Words and Images by Richard Cornish
Victoria has some of the best fresh seafood in the nation. Our clean waters offer a variety of underwater environments – from the grassy inlets around South Gippsland to the deep water off the coast at Portland.
Our state fishing fleet adheres to the strictest governmental audits and quotas meaning that we can enjoy freshly caught seafood now and into the future.
Our fishing ports also happen to be in some of the most beautiful parts of the state.
Here’s a quick list of places to buy fresh fish, a few hints on the local terrain and some of my favourite places to be served local, Victorian seafood.
1. Mornington Peninsula, Flinders Mussels
Harry Mussel is not his real name, but it suits him. This weather-worn mussel fisherman has spent his life at sea, from surfing the reefs of the Mornington Peninsula to fishing the dangerous waters of Bass Strait.
Tired of sleeping in a cramped berth on board a fishing boat at sea, Harry decided to return to the land and grow mussels – founding Flinders Mussels 20 years ago. He raises his mussels on long lines in the clean, cool waters of Westernport Bay, refreshed by currents from Bass Strait.
Harry’s mussels are known for their rich texture and full flavour, and you can buy them fresh off his boat that’s tethered to the pier at Flinders. He also sells them from a caravan in the carpark – where they are cooked and served either in Napoli sauce or a laksa broth. Get a bowl, sit in the sand and watch the yachts on the bay with Phillip Island as the backdrop. His mussel season runs from summer until the end of the Queen’s Birthday weekend in June.
Also: The team at Bistro Elba in Sorrento have always been fans of Harry’s mussels, so it is no wonder they are serving them up at their new Flinders eatery Donna Maria on Cook Street in Flinders.
2. South East Gippsland, Port Franklin
The fishers at Corner Inlet have been here for a long time. The Bratalung people fished here. The Chinese people fished and dried their fish here and transported it up to the Omeo goldfields.
Today there’s a small fleet fishing the shallow waters protected by the prevailing winds by Wilsons Promontory – finding whiting and flathead closer to shore and gummy shark off the coast.
The quality here is so good that this is where Neil Perry sources fish for Rockpool Bar and Grill.
This is a small fishing village based on the banks of the Franklin River, about 180km east of Melbourne in South East Gippsland. You buy fish fresh off the boat from the Cripps family at 2 South Street, Port Franklin. They are open Thursday and Friday 9am-4pm and Saturday 9am-12pm.
Also: If you like fish and chips by the sea, head to nearby Port Albert and enjoy deep-fried fresh flathead and gummy shark with an excellent local wine list at Wildfish fish and chips – 40 Wharf Street, daily 11am-7.30pm, (03) 5183 2002
3. East Gippsland, Lakes Entrance Fishermen’s Co-operative
The Mitchelsons have been fishing around Lakes Entrance since 1888. Back then, they worked wooden boats along the coast and sent their catch to Melbourne via steamer and train.
Today, they are still working the waters of Bass Strait, bringing in delicious little fish such as sardines. You can buy them at the Lakes Entrance Fishermen’s Co-operative shop on Bullock Island (on the outskirts of Lakes Entrance). Here you’ll find lesser loved but very delicious fish like duck fish, mullet and sand whiting.
The fish is flipping fresh and very well priced. In summer, look for local school prawns and if they have Bass Strait bugs make sure you get a few. Grab an esky with some ice and top it up with freshly cooked prawns, then find yourself a secluded beach on the lakes and enjoy the serenity.
Also: At the other end of town is Miriam’s. Don’t let the 1980s décor put you off. The fish here comes fresh off the boat, and the chef creates old fashioned dishes like whitebait omelette. You’ll find it upstairs at 3 Bulmer St, Lakes Entrance; open daily 12pm-8pm.
4. South West Victoria, Apollo Bay Fishermen’s Co-op
They used to build boats in Apollo Bay and Karlene Maree was one of the last. She belongs to rock-lobster fisherman Russell ‘Frosty’ Frost. who has been fishing the waters from the 12 Apostles to Cape Otway for the past 40 years.
Frosty is just one of 30 or so fishers still working the waters, bringing in lobster (known locally as crayfish), gummy shark and other species.
You can buy them all from the Apollo Bay Fishermen’s Co-op, along with some rather excellent fish and chips. The view from the deck outside the co-op is sensational. It takes in the fisherman’s wharf, the blue bay tinged with gold sand and the green hills of the Otway Ranges.
Also: When a chef is a keen hunter and fisher, as well as a gardener and a farmer, you know you have someone passionate about produce. Steve Earl is the owner of La Bimba – come here for fresh seafood and locally grown produce in a balcony dining room overlooking the Surf Life Saving Club. La Bimba is located at 125 Great Ocean Road, Apollo Bay; open for lunch and dinner Wednesday to Monday.
Oh, and don’t forget that Apollo Bay Seafood Festival runs February 14-16.
5. Western Victoria, Portland Fish Market
The continental shelf is just 60km offshore at Portland, which makes it a destination for sport fishers. The local fishing fleet here target deepwater species such as dory and ling, and lesser loved like very sweet fleshed latchet.
Buy them whole or freshly filleted at Portland Fish Market. Here you’ll see the fishing fleet as well as large ships exporting natural resources from the west of the state.
Consider staying a few nights at nearby Cape Bridgewater – a half-moon bay etched into limestone cliffs with one of the most beautiful beaches in the state.
Also: For good fish and chips, ask the cook at Deegan’s Seafood what is fresh and local. Get them to fry it up and head to the waterside. 125 Percy Street, Portland; Open daily; (03) 5523 4749