By Lana Guineay
Twelve months ago, Tom Consentino swapped a desk job for the open sea – and kick started a new way of buying and selling South Australian seafood along the way.
“I quit my job as an accountant to follow my dream of fishing,” Tom laughs.
Opportunity literally came knocking. Wildcatch Fisheries, the peak body for SA’s commercial fishing industry, were looking for a volunteer for their board when they walked through the doors at Tom’s accounting firm.
“I didn’t hate my job at all, but I’d always loved fishing and I thought, as an 80-year-old I don’t want to think, oh I passed up this opportunity, I could have been a fisher.
“So I said yes.”
Working with Wildcatch Fisheries was a chance to re-kindle a childhood love affair that never quite went away.
“My dad taught me how to fish. I recently stumbled across a letter that I’d written and it said ‘Dear grandad, can we go to the beach and go fishing? Love Tom’; I’d written that when I was four.”
A degree in Law and Commerce, and a Masters in Environmental Law from the University of Adelaide later, Tom says fishing was still “in his blood”.
The career sea change has paid off in unexpected ways.
As manager of Fair Fish as part of Wildcatch Fisheries, the peak industry body in the state, Tom is launching Fair Fish – a community-based site and app set to shake up the old-school model of how SA fish is delivered to our plates.
From rustic regional pubs to Michelin star restaurants, seafood is one of the stars of South Aussie dining, but few of us know where our fish comes from or the stories of the fishers across the state.
The traditional way of getting fish to fork has been a matter of days. Most fishers operate a one-person or small business, with the majority of their catch passing through different hands until it reaches the consumer, a process that can take anywhere between 3-5 days.
Tom’s idea: make it a matter of hours.
Fair Fish connects independent fishers across the state with people who want to buy their catch – using innovative tech to fast-track the process.
The idea is an adaptation of community supported fishing, operating like a co-op.
Consumers and restaurants prepay a subscription, giving the co-op a lump sum of working capital to replace gear and stay (literally and metaphorically) afloat.
Each week, a package of seafood is delivered to their door fresh from the boat.
“We allow direct connection to the fishers through our app, with a live feed of what’s being caught on the boats and where,” Tom says.
“Not only can we show you a photo of the person who caught your fish, we can give you the GPS coordinates of where it was caught… subject to fishing secrets!”
The deliveries are made up of whatever has been caught that week, including lesser known varieties, as well as recipe ideas and information about the fisher or crew who caught your fish.
The result is fresher seafood for diners, more consistent prices for independent fishers, and a more sustainable approach to the industry.
Set to launch by December 2017, the service is currently under trial at Adelaide restaurants including Chianti and Peel Street, with chefs enthusiastic about the approach.
Wildcatch Fisheries recently benefitted from a $175,000 Government grant, delivered through Southern Cross University, to develop the project.
For Tom, the “huge gamble” he took to work with SA’s fishers has paid off.
“It has great social impact for the fishers – but people in the city also get to eat the world’s best seafood,” he says.
“We’ve got everything in SA, fish with white flesh, fish with red flesh, we’ve got rock lobster, abalone, oysters, mussels, blue crab… we’ve got it all. You don’t have to travel too much to realise it’s right up there.”
The project is also a chance to tell the stories behind our food.
“Fishers are the quiet achievers, they’re working sometimes 1000kms from a major city – once you get out there in the regions that story kind of dissolves,” says Tom.
Fair Fish helps to close the distance.
“A lot of our fishers are third generation, and hopefully there will be a fourth – we want to keep this going; we want to make sure they get a fair price for risking their lives.”
“I really look up to them. I have a huge amount of respect for people who leave the shore in the middle of the night and get on a rough ocean, so the community can have fresh food…there’s a magic in it.”
“I want to tell the stories of these fishers,” he says, with palpable enthusiasm.
“They’re like comic book heroes.”
Top image: Wildcatch Fisheries SA. Stay up to date with the latest and meet SA fishers on the Fair Fish SA Instagram