Harbour Fish community success story

Local community-based commercial fishing normally flies under the radar and doesn’t’ make the news— they just get on with it. One of those companies that is fully integrated with their local community is Harbour Fish; a family-owned and operated seafood supplier working across the lower South Island, from Dunedin to Bluff and Queenstown, and being supplied by local inshore fishing boats.

Harbour Fish was a small seafood retailer and wholesaler operating in Port Chalmers, Dunedin, when it was purchased by Damon Cooper in 2003, who had a wider vision on how the family-owned business could be expanded. Soon after the purchase Damon’s brother Aaron joined the team, taking over the day-to-day running of the business and running a stall at the Otago Farmers Market. More of the family have joined in the past 20 years.

The Port Chalmers site was sold and a processing plant in Sawyers Bay was opened, allowing for domestic wholesale and export sales of fresh and frozen seafood. For retail sales, a store was opened in central Dunedin and, later, another in Queenstown and more recently a processing plant in Bluff.

Casting the net wide

In order to supply high quality fresh seafood, the company works with 45-50 fishers in the Southern East Coast South Island and across the Otago-Southland region, catching and supplying a wide range of flatfish species (brill, turbot, soles) and finfish (bluecod, gurnard, monkfish, moki, ling) using a number of fishing methods. Whilst the focus of the business is on wetfish, various other seafood products are sourced, such as crayfish and shellfish for the retail shops. The fishers land into Dunedin, Bluff, Riverton, Carey’s Bay, Moeraki and Taieri Mouth, thereby optimising the number of species available and the freshness of the product.

To bring the product to the customer requires a workforce beavering away behind the scenes in the Bluff and Sawyers Bay plants, and others working face to face with customers in the retail outlets in Dunedin and Queenstown. The company can employ upwardly of 75 people at the height of summer season and less over winter. Retail outlets for fresh seafood nationwide are scarce so Harbour Fish plays a pivotal role to provide this seafood (and an important protein source) in the southern region.

Dynamic community focus

The outbreak of Covid-19 required the company to really think how to operate to ensure the survival of the company and the people that rely on them. To do this they pivoted into home delivery in Dunedin and Queenstown via online ordering and then more widely NZwide. Covid also caused issues with food availability for those less fortunate. Harbour Fish worked directly with the Port Chalmers Fishermen’s Co-operative on the food bank initiative in 2020 helping to coordinate the capture of a quantity of fish and process it for donation to the food bank. This is an example of the community coming together to support each other. More information on this initiative can be found in the October 2020 edition of the Seafood New Zealand magazine on the Seafood NZ website seafoodnewzealand. org.

As well as the Covid initiatives, the company also supports a number of organisations in their communities, which includes school fundraisers, sporting events and charity initiatives. It has also run the Oyster Bash fundraiser for a number of years which supports the Otago Rescue Helicopter and Surf Life Saving NZ and they are hoping they can get back on track with this event once the current restrictions from Covid make it possible.

Harbour Fish is approaching its 20-year anniversary and whilst there have been testing times along the way with regulatory changes and restrictions, as well as a pandemic, the company still continues to strive to supply high quality products and employment opportunities locally.

More information on Harbour Fish can been found at harbourfish.co.nz. Get online and support them or drop into your local outlet.

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