Apollo Bay Fishermen’s Co-Op is one of only three fishing co-ops still operating in Victoria. Unlike many larger Australian commercial fishing operations that send most of their fish overseas, Markus Nolle, Managing Director of the co-op, is passionate about serving up local fishermen’s catch fresh to the community and supporting sustainable local operations.
According to Markus, far too much of the fish we eat in Australia is imported despite being surrounded by oceans. It’s estimated that 62 per cent of the seafood Australians consume (by weight) is imported, predominantly from Asia, as well as New Zealand and Norway to a lesser extent.
“It’s just crazy especially when you consider the food miles they create,” Markus says.
In contrast, the Apollo Bay Fishermen’s Co-Op promote locally caught fish to be eaten locally. At the co-op shop and fish and chippery, only Australian fish are offered for sale with much of the catch coming from the Tambo Bay, a vessel owned and operated by the co-op. These offerings are supplemented with oysters and prawns sourced through mostly Victorian suppliers found at the Melbourne Seafood Centre.
The team interact directly with their customers through several channels to reduce waste and educate locals on lesser-known varieties. An electronic newsletter sent direct to prospective customers alerts them to the latest catch available for purchase. Customers can take their pick and request that whole fish be put aside. Resident and guest chefs prepare seasonal specialities, answer questions and share recipe ideas at the shop or through the town’s annual seafood festival.
This local focus enables the co-op to offer a fresher product close to the source, as well as employment opportunities to develop expertise in the fishing industry. Tambo Bay, the co-op’s inshore trawler, works as a training vessel for apprentices learning modern, environmentally-conscious fishing techniques from an experienced skipper. This gives the next generation an opportunity to build skills and the regulation knowledge needed to succeed in the industry without significant upfront capital.
Professional Victorian fisheries are regulated using input controls that are designed to manage numbers. This includes gear restrictions, access licences as well as seasonal closures like the closure of rock lobster fishing during their breeding and moulting season. There are also output controls that include quota systems, total allowable catch targets and bycatch limits.
In the past 20 years, Markus says fisheries management has experienced substantial change with closer monitoring and the introduction of more regulation on catch sizes and weights being the most noticeable.
“We're very conservative (in Victoria) now in terms of how we fish and we invest a lot of money into maritime research on fish stocks,” said Markus.
“Sustainability is a low bar for us. Our targets are designed to rebuild stocks, not just to have sustainable stocks.”
Turning the tide on traditional practices isn’t always an easy task but this small operation has been able to improve their practices while keeping things local and educating their customer base to appreciate a more sustainable product today and into the future.
Positive action you can take.
Eat more plant-based meals throughout the week to reduce the drain on limited fishery resources.
Buy local fish and utilise the Goodfish seafood guide to learn about more sustainable fish varieties.
Contribute to restorative projects to put fish into the ocean with One Fish Two Fish
Volunteer your time to help care for nature like planting seagrasses or trees as part of Planet Ark’s National Tree Day.
Feature image - Tambo Bay. Image source: Amber Noseda Great Ocean Photography
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