Port Lincoln’s tuna industry explores further export markets

South Australia’s bluefin tuna industry – often recognised as Port Lincoln’s greatest seafood success story – is increasing exports beyond its key market of Japan.

Industry spokesman Brian Jeffriess says that while Japan will remain the southern bluefin tuna’s main export market in the long term, the industry had recently increased its trade to Korea and China.

“Most of the tuna – 98% – is going to Japan, that was until about five years ago,” says Brian, CEO of the Port Lincoln-based Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association.

“Since then we’ve increased our exports to Korea and China considerably and we’re hoping to achieve a higher level this year – about 5% of our total exports – but for all premium tuna producers in the world, countries like in the Mediterranean, Canada and the US, Japan will certainly remain the main market for a long time.”

Southern bluefin tuna is highly sought after in Japan and consumed as sashimi, a delicacy consisting of usually fresh, raw fish sliced into bite-sized pieces.

The southern bluefin tuna is a prized saltwater giant.

“Sashimi is a tradition, they (the Japanese) have been accustomed to very high-quality tuna that most countries just haven’t had access to,” Brian says.

“It’s a buoyant economy in Japan so demand is very strong, so there’s no reason to think that market will reduce. The problem for us is having an over-dependence on a single market and a single currency because we get paid in yen.

“That provides challenges every year, so we have diversified into Korea and China and we hope to take that even further in the next five years.”

Brian says the domestic market for southern bluefin tuna is also increasing.

“The domestic market is quite small and the reason for that is there are so many other tunas available to restaurants on the east coast, but some of our farmers are trying very hard to penetrate the domestic market,” he says.

“Last year was the best year we’ve had, it was about 220 tonnes to the domestic market. Five years ago it was 40 tonnes, so it’s growing all the time.”

The Australian tuna industry farms about 8500 tonnes a year with 99.9% of it heading overseas, worth $150 million.

Sashimi is a delicacy popular in Japan.

“When you turn that into total income to the region and jobs it’s very substantial and by far the largest aquaculture export in Australia, and it’s consistent and growing,” Brian says.

“It (the tuna industry) certainly underpins the Eyre Peninsula economy … the official figure is about 850 jobs in the industry itself and another 1000 at least … if you look at the hospitality industry in Port Lincoln, a lot of it – the marina, the hotels, the accommodation – was developed on tuna money.”

Southern bluefin tuna is farmed by fishers who travel out to the Great Australian Bight to catch the species in a purse seine (net). Over two weeks the tuna are slowly towed to static ranching pontoons off Port Lincoln.

The tuna are fed sardines – an industry in itself that is the largest tonnage fishery in the country – and once grown, the majority of the harvested tuna is processed and shipped directly from Port Lincoln. A smaller amount – about 10% – is chilled and flown to Japan, where it can land within two days of processing.

Australia’s main competitor in the Japanese market is Mediterranean countries such as Spain and Malta, however, SA has the logistical advantage of a shorter airfreight time to Asia.

“Obviously to fly big fish from there (the Mediterranean) to Japan is expensive and challenging at times,” Brian says.

“Ours is quite simple due to the credits of the transport agencies that exist in Australia. People don’t realise how efficient Australia is in terms of a lot of things; transport, processing in factories, people here really do work hard.”

Port Lincoln’s southern bluefin tuna story dates back to the 1960s and ’70s, when the unregulated fishery was booming. But by the late ’70s the industry was warned that the species was being overfished and in 1984, fishermen were issued quotas to prevent exploitation of the industry.

With the wild catch quota cut by almost 70%, hardworking migrant fishermen in Port Lincoln revolutionised the industry to ensure the fishery could survive, by moving away from poling individual wild fish and towards tuna farming.

Many of Port Lincoln’s pioneering tuna fishers have since gone on to establish leading seafood enterprises, including German Hagen Stehr and Croatians Sam Sarin and Tony Santic, turning the town’s fortunes around.

Brian was brought in to head the tuna industry association in the late ‘80s, bringing with him vast business experience in various highly regarded roles. He says the performance of Port Lincoln’s overall seafood industry on a global scale is “remarkable”.

“Prawns, mussels, oysters, and now with abalone farming as well, the potential growth is remarkable and Port Lincoln will be the centre of it,” he says.

“It’s not just because of the environmental qualities, it’s the people. You can have a lot of positive driving factors like the environment, transport networks, things like that, but it’s the people that make successful businesses.”

Today, six countries are part of the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna, with catch allowances increasing in recent years as stocks recover.

Industry in focus: Trade and Investment

Throughout the months of January and February, the state’s trade and investment industry will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

South Australia is in a prime position for trade and investment opportunities as we have a 24-hour connection to international markets and a prime reputation for our premium products and services.  Read more trade and investment stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Tasting Eyre Peninsula seafood luxury in a chef’s house

Kris Bunder figured the best way to show off Eyre Peninsula’s elite seafood was to invite visiting media and chefs into his home and show them how he cooks it.

An ecstatic reaction to this impromptu promotional event, conjured a few years ago, has convinced Kris, the chef and owner of Del Giorno’s – a popular dining institution on Port Lincoln’s foreshore – that such an engaging and intimate culinary event represents the next lofty level of experiential tourism for visitors to the lower Eyre Peninsula.

Now, by creating Del’s Private Kitchen With Kris Bunder, this experience has been made available to the public.

Del’s Private Kitchen With Kris Bunder overlooks the Port Lincoln marina.

Structured as a seafood masterclass and private dinner in Kris and Brenda Bunder’s waterfront home in the Port Lincoln marina, it places the unique flavours of the Eyre Peninsula in the context of where the seafood is caught.

“When people come to Port Lincoln, they want to taste all of the seafood that this place is famous for – although most wouldn’t be confident enough to buy and cook for themselves,” says Kris.

“We’ll do it for them, so they can relax and enjoy it as guests in our home. We love showing off the best that Port Lincoln can offer in food, setting and hospitality.”

The Bunders have long been pivotal figures and innovators in Eyre Peninsula’s culinary scene. When Kris and Brenda started Del Giorno’s Cafe and Restaurant on the Port Lincoln foreshore in 2004, it was difficult for any diner in town to order fresh fish caught by local fishermen.

Some of the premium, fresh South Australian seafood that guests enjoy at Del’s Private Kitchen.

The expensive marine harvest used to be exclusively shipped for export, until Kris pleaded with local mates on tuna boats to provide him with a few fresh-caught bluefin.

Once local tuna finally arrived on the plate at Del Giorno’s, it sparked an instant positive reaction, and prompted Kris to shine a light on the provenance of fresh local seafood by listing all his suppliers on the menu.

The same suppliers provide Kris and Brenda’s home kitchen with fresh, seasonal fare that focuses on extravagance and quality – bluefin tuna, Coffin Bay oysters, Spencer Gulf King prawns, Kinkawooka mussels, Hiramasa kingfish, and the option of southern rock lobster and green lip abalone, which Kris prepares three ways (sashimi style with lime juice and olive oil, marinated then pan seared, and steamed).

Chef Kris Bunder shares preparation and cooking techniques for some of the best produce the Eyre Peninsula has to offer.

Even more important than enjoying the taste of such exotic fare is learning correct techniques of how to prepare and cook each ingredient, which Kris says is a blind spot in the home cooking skills of most people.

Therefore, Kris demonstrates how to shuck oysters from the shell (“the only way to eat them,” he insists), through to carving tuna sashimi-style, stuffing and baking a whole kingfish and cleaning and de-bearding mussels.

He then cooks everything in front of his guests while they enjoy quality wines and beverages, before everyone settles at the table for an extravagant seafood banquet.

The Del’s Private Kitchen Seafood Masterclass, which costs from $150 to $230 a person depending on menu choices (for a minimum of four people), can be booked via the Del Giorno’s website, or emailing Kris directly at kris@delgiornos.com.au

The best part? Enjoying the seafood feast.

Header image features Brenda and Kris Bunder, owners of Del Giorno’s Cafe and Restaurant and its spin-off Del’s Private Kitchen.

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Casting carp as a prized fish cuisine

A Murray Mallee fishing and processing business is keen to transform the humble carp’s image from pest to prized eating fish after already successfully casting another runt of the seafood world as a culinary darling.

Tracy Hill, the joint owner of Coorong Wild Seafood with husband Glen, is renowned for her work around the Coorong yelloweye mullet and now believes it’s time to explore carp’s “great eating potential”.

She’s been busy turning the pest fish clogging the nation’s mighty Murray River into fish cakes, sausages and mince with positive feedback at their unique fish cellar door.

