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Ferguson Australia Lobsters

Photo by Matt Nettheim

Interview with – Eliza Ferguson of Ferguson Australia.

Ferguson Australia catch and distribute gourmet rock lobster and seafood products to exclusive retail & food sectors around the world. A third generation owned and run business, this successful enterprise began off the coast at Kingston in South Australia with one small boat and a very determined grandfather.

“We moved from the land to the sea, in those days it was very unusual.”

Our business started in Kingston with my grandfather making the move from farming to fishing. The going was tough on the land and he made the very brave decision to pack up and buy a boat. Together with his best mate and fellow farmer, he set out on a new venture.

“They were mates, they were competition, but they were mates first.”

It was a bold move, but a good one, everyone was new to it all. The fishing industry was and still is small enough that whilst you’re all healthy competition, there is enough sea out there that you all do your own thing. At the end of the day, how successful you are is determined by your skill level.

“Our main product is live southern rock lobster.”

We fish king crab and southern rock lobster. When you buy a license it is specialised, you can’t just fish for everything, so my grandfather chose to become a lobster fisherman. Some call it crayfish, but actually the correct name is southern rock lobster, for the record.

“Every book is like a sustainable treasure map.”

Each fisherman keeps a precious logbook, it’s their life’s work and they keep it very close to their chests. They will hand it down to their children, it’s all very secretive and for a very good reason. The book keeps track of where they’ve fished, what they’ve fished and when they’ve fished. This information ensures they never work the same areas the following year, it spreads what we call the fishing effort, over a large area. Most importantly, it keeps things sustainable.

“We’re at the whim of Mother Nature, it’s as unpredictable as it sounds.”

It’s so unpredictable from one season to the next and beyond weather, it really comes down to the skill of the fisherman and the state of the season of course. We’ve become weather gurus, you have to know how to understand the forecasts. My dad still to this day will watch the forecast on TV and communicate with fishermen out at sea, it’s literally their lives at risk out there and he likes to keep watch over everyone.

“It’s important that we practise sustainability in our fishing.”

We are lucky in Australia, we’re such a young country and have learnt a lot about sustainability from the actions of our counterparts in rest of the world. Many countries, like China, have out fished their own waters and don’t have many actionable policies in place to fix it. Where as the UK are implementing certification to help restore their waters. Australian fishermen have a great profile, but there’s no real recognition internationally, so we as an industry body are working with the South Australian Rock Lobster Association to get MSC certified (Marine Stewardship Council) which means our lobster will be recognised as sustainably fished. This will support export but also support the industry here at home. Before every season, the fisheries go out and undertake a rock lobster spatial testing to gauge numbers. This impacts quotas and whether they’re reduced or increased for the season. Then each fisherman purchases a quota license and works towards that. It’s heavily regulated and all lobster crates are tagged and recorded before they go to market.

“Three generations later and we’re going strong.”

It’s in your blood, once you’re in the seafood industry, you’re kind of hooked. My grandfather still fishes Kingston, the rest of our family fish off Kangaroo Island and Pondalowie bay in the Yorke Peninsula. The whole family is  passionate about the business, with my parents, siblings, auntie, uncle and now my 17 year old cousin joining us too. We have a fleet of vessels moored off the peninsula, six now in total.

“It’s important to pass on the knowledge, share our skills for the future.”

Dad mentors so many young lads coming through the fishing industry, he has done that for years, it’s in his bones. Our family intend to continue this legacy, building the business and supporting the entire industry where possible. We buy seafood from over 150 families and we try to support as many fishermen as we can through constant research and development into new products and different ideas based around the industry.

“You know, we’ve actually been used as target practise by the Navy, well they had us going anyway.”

This is one of Dad’s stories. He was out fishing one time way out at sea and a submarine just rose out of the water right next to him. The hatch popped open and a couple of guys stuck their heads out to say hello, Dad says you could hear them all just laughing their heads off below deck, just as a bit of a joke. Actually I think it scared him a bit, scared the fish too.