How South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula is leading the way in sustainable seafood, from Cockles to Kingfish

You’d think this was as fresh as you could get, but at nearby Coffin Bay Oyster Farm, the distance from the water to the plate is even closer – just a few metres. “This is one of the most fertile areas in the area,” says Al Khoud’s owner, Ben Kateral. A sandbar at the mouth of the bay helps create a bottleneck for the daily tides, locking in nutrients in the water to create a rich feeding ground for oysters. This means Ben can produce some of the best oysters in the country – and fast. “It only took 18 months for this species to grow,” he says, peeling oysters the size of a palm. “Anywhere else, it would take more than two years.”

To give visitors an insight into what it’s like to work on the farm, Ben built a wooden pavilion that’s semi-submerged in the shallows. From here, we watch farm hands sort out baskets of oysters, and learn how to peel. Knife in hand, I work to open the peel and shove the slippery bite back. It’s like a kiss from the sea, the plump flesh giving off a light and slightly sweet flavor. It’s perfect with a glass of crisp citrus fruit poured by Riesling Ben. The wine is as local as oysters—it hails from the Henschke Eden Valley vineyard, 50 miles northeast of Adelaide, where Ben tells me that six generations of the Henschke family have been producing wine since 1866.

Read more: Hunting for black truffles in Western Australia

Despite the disruption caused by Covid-19, Benn says there is one positive side. “It’s only during the pandemic that our work has increased, I suspect because Australians are starting to realize what they’ve had in their backyards all the time,” he says. As international travelers slowly return, Ben says there is a sense of relief from seeing hungry visitors wading through the shallows again.

However, enjoying the abundance of the sea does not always mean paddling to harvest it. In Port Lincoln, at The Fresh Fish Place (a seafood wholesaler with a café) my lunch arrives—two juicy slices of King George’s egg, grilled and modestly seasoned with lemon and parsley—in a swish of paper that evokes childhood fish and chips summer. As I dine, my eyes wander across the marine bric-a-brac scattered throughout the café, from reclaimed driftwood carved into fish to a pair of ornate white chairs swirling upwards in wave-like peaks.

“King George whiting is a local favourite, and it’s what everyone grows up about here,” says cafe supervisor Angelica Sunset. She takes me behind the scenes to show me the drive-through area where anglers stop at any time of the day and deliver their catch straight to the slide room. From there, it is prepared and cooked to order. “Our menu is directly affected by the seasons and what our anglers catch,” Angelica says. “If it was a windy day, we wouldn’t have a lot of fish to sell, which can surprise people if they are used to getting fish from supermarkets. We make sure everything is captured and sustainable.”

“Sustainability” is the word on everyone’s lips here. Overfishing during and after the boom of the fishing industry in the mid-20th century led to the collapse of fish stocks. Anticipating their demise if they do not act responsibly, the fisheries of the Eyre Peninsula have adhered to catch quotas – and undergo regular review – to help regulate the industry, and monitor species. Angelica told me these limitations explain why The Fresh Fish Place hasn’t stocked pink snappers in three years.

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