Even chefs are being won over, with The Olfactory Inn at Strathalbyn currently serving a char grilled carp belly with a crispy and zesty carp spring roll in its dining room.

“We believe it’s the next big thing, and we’ve formed a corporation with some other fishermen in New South Wales and Victoria calling it a solution for carp across the whole basin,” Tracy says from their Meningie business.

“Now we need to tackle the problem with people’s perception that a pest fish equates to bad taste.

“We’ve discovered carp is really nice to eat, it’s the most eaten farmed fish in the world.”

Tracy and Glen Hill are turning an infamous pest fish into a delicacy.

It’s yet another brave and environmentally friendly plan for the inspiring couple, this year named as one of three finalists in the sustainability category of the South Australian Food Industry Awards, announced on November 23.

Coorong Wild Seafood is also in the running for the Primary Produce Award.

Their business is well recognised for its low-impact approach to fishing for mullet, mulloway and carp in their beautiful coastal wilderness.

Tracy says it’s an honour to be up against two other great local businesses in the sustainability category also helping to contribute to the state’s food industry that generated $17.6 billion in revenue for SA in 2016/2017.

The other two finalists, Ashton Valley Fresh juices and Newman’s Horseradish are examples of food businesses playing a part in SA’s craft food industry.

Ashton Valley Fresh is a juice brand run by Ceravolo Orchards in the Adelaide Hills and is spearheading innovations to reduce its food waste to zero. The juice company is also up for the innovation in food and business excellence titles.

Newman’s Horseradish at Langhorne Creek is in the running for three accolades, the sustainability, business excellence and consumer awards. Brian and Anne Meakins grow their horseradish on the banks of the Bremer River, building their own processing plant in 1992 and now filling up to 4000 jars a week to supply 95% of the SA market.

Coorong Wild Seafood’s story also stretches back to 1990s when Glen bought his first fishing licence and soon realised he was better off processing the catch himself, setting up a facility two years later.

The business sells direct to restaurants, butcher shops and supermarkets while netting a host of awards.

Its world-first environmental management plan received national and international recognition in 1998, with its operations happening partly in the Coorong National Park – a RAMSAR listed wetland of international significance teeming with wildlife.

Then, a few years ago, the humble mullet that is the mainstay of the business turned food royalty.

The charred carp belly, carp spring roll, black sesame and soy, and tempura spring onion dish at The Olfactory Inn.

Coorong Wild Seafood won top prize in the prestigious delicious Produce Award with the judging panel including renowned chefs Matt Moran and Shannon Bennett along with SA kitchen star performer Maggie Beer.

Tracy’s name was also added to the Women’s Industry Network Seafood Community roll of honour in October last year, and she’s just been voted onto the local Coorong council.

She’s particularly vocal about encouraging Australians to “read the labels” and ensure they are eating fish caught sustainably.

The company is keen to spread its wild catch message through running classes at the local school and launching tours and a fish cellar door in 2016.

It also shares its story at a weekly stall run by Trevor Bowden at the Adelaide Showground Farmers’ Market at Wayville.

This week, Tracy is busy preparing for a coach filled with 48 tourists that Glen will first meet to share stories of fishing and managing the Coorong environment.

When tourists arrives at their Meningie business, they see a filleting demonstration before sampling tasty mullet, carp and mulloway morsels prepared by Tracy and served on their family home’s verandah.

Plans are underway to launch more bespoke tours, kicking off with a Tasting Australia event in SA next April.

“We’re taking people out to the Coorong and we’re going to set a net so they’ll be able to pull their own fish out, then fillet themselves so they can have a sashimi style tasting,” Tracy says.

“Then we’ll cook some up too and then head back to our place with a lunch with local wine.

“I’m just astounded at the opportunities that appear when you are proactive and you put yourself out there and give things a go, it’s amazing what can happen.”

Industry in focus: Craft industries

Throughout the months of November and December, the state’s craft industries will be celebrated as part of I Choose SA.

South Australian craftspeople make up some of our most creative thinkers and makers of sustainable and innovative goods. Read more craft stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Shop South Australia is home to a unique collection of over 300 South Australian gifts and goods from more than 70 local makers and producers. Choose local and Shop South Australia.

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Agribusiness the backbone of SA economy

They help put food on our tables, contribute enormously to the state’s economy and uphold the livelihood of our regions.

