By Melissa Keogh
Whether it’s diving 18m under the sea or running Port Lincoln’s abalone co-operative, Kane Williams has always been at home by the South Australian ocean.
For 10 years he was an abalone diver before swapping reef beds for dry land as general manager for Port Lincoln based processor Western Abalone.
“I was born here and I just love the area,” Kane says.
“Our seafood and our marine environment are as good as it gets.”
Western Abalone, formed in 1982, processes abalone caught by hand from reefs along SA’s remote western coastline.
Divers collect the large sea snails – which are a delicacy in fine restaurants and in Asian countries – from rocks on the bottom of the ocean.
The life of an abalone diver is tough, as they spend up to seven hours in deep, cold waters often sighting sharks and stingrays.
Kane was introduced to the world of abalone by his wife Karine’s family who “needed somebody to help out”.
He had also studied marine science and aquaculture at university and had worked as a commercial diver and biologist in the tuna sector.
“I also worked in aquaculture for the (State) Government in Adelaide, assessing aquaculture farms,” Kane says.
In mid-2014 he landed the role as Western Abalone’s general manager.
“I always delivered my abalone there (Western Abalone) as a fisherman and so had a good understanding of the fishery and the back-end of the business,” Kane says.
“It was a bit of a change to start with but I’ve been really happy with the move.
“Being able to jump into sales and marketing was a lucky occurrence for me because a big part of what I do is working with overseas clients.
“They know I’m not like a typical salesman, if they want to ask me anything about the ins and outs of the industry, they can.”
Western Abalone is at the centre of the lucrative industry in SA, processing about 500 tonnes of both wild-catch and farmed abalone annually.
It processes three species of wild-caught abalone including greenlip, blacklip and roei.
The majority – more than 90% – is exported to Asian markets while the rest is sent to top restaurants in Australian capital cities.
As for the most important question – what do abalone taste like?
“They have a unique, subtle flavour – sweet and clean and a little bit like oysters and lobster,” Kane says.
Western Abalone has set itself strict sustainability standards including annual catch quotas and size limits.
Kane says sustainable fishing practices are more important now than ever.
“We voluntarily implement measures to protect our industry … we are very responsible and proactive,” he says.
“Globally wild catch abalone has been declining for decades and we are very aware of that over this way (the West Coast), where we try to protect the resource as much as possible.
“It’s a highly regulated industry and we are one of the only fisheries that is looking daily at what is happening on the bottom of the ocean.”
Like this story? Nominate a story from your region.
Click here to nominate >>
These inspiring regional stories made possible by: