It doesn’t quite match the romanticism of the balcony scene, Act 2, Scene 2, of Romeo and Juliet, but to steal a pearl of a line from William Shakespeare, what’s in a name…that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
The bristly-faced blokes along Goolwa Beach and down the Coorong have called the clams that wash up on the pristine sands cockles for as long as the bush poets have been around, but now it’s pipi.
And some may ask: what’s in a name? For the newly-formed Goolwa PipiCo, which is made up of some of the biggest fishing names along our South Coast, plenty. They are now playing a key role in further turning a product that South Australians have called cockles and used for fishing bait into entering an exciting new national and overseas market that has seen pipi as a seafood delicacy.
Of course, call a cockle by any other name would smell as sweet, but the image has been only one part of this new process – these pipi pioneers have also developed a way to sell their scrumptious clams in new vacuum packaging that ensures the product has twice as much longevity in specialty shops and supermarkets.
Perhaps the real achievement in an industry that, perhaps unfairly, has not always been recognised for looking at the bigger picture is the fact the players who form Goolwa Pipico come from a variety of backgrounds and present an exciting new venture as one.
We have Tom Robinson, who spent much of his working life as a group account director at a city agency telling us big was better and using Mohammed Ali to launch the Mitsubishi Pajero as the greatest 4WD and has never fished professionally in his life, his new business partner John Reeves, a highly-credentialled ex-commercial shark fisherman in the South East, Hoad Fisheries of Hindmarsh Island – dad & mum Kevin & Jeanette, and their sons and daughters-in-law Darren & Michelle and Matthew & Marelle and perhaps soon their sons Jace & Jiye – plus Deb Kessegian and Greg Kessegian who are both recognised as leaders in this fishing caper.
They have pooled their marketing and business acumen, and especially their seemingly infinite knowledge of fishing, to take on the world in a specialist market and in the process provide our spectacular Goolwa Beach and the heritage-enriched Coorong region with priceless tourism promotion.
The bottom line goes much deeper locally because we now have the state’s biggest supplier and processor of pipi on our doorstep – at their Hill Street, Port Elliot plant – previously Coorong Cockles, a business that Tom started in 2002.
Adding to this business expansion the region needs, plus the promotion as a tourist destination, is the fact the group has focused heavily on showing the rest of the world that we must protect the industry by fishing only for what the daily market commands – and not one pipi more. They welcome the strictly enforced industry protection guidelines and permits.
This region should be immensely proud of this new local industry development, and it leaves you pondering why more of our eateries aren’t clamouring – pun intended – to buy our local pipi to further enhance the Fleurieu Peninsula’s claim of promoting its own produce.
The progression has led to Goolwa PipiCo putting its smaller catch in new modified atmosphere packaging, which essentially extends the shelf life of the product from five days to 10. It means you don’t have leaky seafood rolling around in your car. Those in the mussel business have been doing it for a long time, but Goolwa PipiCo is one of the first in Australia to put clams in a pack for consumers.
Great idea, but the overwhelming marketing challenge for the group has always been convincing people to eat something that traditionally we have used for bait, and appeasing conservationists that this industry actually cares for the marine environment.
Tom said until 10 years ago Coorong Cockles used all of its catch for bait, but since then has sent the larger fish to the Asian market.
“The problem was that, until now there hasn’t really been a market for the smaller pipi in Australia,” Tom said.
“There are lots of fish that have gone from bait to food; squid is the classic example where 20 or so years ago most people thought you would not have eaten it. Even pilchards are now considered a sophisticated food product.
“Our cockles or pipi are regarded as some of the best clams you can buy in the world because they come from such a clean environment. It is a very special product; sustainable. We have the product badged MSC (the Marine Stewardship Council) which is recognition that it is coming from a properly managed sustainable resource that will give consumers comfort or satisfaction that we are not harming the marine environment.
“In fact, between 2000-05 we were fishing more than a thousand tons a year, and today we fish only 450 tonnes – less than half. We do that voluntarily because we want to make sure we protect the resource. It is regarded by many as one of the best-managed fisheries in Australia.”
The new Goolwa PipiCo venture makes it a key player in this specialist national market, but according to Tom the merger was mainly created to allow those involved to do the new packaging and drive down the cost of production. The Hill Street factory has been bought, and overall the new business nicely wraps up his journey from the corporate world.
“There are lots of challenges facing the pipi industry, but I am really pleased to say we work very well with some great people at PIRSA (Primary Industries and Regions SA) and those who have been involved with the fishing industry for a long time in this area,” Tom said.
Interestingly, in 2002 Coorong Cockles, which established a good market through the European Union and Asia, sold about 5% of its catch as food. The total domestic industry now sells about 85% as food, with 300 tonne or 90% going to Sydney and Melbourne each year, but with less than a tonne sold in South Australia.
“Generally, few know about pipi as a product here,” Tom said. “They have looked at it as cockle bait, but by combining the real fishing knowledge of the Hoad family, plus Deb and Greg, with this new packaging people will hopefully discover a whole new fresh and succulent taste.”
As they say in the stage classics, like we call processed meat fritz and other states say Devon that we buy in a delicatessen and they go to a milk bar, what’s in a name? Cockles or pipi; it tastes great.