South Australian farmers are the lifeblood of our country communities and are big players in the state’s overall economic welfare, with agriculture contributing to 25% of our economy.

Our agricultural researchers and biosecurity workers are equally important to our state’s reputation for being clean, green, pest free and one of the most sustainable food and wine growing regions on the planet.

Throughout October, Brand SA News will bring you success stories and the latest innovations from the state’s agribusiness industry, as part of Brand South Australia’s successful I Choose SA campaign.

We’ll take you inside the dairy industry and why you should be hunting down local dairy labels on your weekly shop, how multi-generational farming businesses have diversified, and how women are leading the way.

Food producers at B.-d Farm Paris Creek in the Adelaide Hills, makers of dairy products including yoghurt, cheese, butter and milk. Photo: PIRSA.

First up, we will deliver an article on Thornby Premium Lamb, a longstanding family-owned farming business with a presence at Sanderston on the outskirts of the Murray Mallee, as well as on Kangaroo Island.

We’ll also hear from Grain Producers SA’s first female boss, Caroline Rhodes, who will talk to the state’s grain industry, one that last year produced an 11 million tonne harvest worth a total farm gate value of $2.2 billion*.

Wheat is our primary grain, with 4500 farms across the state contributing to the grain industry, helping keep us and our livestock fed, and assisting in the manufacturing of a range of everyday products.

We’ll also bring you something a little weird – the world of potato waste.

Potatoes SA plans to tackle food waste by using discarded potato peel and pulp to make premium vodka (which we’re happy to taste test).

Brand South Australia’s I Choose SA for agribusiness ambassadors will also be revealed, and their experiences and industry predications shared.

Our coverage of agribusiness will take you inside some of our regions – our food bowls free from fruit fly and the vine-destroying phylloxera pest.

SA is the only Australian mainland state free from fruit fly and we spend about $5 million a year trying to keep it that way through prevention, detection and eradication measures.

Aside from knowing where our food grows, we’ll also find out where it goes, with China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand among others being some of our largest export markets.

And the wine, let’s not forget the wine. SA’s 3400 grape growers produce yearly crops valued at $658 million.


Eighty per cent of Australia’s premium wine comes from SA, proving we definitely know how to make a good drop.

To help kickstart the month of agribusiness exploration, Brand South Australia will host an Industry Briefing on October 9, where guests will learn about key innovations and the range of careers and available pathways.

Guests will hear from Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Tim Whetstone, Pork SA chairman Mark McLean and Grain Producers SA CEO Caroline Rhodes.

What: Brand South Australia I Choose SA for Agribusiness Industry Briefing
When: October 9, 4.30–6.30pm.
Where: Adelaide Showground, The Old Ram Shed.
Tickets: From $25–$49

Register for the event here.

*Statistics and industry figures sourced from PIRSA.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Port Lincoln students prepare for aquaculture workforce

Eyre Peninsula students will have access to hands-on training in the aquaculture industry through a partnership between the Port Lincoln High School and TAFE SA.

The joint initiative will allow senior students to enter the workforce earlier, with students able to complete a Certificate II in Aquaculture in Year 11.

By Year 12 students can then complete the units from the Diploma of Aquaculture at school, before completing the one-year diploma in six to eight months after graduation.

Students will then be equipped with the skills to enter the workforce or go on to study marine biology and aquaculture at Flinders University.

Previously, students were only able to complete the Certificate II at school before waiting until finishing school to tackle the diploma.

The majority of training will be undertaken at the Port Lincoln High School’s aquaculture training facility.

Port Lincoln is regarded as the seafood capital of Australia and is home to one of the largest fishing fleets in the southern hemisphere.

Photo: PIRSA.

TAFE SA aquaculture lecturer Brent Smith says with continued growth in seafood demand domestically and globally, it’s more important than ever to ensure the future aquaculture workforce has the highest level of skill and training.

“More than 2/3 of the state’s aquaculture workforce is employed in the Eyre Peninsula region alone,” he says.

“There is strong demand for workers on tuna, mussel, oyster, kingfish and abalone farms as well as many more in hatcheries, processing, marketing, transport and other related activities.”

Students will learn a range of skills including filleting fish, feeding, handling and harvesting stock, developing an aquaculture breeding strategy and various other maritime skills.

