• Michelle Meehan | Features Writer - intouch

Prawn, Crab and Everything in Between


Fresh is best when it comes to seafood according to Robert Gauta, and he should certainly know – he spent 15 years as a fisherman and is now general manager of the Newcastle Commercial Fishermen's Co-operative.

Every day he oversees the delivery and sale of countless tonnes of seafood caught by the co-op’s 110 members, who fish commercially from Tuggerah in the south to Seal Rocks in the north across a 200km stretch of coastline that includes estuaries, lakes and the open sea.

From prawns and mud crabs to salmon and bream – plus hundreds of species in between – the co-op has been the number one supplier of quality seafood to Newcastle and the Hunter since 1945.

And the secret to their success by and large is the freshness of their offering, with many products able to make the journey from the seas to your serving dish in a matter of hours, especially if you choose seafood varieties when they are in season. Right now that includes the ever-popular king prawns, which have been flowing into the co-op’s six receiving depots and four retail outlets since the end of March.

Arriving just in time for another bumper Easter trading period, the king prawns will stay in season until around mid-May and Robert said the quality and quantity had so far been good.

“King prawns are absolutely in season, we’re getting both small and medium prawns locally caught overnight, and they’re as fresh as they’re ever going to be,” he said.

“Easter is our second busiest time behind Christmas and all the stars lined up for us this year, we had fresh prawns including king prawns coming in every day, which is a huge boost for us and meant sales were up, which is pleasing.

“On a good week we’d get 1 to 1.5 tonnes of king prawns every day, and in this part of the world, we’re spoilt because with the overnight catches they’ve got no preservatives on them.

“You can’t beat that fresh as a daisy overnight (catch), some of them might have been caught a matter of hours ago. They’re great for sandwiches or in salads, throw them in your curries or cook them up in your stir-fry, you can eat them any way you like, that’s the beauty of them, although if you ask me I think the best way is just to peel it and eat it – the less you do with it the better.”

Also in season at the moment is some sensational sea mullet, although if you want to put it on your plate fresh, you’d better be quick according to Robert.

“The sea mullet is running up the coast and out at sea spawning right now but it’s a short season, it only lasts a couple of weeks,” he said.

“They've been catching them off Stockton for a few weeks now, and they’ll be catching them in Shoal Bay and Port Stephens soon before they start moving further north.

“Some people like mullet when it’s caught in the river but others swear by the sea mullet that’s been swimming in the salt water for a few days. It’s a much-maligned fish, but a fresh mullet is as good a fish flesh as any, it’s flaky like bream, and when they’re fresh, they’re beautiful, especially on the barbecue.”

The Newcastle Commercial Fishermen’s Co-operative was established in 1945 to provide services to the local commercial fishers, with a focus on fresh, local and sustainable seafood.

While a number of factors including the volume vary considerably year on year, Robert said the annual catch by the co-op’s members was valued at around $13 million to $14 million.

“Our focus on fresh, local and sustainable seafood sets us apart from our competitors, and when you buy from us you are supporting local fishermen and their families,” he said.

“As most fishers reside in the area the income stays in the district and profits generated by the co-op are distributed annually to shareholders based on the value of product consigned.

“We are proud of our reputation in the community for being the supplier of the freshest seafood money can buy. Not only do we have the freshest seafood, but our fishermen also use sustainable methods of harvest, keeping our valuable seafood sources secure for the future.”

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