry

Based on the recent contact we’ve had from our fishers and marine farmers, the main stressors have changed from adverse weather event impacts and crewing issues to financial and personal wellbeing related issues.

We have now supported almost 300 fishers, marine farmers, and their whānau with over 1200 interactions.

When someone contacts us, we work with them on what support they might need and often that can be connecting them with the right people to help and then staying with them throughout their journey to ensure the best outcomes.

Marking Mental Health Awareness Week

We recently marked Mental Health Awareness Week with a short digital campaign asking people to comment on how they look after their mental health – following the Mental Health Foundation's 'Five Ways, Five Days' theme for this year's campaign. It was a huge success and there were some really moving comments.

Being visible at Conferences

Representatives from FirstMate attended the Seafood NZ conference on 26 and 27 August, the Marine Farming Association conference on 25 August and the Aquaculture NZ Conference in Nelson in October. With inspiring speakers and important networking opportunities, both conferences were full of insightful discussions. We loved talking to people at our information stand about what we do at FirstMate and the support we offer to the commercial seafood sector.

Adverse Event Navigators on the ground making a difference

Our Adverse Event Navigators have been busy, holding a range of events across the cyclone impacted regions. It’s wonderful to meet those who come along to chat to us about the impacts of the cyclone on them and how we can support them in their recovery. Huge thanks to all the sponsors and providers of kai!

  • 27 October: Whitianga fishers and marine farmers met behind the Mercury Bay Fishing Club

  • 19 October: Gisborne fishers met at Tatapuri Fishing Club

  • 21 September: We had a great turn out to our Napier seafood sector wellbeing event

  • 17 September: Our Northland seafood sector wellbeing event went really well

Stay tuned for more updates and future events.

Darren Guard is recognised as someone who has made a real difference to the sector

FirstMate’s very own GM of Operations, Darren Guard, took home the Seafood Sector Leadership Award at the Seafood Stars Awards in Wellington! This award is all about celebrating people who've made a big difference in New Zealand's seafood scene, and Darren's right in the spotlight. From crew to skipper to Managing Director, he's been on an incredible journey in the industry for 40 years.

Not only has he made waves with his health and safety expertise, reducing injuries among fishers, but he's also the brain behind Guard Safety, his own Nelson-based business focused on keeping maritime people safe and sound.

Darren is the founding member of the NZ Fishing Health and Safety Forum and the super-handy MarineSAFE platform. Plus, he's all hands on deck with FirstMate, supporting the mental health and wellbeing of folks in the fishing and aquaculture world.

Recent Media

Newstalk ZB

Zak Olsen shares his own mental health journey as a commercial fisherman and his work with FirstMate. He talks depression, burn out, shift work, fishing and finding a way back to joy with special gust host Mick Andrews psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald.


Hawke’s Bay Today

Commercial fishers say their catches are down and there’s still debris and sediment heaped on the ocean floor of Hawke’s Bay, as the impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle linger seven months on.



Morning Rural News segment on RNZ on 3 October. FirstMate Adverse Event Navigator for Northland Zak Olsen shared his journey of receiving crucial support from FirstMate when he needed it most and spoke about his desire to give back to the seafood industry and support the wellbeing and mental health of fellow fishers. If you missed it, make sure to check out the recording starting from 2:13 minutes.


TV3 6pm News

The challenges the seafood community faced in the wake of the recent cyclone. Tune in to catch commercial fisher and FirstMate Navigator Rick Burch's first-hand account of the community's struggles, and to gain a deeper understanding of the impact adverse weather events can have on local fishers and their livelihood.


ACC Video & Story

Health and safety advocate Darren Guard has lost many mates to the sea and has also come close to losing his own life. So he's used funding from ACC to set up MarineSAFE – an online training programme to help fishers stay safe at sea.


Hook, Line & Sinker

Check out the first episode of the Primary Matters podcast series featuring Darren Guard. ‘Hook, Line & Sinker’ is all about FirstMate and the guidance and support we offer to people in the seafood sector and their whānau.


Thank you for continuing to support FirstMate and please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you would like to talk to someone, if you’re interested in supporting FirstMate more or if you’d just like to engage.

Nga mihi

The FirstMate team