Port Lincoln High School aquaculture teacher Chris McGown says the partnership with TAFE SA will give students the basic skills needed to work in the industry or pursue further study.

“We have a massive aquaculture industry on our doorstep – most of the town is employed in some way through aquaculture,” he says.

“There are oysters, abalone, and tuna farms as well as factory workers – there is an abundance of opportunities and students haven’t previously had access to this sort of pathway.”

According to the Department of Primary Industries and Research SA (PIRSA), the aquaculture industry is one of the largest primary production sectors in the state.

The majority of SA’s aquaculture farming lies in the coastal waters of the Eyre Peninsula, while 81% of the state’s regional aquaculture workforce is employed in the region.

For more information visit the TAFE SA website.

Want to know what it’s like to work in Port Lincoln’s seafood industry? Check out the I Choose SA video below!

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Chinese tourists love our Coffin Bay oysters

A Coffin Bay oyster farm tour, the only of its kind in Australia where participants taste fresh oysters straight from the sea, is experiencing a surge of Chinese tourists.

The interest from the overseas visitors has prompted Oyster Farm Tours in the Eyre Peninsula seafood hotspot to employ a Chinese interpreter.

Oyster farmer and tour operator Ben Catterall says Chinese tourists’ love for the Coffin Bay seafood delicacy has increased following a visit from Chinese media personality Madam Gigi Wong for her travelogue, TVB Anywhere.

In late 2017 Oyster Farm Tours was also visited by Chinese megastar Huang Xiaoming, who has 53 million social media followers and has ranked as China’s biggest male celebrity four years in a row.

A video of his overall SA visit – including footage of him enjoying Coffin Bay oysters – is being shared to millions of people overseas as part of an SA Tourism Commission campaign.

In 2017, Chinese tourists pumped $352m into SA’s visitor economy, up 74% in 12 months.

Ben says the increase in Chinese tourists led to the employment of Sunny, a Chinese interpreter who can help communicate the history of the area and oyster farming practices.

“Thirty percent of our tour guests are Chinese,” he says.

“We’ve run tours for 2000 people (overall) in 12 months, and that’s up 100% on the year before.

“It’s because of the pristine environment that we live in and people know that our seafood is going to be fresh and it’s all local.”

Coffin Bay oyster farmer Ben Catterall with some of the delicacies enjoyed on the tours.

Oyster Farm Tours allow guests to learn about oyster farming practices and the history of Coffin Bay.

Tour guests first gather at Ben and his partner Kim’s Beachcomber Bakery and Café to be fitted into waterproof waders.

They then make their way out into the pristine ocean and climb onto a pavilion in the middle of a commercial oyster lease.

Tours include a shucking lesson and a tasting of Pacific and native Angasi oysters straight from the sea.

Ben, who has oyster farms at both Coffin Bay and Streaky Bay, says freshly shucked oysters are much different in taste and texture to the ones people are used to eating.

“They’ve got that sea salt taste and the natural liquids,” he says.

“The majority of the participants do the tour in pairs, one of them loves oysters and the other one has come in support.

“But I have a high hit rate in converting people to enjoy oysters. The hardest part is getting them to leave by the end of it!”

A shucking good time on Oyster Farm Tours!

A post shared by Ben Catterall (@coffinbayoysterfarmtours) on


A builder by trade, Ben came to Coffin Bay about 15 years ago before opening the 1802 Oyster Bar in a bid to help promote tourism and the history of the town.

Ben – a “Matthew Flinders tragic” – named the restaurant after the year in which the renowned explorer chartered the coastline.

“When I was running the restaurant, I had so many people enquire about how they’re grown and how they end up on your plate,” he says.

“So I approached a guy with an oyster lease out the front of the restaurant, and we’ve been doing the tours for about two-and-a-half years.”

Although Ben has since sold the 1802 Oyster Bar, he incorporates history of the area and story behind the naming of the town into his oyster tours.

The tours, also run by employee Tania, can be enjoyed with wine, extra oysters and seafood platters.

Ben says the experience is offered year-round as seniors often travel to the Eyre Peninsula during the off-peak season in winter.

“We encourage people to stay locally, we have great deals with holiday rentals,” he says.

“Easter is coming up and it will be crazier than Christmas.”

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Port Lincoln gives a toss for its fish throwing tradition

Fish don’t fly. Or do they?

