Export markets don't get all the Limestone Coast's seafood bounty, writes David Sly.
'Blokes in Port MacDonnell reckon they're in the southern rock lobster capital but I'd say it's here in Robe," Sky Seafoods proprietor Andrew Lawrie says with a sneaky grin, knowing his declaration will cause hot debate among Limestone Coast neighbours. Lobsters pulled from the Southern Ocean are regional emblems coveted by tourists. "That's why I bought this business," Lawrie says.
"To make sure visitors to Robe can get a feed of lobster when they come into town, to remind them just why we're so famous."
While 97 per cent of the catch put through the Sky Seafoods processing factory is bound for export - with some lobster weighing up to eight kilograms - Lawrie also has fresh crustaceans at the factory door, though the price can fly beyond $100 a kilogram. Most tourists prefer to try the delicacy at local restaurant Sails At Robe.
The Limestone Coast catch extends far beyond shellfish. The Beachport Seafood Company plunges snapper and gummy shark into saltwater ice slurry moments after they hit the boat deck, keeping their flesh firm and supple.
Within 48 hours of being caught in deep ocean waters, fish are landed, processed into fillets, sealed in Cryovac, frozen and shipped immediately.
Restaurants were initially sceptical about taking frozen fillets but local clients including winery restaurant Upstairs at Hollicks in Coonawarra and Sorrento in Mt Gambier have become enthusiastic supporters, saying the colour, texture and flavour exceeds expectations.
Careful handling is also a hallmark of Coorong Wild Seafood, located near the mouth of the Murray River at Meningie.
Here, fisherman Glen Hill, who was named 2009 SA Seafood Producer of the Year for his sustainable practices, sells Coorong mullet, redfin perch, golden perch, mulloway, callop and pipis (cockles) at the fish-processing plant behind his home.
The Coorong's iconic fresh fish shop is a rusty red caravan marooned beside the Princes Highway. Since 1987, Shane Richards has sold local fish from The Red Van perched on the edge of his farm near McGrath Flat, about 20 kilometres south of Meningie. Richards used to catch the fish but now stays on his farm to tend 100 sheep and roars up to the van on a quad bike when the service buzzer is pressed at the counter.
He buys yellow-eyed mullet, mulloway and flounder from local commercial fisherman Garry Hera-Singh, which sell at a steady trickle "but not enough to make me retire," he says drily.
The Limestone Coast's international fame as a seafood provider has magnified further due to inland fish-farming.
Robarra barramundi farm in Robe uses spring water to grow the white-fleshed fish.
In Millicent, Limestone Coast Trout has developed into a tourist attraction, with visitors examining the hatchery and shaded outdoor tanks where up to 50,000 fish grow. The visitors can buy fresh or smoked fish from the farm gate shop or dine on cooked fish, caught and filleted straight from the tank.
Produce from the land is equally abundant and diverse, prompting the formation of Limestone Coast Food Group in 2002, marshalling boutique food producers that specialise in goods from extra virgin olive oils to freshly roasted coffee. Many group members promote their wares through farmers' markets and the publication of the Limestone Coast Real Food Trail encourages tourists to visit farm gates for tasting and sales.
Michelle and Chris McColl at Kalangadoo Organic Apples only sell apples freshly picked at their orchard and only when each apple variety is fully ripe, between February and May.
Seasons last about four weeks for each variety; the apples never experience cold storage or refrigeration and if they aren't sold within four days, the McColls reclaim them for juice sold in glass flagons at their orchard. "We know how great these apples taste straight from the tree," Michelle says. "And customers deserve that pleasure too."
Sky Seafoods 58 Robe Street, Robe, (08) 8768 2899.
Beachport Seafood Company Iluka Road, Beachport, 0428 358 043.
Coorong Wild Seafood Lot 10, Yumali Road, Meningie, (08) 8575 1489.
Limestone Coast Trout 91 Lossie Road, Millicent, (08) 8733 1407.
Kalangadoo Organic Apples Mount Burr-Kalangadoo Road, (08) 8737 2028.
Coast with most
Restaurants and cafes that showcase Limestone Coast produce:
Sails at Robe 21 Victoria Street, Robe, (08) 8768 1954.
Bompas Casual pub dining, 3 Railway Terrace, Beachport, (08) 8735 8333.
diVine Cafe Cafe and produce store, 39 Church Street, Penola, (08) 8737 2122.
Fodder Superior pizza and coffee, 5 Memorial Drive, Coonawarra, (08) 8736 3170.
Kitchen @ The Poplars Winery Cafe and produce tasting room, Riddoch Highway, Coonawarra, (08) 8736 3065.
Pipers of Penola Fine dining, 58 Riddoch Street, Penola, (08) 8737 3999.
Sage & Muntries Country-style bistro, 78 Commercial Street West, Mt Gambier, (08) 8724 8400.
Stark's Bakery Famed for its crayfish pies, 10 Standish Street, Port MacDonnell, (08) 8738 2409.
The Robe Providore Cafe and produce store, 4 Victoria Street, Robe, (08) 8768 2119.
Upstairs @ Hollick Winery cellar door dining, Ravenswood Lane, Coonawarra, (08) 8737 2752.