The 40-year-old fishing boat feeding a town in regional Victoria


Professional fishermen in the western Victorian fishing town of Apollo Bay, purchased a boat dedicated to catching fish only to feed the locals.

The 15-member Apollo Bay Fishermen’s Co-op invested nearly $ 500,000 in a small 40-year-old fishing boat to fish along the coast every few days and provide the town with seafood costs.

“Many people in Australian fishing villages have their fish shipped to markets or processors in big cities,” says Markus Nolle, former lobster fisherman and director of Apollo Bay Fishermen’s Co-op.

Flounder, tiger flathead, latch and mullet captured for the people of Apollo Bay by Russell Frost. Photo: Richard Cornish

“The co-op has been around since 1948 and it is our responsibility to the people of Apollo Bay to let them share the catch.”

In August, the cooperative purchased the Tambo Bay, which spent its early years working the waters off Gippsland as a purse seine boat.

Tambo Bay has since been modified to fish the waters just off the rugged coast of western Victoria. Its captain is Russell “Frosty” Frost, who retired from the lobster fishery several years ago. The call of the sea was too strong for Frost and when approached by other members of the co-op he agreed to take on the role of skipper.

“It’s 52 feet in the old language, a small boat and very economical to drive,” says Frost. “We don’t need to have massive catches to pay to lead it.”

In good weather, Frost and a deckhand leave the harbor before dawn and trawl for an hour at a time. This allows fish caught in the nets to be hoisted onto the deck without being injured.

Bycatch is back in the water in seconds, and the rest of the fish are off the nets and on the ice in minutes. They are packaged in hollow plastic bins that can only handle one or two layers of fish, preventing damage from being crushed or jostled. “We don’t know what fish we’re going to catch each day,” says Frost.

Recent catches have been a mix of well-known species such as flathead, snapper, King George whiting and gummy shark, and what are locally referred to as “delicious but less loved fish”. These include plaice, gurnard, wild boar, leather jackets, and red mullet.

“It’s a light touch,” says Frost. “It’s fast and environmentally friendly. There is a lot of ocean out there and we are the only coastal trawler in the area.”

Locals ashore find out what Tambo Bay has landed through an online service called The Local Catch Club.

“Members get an email when the boat returns,” says Liz Waters, a resident of Apollo Bay, who is building a Local Catch Club website with local designers and artists. “They can place orders and if there is a particular fish that they like, they can put it aside.”

About 200-300 kilograms of fish are brought in every few days. The catch is processed at the facilities of the Apollo Bay Fishermen’s Cooperative and sold in a small store overlooking the harbor.

What is not sold in town is sold at Gem Pier Seafood in Williamstown. The cooperative also sells fish and chips, allowing seafood lovers to taste breaded wild boar and gurnard just hours after being caught. In good weather, about 80 percent of the seafood sold at fish and chips is local, with oysters and shrimp sourced from outside Apollo Bay making a large contribution to the remainder.

In two weeks, the wet fish shop will move to a new store in the center of town called Co-Op on Pascoe, leaving shredding at the water’s edge until the co-op site is redeveloped in mid-2022. .

“We are doing this to secure the future of the cooperative,” says Nolle. “The average age of a skipper is 60 years old. The future of the cooperative rests on the recruitment of new people. We have the boat, the processing and the shop, and soon we will have a restaurant. We can give young people opportunities to learn about the seafood business. “

Nolle says the barriers to entering the fishing industry are huge for young people, and as a result, they find other jobs elsewhere. He acknowledges that the Chinese lobster import ban has devastated local lobster fishermen.

“The [lobster retail] the price is $ 80 a kilogram and it’s just – fair – to keep them afloat, ”he says.

“So we diversify. At Apollo Bay, we can provide training and employment for young people across the spectrum of seafood. Australia imports 70% of its seafood while there are fish just offshore that are dying of old age. We need to invest in our seafood industry. “

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