Once a year in Port Lincoln, tuna can be seen hurling through the air for the town’s annual Tunarama – Australia’s longest running regional festival.

The Port Lincoln Tunarama will unfold this long weekend and organisers say enthusiasm for the three-day event isn’t dampening anytime soon.

About 15,000 people are expected to descend upon the Eyre Peninsula from January 26-28 to celebrate the festival and its highlight event – the tuna toss.

Tossing a tuna into the air is no easy feat. The world record is 37.23m.

Port Lincoln local Barb Davies is the Tunarama Festival’s committee treasurer and office volunteer.

She marched in the first Tunarama Festival parade in 1962 at the age of 10 and says the event continues to entertain thousands of people 56 years later.

“The whole foreshore will fill up and the town usually doubles in size,” Barb says.

“Tourists stay in nearby Coffin Bay, Tumby Bay and Cummins – people stay all over the place, so it’s a huge boost for the town and everybody benefits.”

The Tunarama Festival aims to highlight the significance of the tuna industry and features a schedule of other quirky traditions including the salmon and prawn toss, prawn peeling contests and sheep shearing competitions.

The tuna toss sees strong contenders hurl fish across the foreshore lawns in a similar style to hammer throwing.

While whole frozen tuna were originally used in the event, polyurethane replicas were introduced in 2008 to ensure seafood supplies weren’t wasted.

The tuna toss is only one aspect of the Tunarama.

Barb says competition is fierce among contenders.

“It becomes quite competitive, and we’ve had a father and son duo compete in previous years – Michael and Levi Proude,” she says.

“A lot of the time it only comes down to inches of difference.”

The world record is 37.23m set by former Olympic hammer thrower Sean Carlin in 1998.

Despite its popularity, the Tunarama hasn’t been without its hurdles as last year the future of the event was in doubt.

But Barb says the community banded together to support the event and the benefits it brings to the region.

“This year we’re back on track,” she says.

“The amount of people who have come out of the woodwork to help has been great.”

The keg roll is another of the festival’s quirky activities.

The Port Lincoln Tunarama Festival dates back to 1962 as a celebration of the local fishing industry – the largest in Australia.

The event comprised a ‘blessing of the fleet’ from a local priest to bring a safe and promising season.

The event also included a parade and Ambassador Quest where local women would line up in hope of being crowned Miss Tunarama.

The beauty aspect of the quest faded and today the contest focuses on the contender’s ability to represent their town and develop personal growth.

Men were also included in the quest.

Despite the many traditions of the festival, it’s the tuna toss that has attracted the most attention, with contestants travelling from Japan to take part.

Thousands of people line the Port Lincoln foreshore for the event, which includes the popular plywood boat making contest.

The tuna tossing act itself pays tribute to the men who would unload the tuna from boats in the port by hurling them off the deck and onto trucks.

Barb has called Port Lincoln home for all her life and says it’s an “amazing place”.

“I went to the same school my father went to and now my kids and their kids are going there too,” she says.

“We have beautiful beaches and it’s a great, safe place to grow up.”

“My husband was a prawn fisher for 40 years and my son is in the oyster industry.

“Fishing has been the backbone of this town.”

For more information about the Port Lincoln Tunarama Festival visit the Facebook page.

Check out this compilation of Port Lincoln tuna tossing from the ’80s – 2010.

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Seafood a Ferguson family affair

As a third-generation member of a South Australian seafood family, Eliza Ferguson spent her childhood aboard vessels reeling in some of the state’s most prized species.

Some 20 years later and the daughter of Ferguson Australia Group founder Andrew Ferguson has now dedicated her working life to being the face of the company and its speciality – southern rock lobsters.

“As the saying goes, it (seafood) runs in your blood,” says Eliza, Ferguson’s export and marketing manager.

“I spent my childhood on and off fishing boats for one to two weeks at a time until the age of about 12.

“We had such an amazing childhood.”

It’s no small catch! Eliza with a southern rock lobster.

Eliza works alongside seven of her family members including parents Andrew and Debra, who founded the brand in 2003.

Her grandfather Robert had been a commercial southern rock lobster fisherman in the South East since the late 1960s.

Ferguson Australia is now a respected southern rock lobster and scale fish supplier, with its own fishing fleet, export interests and domestic retail avenues.

