Reeling it in
It’s about sustainable fishing. It’s about sourcing absolute premium produce. It’s about turning your passion into your living and loving every moment of it – even the challenging parts!
Ash Garland and his crew have just pulled into Hobart’s Constitution Dock after three days at sea chasing southern bluefin tuna in Tasmania’s cold clear waters.
They have been fishing, as usual, at Ash’s “secret spot off the south coast” and the waters were teeming. On board, a small cargo of prized plump tuna. Worth about $600 each, most will end up as sashimi in top restaurants around the country.
But what is most incredible about this trip, is that every fish has been caught by hand with a recreational rod-and-reel – one at a time – in the hunt for that perfect specimen.
The contrast with the usual long-line method of catching tuna with its kilometres of line and hundreds of hooks, could not be more stark.
Pioneering? “Yes, we've got some eyes looking down at us. Everyone is talking about what we are doing. It’s a new thing for sure,” Ash tells us.
Ash says he lives and breathes fishing. “I go to work tuna fishing, then I get home and take my mates out tuna fishing!”
Slowly an idea began to form.
He would fish at his usual spot and see schools of tuna swimming past “and no-one was really commercially fishing them,” Ash told us. “I would catch a fair few on my rod and reel and thought: Why can’t we do this commercially?”
Thought became reality when Ash teamed up with local entrepreneur, Rocky Caccavo, and they launched Tasmanian Wild Caught four months ago with the aim of selectively landing sashimi-grade tuna.
“Our market is high-end quality, hand-caught, sustainable fish. A grade above everyone else,” Rocky explains.
They only hunt for big fish, with some as large as 100 kilos taking up to an hour to land. And after doing a visual check while the fish are still in the water, about 70 per cent of the catch is released.
The level of care is unbelievable, with Ash adding “we treat each fish like a baby, to make sure it arrives in the best possible condition.” Mattresses are put on the floor to stop the tuna bruising, and each fish must be cleaned and put on ice within three minutes.
“We even put a special sock over the fish to protect its skin from ice scratches so that it looks immaculate,” Ash explains. “That way when it arrives at a restaurant it looks just like it did when we pulled it from the ocean.”
Tasmanian Wild Caught fishes to order. Ash heads out to sea with a ‘shopping list’ from top sashimi chefs and each tuna is allocated to a specific buyer.
A key is that Ash has been specially trained by Japanese experts in the art of grading fish. Experts like Narito Ishii, who supplies tuna to high-end Sydney restaurants.
As soon as Ash pulls into port, a piece is cut from the tail of each tuna which is compared with a grading board for quality. The best fish are a deep rich red colour, and plump “with lots of marbling in the fat, just like Wagyu beef,” Ash explains.
“We believe the Tasmanian southern bluefin tuna that we catch is the best in Australia, and that’s because of the cold water. The fish need to keep a lot of fat on in the cold to keep their condition.”
Innovative technology created by Tasmanian Wild Caught also allows buyers throughout Australia to watch live the grading process that allocates which restaurant each fish should be sent to.
“People are loving it,” businessman Rocky says. “We are doing something different; we’re using fishing rods and catching to order.”
“But I really have to say this is a tough business, and the first couple of trips were such a nightmare we nearly pulled the plug. However, with Ash’s passion and my business sense we have made it work!”
Images courtesy of Tasmanian Wild Caught and ABC News
25 June 2019, Edition 206