‘We found that some of our unique products were of real interest to chefs in some countries, who now account for around a tenth of our total revenue.’
Innovative products include Bloody Shiraz Gin Caviar, in association with a locally renowned distillery, Four Pillars Gin, and bottarga, a salted, cured fish roe sourced from mullet. This solid, spreadable delicacy is increasingly popular in hors d’oeuvres or as an adjunct to cooked dishes such as pasta.
On occasions, chefs have been invited to the facility to observe and even participate in the egg ‘milking’ process, giving them a proper understanding of the pond-to-plate journey.
In 2022, Nick received support under the Churchill Trust’s Impact Funding, the focus being to work with First Nations people from the Yuin community on Walbunja country (South Coast NSW) to develop a draft business plan for the processing, sales, and marketing of local roe products. The aim is to support community members in creating processing, sales and marketing of roe products sourced from their fishing activities.
‘The roe project aims to capture the value of roe products at the local level,’ Nick explains.
Products are being developed to increase the return from low-value species such as mullet and Australian salmon. The not-for-profit Joonga Land and Water Aboriginal Corporation, in collaboration with the Australian National Centre for Ocean Research and Yarra Valley Caviar, have identified an Aboriginal-led commercial fisheries business opportunity.
An existing Aboriginal fishing business, and another planned, would partner with Joonga to focus on the capture of mullet using traditional fishing practices and handle the extraction of roe for further processing into the high-value bottarga.
‘Bottarga preserves well and fetches a high market price (about AUD264/kg retail),’ Nick says.
‘The mullet roe is extracted by skilled operators, then dried and processed by frequent turning to ensure even exposure to sunlight, together with hourly salting. The process step takes up to seven days during which the roe changes from a highly perishable product to one that deteriorates less quickly.’
Entering this market will benefit both the fishermen and the wider Aboriginal community in three major ways – socially, economically and technologically. Yarra Valley Caviar proposes to buy bottarga from Joonga once they begin processing. Additionally, the local tourism industry will be marketed to by the provision of these products through culturally guided tours and experiences.
Nick continues to work closely with a Joonga planning group to explore the development of employment, business and self-determination opportunities that will see potentially lucrative seafood-related businesses established in the area around the area.
‘From experience, I had the skills and knowledge to contribute to the business plan development process which can help the overall Sea Country Plan to cover a variety of initiatives of benefit to Indigenous people.
‘I know the products well and, through my own business, have a good knowledge of potential markets, both here in Australia and overseas. Contributions are being brought into the project from the community itself and the University of Wollongong.’
Nick believes the project is also of interest to Churchill Fellow fish folks and to fishery funders at both the national and state levels.
Just as importantly, ‘It will also be of interest to State and Federal agencies with an interest in Indigenous affairs,’ he adds.
At every level, the opportunities are vast, important and mouth-watering.