It is also a major exporter of southern rock lobster to China.

Earlier in 2017 Ferguson became the first fishery in Australia and the third in the world to gain a prestigious sustainability certification for the shellfish species.

The company was also the world’s first to achieve the Friend of the Sea certification for six other seafood species.

Fishing is a hard day’s work, lifting nets and battling sea swells.


Ferguson’s headquarters is based at Hendon, Adelaide, while it has processing facilities in Port MacDonnell, Port Lincoln and Kangaroo Island.

Among its most recent pursuits is the launch of cooked frozen southern rock lobsters in Foodland supermarkets in time for Christmas.

“This year we have given people the opportunity to buy lobster at a reasonable price ($69 each) and they are guaranteed a high-quality product,” Eliza says.

“We want people to enjoy lobster more than once in a blue moon.”

The cooked frozen southern rock lobster is available at Foodland.

The boxed, cooked frozen southern rock lobsters follow a separate range of frozen fish which was relaunched in November, 2016.

The 200g range includes seven local fish species; flathead, King George whiting, Coorong mullet, gummy shark, southern garfish, Bight redfish (red snapper), and ocean jacket and is available at all SA Foodlands.

It also includes commercial scallop meat from Tasmania.

“The range was around before but with different packaging and it was only available at two Foodlands,” Eliza says.

“We have been so supported by Foodland and the consumers, they love to see our products and they trust the quality.”

Eliza says Ferguson wanted to rebuild frozen seafood’s reputation for being of a lower quality compared to fresh fish.

“Frozen fish has a bad reputation and that’s what we are trying to change,” she says.

“We have picked species that are iconic to SA and freeze well.”

The fish are caught in SA waters by a pool of about 100 local fishers.

The Ferguson family (from left) Kate, Andrew, Debra, Will and Eliza.

Kangaroo Island resident Jason Stevens is Ferguson’s factory manager at the Kingscote facility on Kangaroo Island.

It’s his job to liaise with the fishers who bring in the day’s catch ready to be filleted, frozen and packaged for sale.

“We have to be made available for the fishers at any one time,” he says.

Jason has worked with Ferguson for the past seven years and has previous experience working on an oyster farm on the island.

If he’s not processing scale fish or southern rock lobster he’s showing fish fanatics how its done aboard his fishing charter, Tory M Fishing Charters.

“It’s nice and peaceful here,” Jason adds.

Port Lincoln’s southern bluefin tuna is nation’s greatest seafood success story

Ask South Australian seafood industry spokesman Brian Jeffriess AM to describe the taste of a high quality southern bluefin tuna (SBT) and he struggles to find the words.

“It’s a spiritual experience – it’s that good,” he says.

After 30 years in Port Lincoln’s SBT industry, Brian’s fascination with the saltwater giants is yet to wear off and probably never will.

“Tuna must move one body length – an average of one metre – per second for 24 hours a day to wash enough oxygen over their gills to survive,” says the CEO of the Australian SBT Industry Association.

“It’s a very robust fish and we are lucky enough to have a top-class product here in SA.”

Brian Jeffriess, left, has been in the southern bluefin tuna industry for 30 years, watching the industry become a national success story.

SBT is SA’s largest single aquaculture product, with an overseas export worth $126m.

As the Eyre Peninsula’s most renowned seafood product, SBT is a large, red fleshed, sashimi grade fish that is highly sought after by the Japanese market.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the Port Lincoln industry, which almost collapsed in the 1980s when the wild catch quota was cut by nearly 70%.

This caused major industry disruption, sending several local fisherman into receivership.

In 1988 Brian, a commodities specialist, was brought in to head the SBT Tuna Industry Association to help turn the fortunes around.

Southern bluefin tuna is a premium product on the Japanese sashimi market.

He came with vast business experience including various roles within the Department of Trade and Industry in Canberra, the OECD in Paris, and Mitsubishi Motors.

“In 1989 we decided to try this dream idea of tuna farming, no one had done it in the world but it was either that or bankruptcy,” Brian says.

“People never thought it would work, but there’s something in the DNA of Port Lincoln …”

SBT farming began in 1991 and was pioneered by first generation immigrants – most notably late Croatian Dinko Lukin.

Their innovative inventions saved the seaside town.

Southern bluefin tuna farm pontoons off Port Lincoln.

