Last week we were lucky to receive a visit from our friends at Brae Restaurant in Birregurra. A few of our local fishermen came over to chat about rock lobster aboard Markus’s old school fishing boat Neptune Warrior while the kitchen cooked up some fresh flake and leatherjacket to enjoy on the Co-Op deck.
The sunshine almost made us forget the full moon weather over the weekend, but after a few days of big swell and changing wind directions, the fishermen are looking forward to the closed season break. Fourth-generation fisher Glenn treated us to a few stories of the weather west of Cape Otway and we heard about freak waves – like waterfalls flowing into the sky – and the time the boat was picked up by a huge breaker and surfed straight toward the cliff. The weather can change four times between the Bay and the other side of Cape Otway, he told us. Brett, whose family has fished from Apollo Bay for three generations, had just come back from King Island and the outer reef where the big danger for him was a container ship ploughing straight through the fishing zone. It takes about four hours to get that far out in fair weather, so his day often starts at midnight to put out the first line of pots in the early morning, fishing through till 3 or 4 in the afternoon.
There was a lot of talk about the weather at sea but fishermen like Frosty are just as worried about the weather on the land, as the recent drought affects river run-off into the sea and with it the food made available for crayfish larvae. Add that to the seismic testing being carried out by oil and gas companies – where rafts of air guns plough through the ocean delivering blasts that travel down to 8 kilometres below the sea floor and back with catastrophic effects on delicate plankton and krill. There are plenty of challenges ahead for maintaining healthy crayfish numbers.
Yet according to Markus, commercial fishing in Victoria is one of our most sustainable food industries as it is so highly regulated, unlike the 75% of fish eaten in Australia sourced from international waters. The method for fishing lobster is non-invasive, as crays simply crawl into the pots. When the pots are lifted, each cray is checked for sex and size and either put straight back into the sea or kept in a well in the hold which is open to the surrounding seawater. When the boat returns to harbour, the crays are taken straight up to the Co-Op and transferred to a tank filled with water continually pumped in from the harbour. There is no waste and no trauma for the crays. A maximum of one third of the population is fished each year and only older females with two breeding seasons behind them are taken. When you eat crays at the harbour – or a little further inland at Birregurra – that is a very small footprint.
The fishing season closed last weekend and will re-open on November 15. Out at sea, young male lobsters are shedding their shells to make room for growth and females are carrying around half a million tiny eggs under their tails. The two-month break ensures the crays can breed and grow in safety while they are at their most vulnerable.
We got a few questions about what other fish our lobster boats bring in. If you come into the Co-Op you will already know we get a fair range of fish as by-catch which Alan usually posts on our Facebook page: shark, snapper, mixed scale fish and octopus. Brett told us stories of catching octopus with tentacles seven or eight feet long stretching from above his head down to the deck. Judging by the octopus salad we tried a little later, the crays they feed on make Apollo Bay octopus taste pretty good. We are so lucky to have a variety of good, fresh food coming straight into the bay and it’s great to hear a story or two about how it gets here.