Andrew "ET" Ettingshausen in a scene from the TV series Saltwater Heroes. Contributed

Andrew "ET" Ettingshausen uncovers Australia's reel heroes

ANDREW "ET" Ettingshausen will never look at his dinner plate the same way again.

The former top rugby league player, and now fishing enthusiast, delves into some of Australia's toughest jobs on the water for his new show Saltwater Heroes.

In the four-part documentary series he travels across the country to meet a variety of commercial fishing operators and to lend a hand to these "waterproofed warriors".

"I've always been involved in fishing but only recreational. I'd never been out on a trawler or had anything to do with commercial fishing," he tells The Guide.

"I was happy to go to the fish markets and grab their beautiful produce but I didn't really think too much about where it came from. I knew the commercial fishos were the ones out there doing it but I'd never experienced it."

Ettingshausen found Australia's commercial fishing industry to be more diverse than he had imagined.

As well as getting first-hand experience hauling in popular seafood such as prawns, lobster and tuna, he also harvested more exotic creatures.

"I couldn't believe they were out there harvesting all these unusual species like sea slugs and sea urchins," he says.

During a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, the 49-year-old went scuba diving to 30 metres to help scour the seafloor for sea slugs to export to Asia.

"I had some complications down underwater, which was a bit of a drama," he says.

"I turned my head and my next breath was all water. This cloth had got tangled in my regulator and I got into a panicked state.

"It felt like an eternity but it was probably only a minute and a half. I thought I was a goner there.

"These guys are out there every day underwater collecting these sea slugs for their living and this was just one example of the risks they face."

In Tasmania, Ettingshausen discovered a new industry created by a changing environment.

"The warm currents are bringing these sea urchins down from NSW. All these urchins are going down in huge numbers and ripping up all the corals and destroying the kelp beds," he says.

"The sea urchin fishery is able to sell the (urchin's) roe to the Asian market."

He hopes the series sheds light on the faces behind the physically demanding jobs that contribute to a $2.4 billion-industry.

"For the majority of people, catching a fish is a bonus but for these guys and girls it's a business," Ettingshausen says.

"Before I went out I thought what are these professionals like? Are they just out there to catch everything and make as much money as they can? But every one of the people I went out with was all about sustainability."

Saltwater Heroes airs Wednesdays at 9.30pm on Foxtel's Discovery Channel.

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