Now SBT is farmed by fishers who travel out to the Great Australian Bight and catch the species in a purse seine (net).

The fish are then carefully towed to ranching pontoons off Port Lincoln and fed sardines to aid further growth.

The sardine catch used to feed the tuna is the largest tonnage fishery in Australia.

“When the tuna are captured in the wild they weigh about 17kg each … they are towed to the pontoon over 15 days at one knot,” Brian says.

“The tuna mortality rate used to be 14% and now it’s only 1%.

“We taught the rest of the world to do it and we’ve gradually refined the process over the past 20 years.”

Once grown, 90% of the harvested tuna is frozen, while the other 10% is chilled and airfreighted.

Tuna rosettes at the Port Lincoln Hotel.

While more than 90% of SA’s SBT is exported to Japan, Brian says the domestic market is growing.

“The overall tuna industry is worth $400m and that’s understating it,” he says.

“The footprint of the industry on the Eyre Peninsula surprises even me.”

Living in Adelaide and travelling to Port Lincoln weekly, Brian was awarded Member of the Order of Australia for his contribution to the fishing and aquaculture industries.

He says there’s no better place to enjoy the fruits of the sea than the Eyre Peninsula.

“The whole natural environment, the beauty of the place and the climate is superb,” Brian says.

“Adelaide and Port Lincoln are very rare places in the world, there’s nothing in any European city like them.

“It’s as good as it gets.”

Inside the life of SA’s veteran abalone diver

It’s cold, there’s no other boat in sight, and you’re battling swells 18m below the ocean.

For 63-year-old veteran wild catch abalone diver, Rex Bichard, this has been an ordinary day at work for 40 years.

The Port Lincoln local, who is the South Australian abalone industry’s oldest diver, spends seven hours a day prising the underwater delicacies from rocks in the seas off the state’s West Coast.

“It’s a different world down there,” he says.

“You’re in your own mind all day, but on the flip side, you don’t have to see anyone and you’re the boss.”

More than 600 tonnes of abalone – prized by fine restaurants and Asian countries – are produced in SA each year and exported globally.

Generating $22m for the state, it’s one of SA’s most lucrative seafood markets.

Rex wears a chain mail suit to

Rex with his abalone ‘iron’ and wearing his chain mail suit, which protects from shark bites.

Rex dives 12-18m into the deep, cold waters to collect three abalone species; greenlip, blacklip and roei.

Wearing a heavy, stainless steel chain mail suit, to protect from shark bites and keep him on the ocean floor, he uses an abalone ‘iron’ to lift the shellfish from the rocks.

Once collected in his bag, the catch is parachuted to the surface and collected by Rex’s on-deck sheller and brother-in-law Darryl Carrison.

Aside from shucking and icing the abalone meat, Darryl is also responsible for operating the boat.

“We never use an anchor, so the sheller follows the diver’s every move,” Rex says.

“The sheller always has to pay attention.”

Adhering to annual catch quotas, Rex says 150kg of abalone meat is a “good day” at sea.

His catches are delivered to Port Lincoln co-operative Western Abalone which exports mainly to Asian markets while the rest is sent to high-end Australian restaurants.

“Abalone is like a snail that moves around and forages for food,” Rex says.

“They strike on (the rock) with about 300 pounds of pressure per square inch so hopefully you get them before they latch down hard.”

Rex’s love for seafood has been inherited by his two daughters, Amanda and Nicole, who are active in the abalone industry.

Abalone dishes are prized by fine restaurants in Australian capital cities and in Asia.

Abalone dishes are highly valued by fine restaurants in Australian capital cities and in Asia.

After countless hours in the ocean, Rex has found “not much treasure but some peculiar fish”.

Among those less peculiar and more fearsome is one of the ocean’s top predators – the great white shark.

Over the years Rex has been in the underwater path of four of them and knew friends who lost their lives to the notorious species.

“They are a wild card and always a worry,” he says.

“The key is to never turn your back on them, it’s all in the body language.”

Rex, originally from the UK, settled in Port Lincoln as a young boy in the 1960s.

After completing an economics degree and becoming an accountant for a year, he decided his “heart wasn’t in it”.

“I got a job as an abalone sheller in 1975 and I’ve been in the game ever since,” he says.

“Port Lincoln is a great place to live and when I work I like to be by myself.

“I don’t see another boat on the horizon.”

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