Tasmanian Ocean Produce - Taking The Plunge With Alex Isles

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Publishedon 02/09/2015 - 02:34 am


Periwinkles

Forget crayfish and abalone. There’s other sweet, edible treasures buried beneath Tasmanian waters being rounded up in droves by diver, Alex Isles. 

The 29 year-old started the business, Tasmanian Ocean Produce last year. Alex says he saw a gap in the market and took the plunge. 

“Most of the guys catching periwinkles and sea urchins are doing it on the weekend or for fun. The other guys diving like me seem to focus on supplying big volumes to the domestic markets rather than the niche ones. So I wanted to focus on peris and urchins rather than compete with the big boys for crays and abalone,” he says. 

Alex says periwinkles, or peris, are a large marine gastropod related to abalone. While they may not look pretty, they’re sweet, salty and plentiful. So are sea urchins, a declared pest on Australia’s eastern seaboard.

sea urchin

“The urchin’s a threat to other fisheries, so while I may not be eradicating it, I am getting rid of a few of them!”

Alex says the roe of an urchin, like peris, is best served simply by themselves or in a broth, stew or mixed with butter.

Choppy conditions have allowed us to meet on a Thursday at Hobart’s Criterion Street Café. Alex would be cruising the ocean floor if it were more pleasant out there.

“I dive about three to four days a week, and stay in the water for roughly 5 hours at a time,” he says.

It seems a long while beneath the waves, but Alex wants to be diving more.  

Apart from when his uncle helps out occasionally, Alex is left to manage the entire operation himself. Catching, cleaning, boxing – it all cuts down time in the water, something he’s hoping will change down the track.

That change will hopefully come as interest from Asia in Tasmanian seafood swells and business grows: Alex ultimately wants the Suits of Shanghai feasting on his catch.

But for the time being, Alex is just supplying locally in the hope Tasmanians will come to appreciate an alternative to the usual fishy suspects. He’s made a splash with the restaurants, Smolt and Franklin. David Moyle of Franklin is a particular fan of the peris. 

“I deliver the catch straight from the water so still have goggle marks and am crusted in salt. I love it,” he says. 

Alex Isles

As buzz words like foraging, sustainable, provenance and producer take over the minds of foodies; Alex’s venture is ticking all the right boxes. 

He had worked on his father’s farm at Oatlands before the ocean lured him back to Hobart, where he’s based. From here he’ll drive as far as Bicheno, going where the swell is neat and the pickings promising. 

Alex admits playing slave to his weather app and covering hundreds of kilometers in the car is frustrating.

“But once I get there, I’m rewarded with the best office in the world.”

Where there is will remain a mystery, Alex most definitely resisting the bait when asked about his favourite fishing spots.  

It isn’t smooth sailing, as he tackles the tides of market and Mother Nature, but worth it when he arrives on the steps of an acclaimed restaurant with peris caught twenty minutes ago.

For all sales enquiries please contact Tasmanian Ocean Produce on 0409 581 531 or email aeisles@gmail.com.

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