With the release of our new sustainable seafood eBook, The Good Fish Book, we thought we’d share a story that puts a face to the issues. It’s the story of Port Franklin (VIC) fisherman Wayne Cripps. Wayne’s family history is steeped in salt water. The Cripps’ family have been fishing for their livelihoods since 1874. It’s the only occupation Wayne has known. But it’s a tough one, not without its challenges. In this beautifully written story, Wayne gives us a glimpse into a world most of us are completely unfamiliar with. To us, it highlights how important it is to ensure we use our shopping dollar to support our local fishing industries and ensure our oceans are healthy… and stay that way.

 

 

 

 

Wind from the east, fish bite the least.
Wind from the west, fish bite best (old saying)

port franklin fresh fish

Excerpt from Seasonal Regional, authored by Sarah Robins and published by Sustainable Table. Photography by Matt Burke Photography.

King George whiting, rock flathead, garfish, calamari, leather jackets – the fishing’s good at Port Franklin, a small village perched on the edge of Corner Inlet in South Gippsland. The Cripps family have been fishing the area since 1874, back when Port Franklin and the local river bore the name Bowen. When plans to strike it rich faltered, Joseph Cripps fell back on the trade he’d practised in England and instead of panning for gold, he fed the miners. Joseph’s great-grandson, Wayne, represents the fourth generation of his family to supply the local community with fish. With two of his four sons following in the family footsteps, Wayne’s doing his bit to ensure things stay much the same.

Fishing is the only occupation Wayne’s had in his 50-odd years, leaving school at 15 to go deep sea fishing in the Bass Strait, the thrill and danger of sharking fuelling a young man’s desire for adventure. “There’s a lot of risk out there in the middle of nowhere, exposed to the elements,” Wayne says quietly. “And I like risk.” Priorities changed once he and wife Linda had children though. Adventure was traded for Inlet fishing or as Wayne calls it ‘puddle fishing’, which enabled him to spend more time with his boys. “…and me,” Linda says promptly, to which Wayne sagely agrees.

After a couple of false starts, Wayne settled into the more confined parameters of the Inlet where competition is stiff and the horizons limited. Challenging issues are plentiful: fish habitat, waste management, seagrass degradation, even land-based drought takes its toll on fishing. Like the other eight licencees in Port Franklin and those in nearby Port Welshpool and Port Albert, the Cripps are allowed two ‘shots’ per weekday, each fishing stint limited to a tow period of just 45 minutes. That translates to an average of three hours for the boat to go out, come back, moor up and be washed down. When the nets come in, the catch goes into an ice slurry to keep it in top condition until the return to shore. Once unpacked, Linda and a helper process the fish. The frames – what’s left after the fish have been filleted – are returned to the water, as regulations decree.

The size of nets used and fish caught are strictly prescribed as are methods to some extent, in that each of the two ‘shots’ must be comprised of a one boat operation, which also influences time and quantity of catch. The fishing expeditions are detailed on paper in multiple copies and spot inspections occur frequently. According to Wayne, regulations in the Inlet are such that some negative perceptions associated with wild catch fishing do not apply. By-catch, for instance, one of the hot topics in fishing worldwide particularly with large trawlers, is negligible in his view, as the nets he uses prevent smaller, untargeted fish from being caught. Similarly, the belief that fishermen work channels is false. In fact, the Cripps spend much of their time in a maximum depth of six foot of water, along the grass beds and shallow waters at the edge of the channel, which is where the fish like to lie.

Fishing is a costly enterprise, with many hidden expenses. Road tax on fuel for the Cripps family is around $350 per day and, as Wayne explains, “…few of those funds go back into waterways.” The constant running of ice machines, ever-increasing administration, maintenance of equipment and other overheads all add up.

Yet when Wayne looks back at his fish returns from 1986, market prices are the same now as they were then. How the Cripps’ came to open their own shop in 2003 and later, to sell at farmers’ markets, is suddenly a redundant question. They’d be mad not to remove the middleman from the equation.

One of the biggest challenges to arise in recent years lies in the introduction of a marine national park, an area which became out of bounds to local fishermen in 2001. Four and half thousand acres were proposed a ‘no-catch zone’. Whilst that sounds enormous to a land lubber like me, proportionately it’s a small area of the 148,263 acre Inlet. The bigger issue was that the suggested area was positioned to encompass the most productive fishing grounds, posing a serious threat to the local supply of fish and as the primary source of income in the area, the entire, albeit small, community. A mild-mannered bloke, Wayne’s an unlikely activist but on this topic, he felt compelled to speak up. And speak up he did, inviting all 138 state MPs to visit and see the reality of the situation for themselves. Thirty-five took up the offer, including Sherryl Garbutt, then Minister for Environment and Conservation. Largely due to Wayne’s lobbying efforts, the park was overlaid on a different area, injecting first-hand knowledge from the local community into environmental protection management.

The result is somewhat precarious, due to the subsequent change of government, natural attrition rate of politicians and ongoing reviews. However, the process raised some vital questions, not least of which is the role of consultation in policy decisions. “We’ve fished and managed the area for over a hundred years, we know it best,” Wayne explains. “Our family’s livelihood depends on sustainability in this area, so why would we overfish? It just doesn’t make sense.”

I tend to think of fish in summer, as a lighter meal, however, Wayne and Linda advise winter is a better time for most species, as warmer weather causes fish to move along, returning to Corner Inlet as the waters cool. The Cripps also suffer more weather setbacks in summer when strong easterlies prevail. Rough waters and high winds prevent them from fishing on these days.

Certainly there’s no shortage of demand for fresh, locally caught fish. Between their shop at the pier, farmers’ markets and orders from local retailers and restaurants, the Cripps tend to sell out quickly, with occasional excess sent to the wholesale market. Working alongside Linda and two of his boys provides Wayne with immense satisfaction, as does being his own boss. Besides, as he says, “what else would I do? Fishing’s bred into me.”

Garfish, whiting and calamari are caught by purse seine fishing, where a net is thrown over the end of the boat with a weight on it and the boat slowly edges away. In a two-boat operation, each end is gathered to bring the net around versus one boat where the net is hauled in by hand.

With rock flathead, the nets are put out and the fishermen wait for the tide to drop as this variety of fish like to go into the banks. As the targeted species generally congregate together at high density, purse seining can be highly selective and have little to no impact on marine habitat.

To ensure the seafood choices you make are supporting our local fisherman and a healthy marine environment, download your copy of The Good Fish Book today, only $15 from our online store.