Awatoru is a small fishing business based on the Kapiti Coast that has recently started to supply our stores with amazing fresh smoked albacore tuna. We caught up with Scott, head fishmerman and co-founder of Awatoru with his wife Maaike, to learn a little bit more about his business.
What inspired you to start Awatoru?
In 2008 we moved to the Kapiti coast, I was working as a carpenter which I wasn’t enjoying. We decided to buy a boat as we live close to the beach and after a chance encounter with a very nice older chap who was selling a small 5 metre boat, that happened to be a registered fishing vessel, he opened me up to the possibility of targeting paddle crabs. Growing up with my father, Brian, running a trawler from Wellington in the 80’s and working for years in the weekends on my uncle's fishing boat at Tora (Wairarapara), I got very interested in fishing for a living.
How did you start the business up?
With the help of our now good friend, the same man that sold us the boat, I started fishing. Initially I was going to integrate fishing with building work, but I soon found out the fishing was all consuming and though the income didn’t reflect it this became my fulltime job.
Were there any significant points of growth?
After a few years of fully submerging ourselves in fishing and supplying wholesalers for at times a pittance, my wife Maaike and I started to look into possibilities of supplying directly to restaurants. In time we established great relationships with the chefs and now we mainly supply direct to them. As the years went on I started to fish for albacore tuna and kahawai as well which I do throughout summer and we integrated other products through the rest of the year, like wild venison, scallops and whitebait. I participate part-time in the wild venison recovery in winter and whitebaiting on the Heaphy River in spring. And throughout the year we smoke the tuna. This provides a range of products for every season which, we believe, is how food should be.
How do the values of organics, fair trade or sustainability factor into what you do?
As a family with children, we like to eat as much as we can of what we hunt or fish and grow. We like to know the history of our food. Maaike brought her strong beliefs from Holland, surrounding ethically grown foods, which has resonated with our food choices, particularly meats. We find it frustrating that the NZ Fishing Industry is still very much focused on bulk catching and the amount of small day vessels around the country is diminishing, which is a sad thing. As a fisherman I am always happiest after a good day catch, but it is in proportion and we try hard to maximise the value of all we catch, meaning less is more. It’s very hard to diminish a fish stock from a small vessel, in fact, it’s impossible to be anything other than sustainable.
What sets Awatoru apart from other businesses?
All the core products we supply are truly wild. We work in with those ‘at the coal face’ and can proudly say there isn’t an antibiotic, pesticide or artificial feed, anywhere near our products. We can give a full history of everything.
Do you have any good stories from along the way?
I have had some great encounters with sharks and whales when fishing for the albacore tuna. Last summer I had a Mako shark take a lure. I began to pull it in and as it got to within a couple of meters of the boat it began tail walking clear out of the water. I waited for it to settle to bring it alongside the boat and try the remove the hook when a second huge Mako took a lure on the other side of the boat. The first shark shook itself free from the hook and simultaneously the large one proceeded to rip the entire set of poles, lines and lures from the other side. It was this point I decided to pull what remained of my fishing gear in and go home for a cup of tea.
What’s your favourite thing to catch?
When the albacore tuna start it can get quit exciting but I enjoy catching anything I target. I enjoy taking my sons out for a recreational/ fun fish most of all.
What’s the catch you’re most proud of?
Like any fisherman will tell you, my wife is the catch I am most proud of, without her there is no chance I could do what I am doing, I would be hopeless.
Do you have any nice recipe ideas for the tuna?
We really like to have it just sliced as an antipasto with some lemon juice and breads etc, or with fettuccini with lemon and cream, in a dip, on pizza, salads, fish pie or straight out of the fridge without anything. For the tuna dip we use cream cheese, smoked tuna, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, lemon juice and a sprinkle of smoked paprika.