Find fresh local seafood and fish markets near you with these tips from people who know all about buying seafood and find out where you can buy direct from the trawler.
How to buy seafood
When you walk into a fishmonger, how do you know what to look for when buying seafood? Which are the fish to avoid and what makes the perfect mud crab purchase?
I had a chat with two people who know their seafood. Hervey Bay local and coordinator of the nationally acclaimed Hervey Bay Seafood Festival for 21 years, Elaine Lewthwaite has worked in seafood processing for 50 years, so she knows a bit about buying seafood. Elaine and husband Gordon operate the family prawn trawler Karlyle in the Wide Bay region from Bundaberg to Tin Can Bay. Their catch, which includes seasonal tiger and king prawns, Moreton Bay Bugs and scallops, is snap-frozen immediately during the night’s work.
Karlyle Prawns have a fortnightly seafood pop up at Urangan and Pialba. This is no ordinary market stand. Seafood lovers are told how their seafood is caught and provided with tips on cooking, processing, storing. Skipper Gordon is on hand to answer the myriad of questions about how a trawler operates.
When it comes to buying seafood, Elaine says you should always ask the fishmonger what is in season in the immediate local area as it’s a quick way to find out if they really know their stuff.
“A good seafood outlet should know this and be able to tell seafood lovers. They should know the Moreton Bay season for tiger prawns, sand crabs and squid. When it comes to barramundi, be wary if they say the barramundi is freshly caught when a commercial fishing closure is operating.”
Danielle Dixon is Executive Chef / Head of Curriculum at ICE (The Institute of Culinary Excellence). Her best tips are to buy what is local and plentiful at the time for great price and quality. She also says it is to find a fishmonger who knows absolutely everything about where their stock comes from and is happy to pass on knowledge.
“Once you find one that does just that hang onto them!” says Danielle. “Neil at VJs Seafood is my best in Brisbane!”
I buy my fish from Rufus King Seafood at Ashgrove. They specialise in quality local North Stradbroke Island seafood but also source market products such as fish, squid, mussels and scallops.
Please share your favourite place to buy seafood in the comments below.
Buy fresh seafood direct from the fishers
The upside of COVID9 is that a lot of wild catch fishermen, from the Queensland border to Cooktown, are now selling directly to the public. These professional fishermen have adapted their businesses and seafood lovers now can buy direct from their boats at a wharf, at community market seafood pop-ups, through online orders and via direct delivery. Prices have never been better because fishers have been able to set prices that are excellent value for both parties.
The Queensland Catch Facebook page is a coast-wide service provided by the Queensland Seafood Industry Association for fishers, consumers and foodservice. It is regularly updated on where local seafood is coming ashore from our waters.
Facebook is a key marketing tool for fishermen. Many have their own pages and a following. They post when they are going to sea and when back in port for sales. This assures consumers that the product is absolutely local caught and is direct from the fisherman’s hands. Checking out the local community notice boards on Facebook is also worthwhile. See the list of local fishers Facebook pages at the end of the post. Please add your fisher finds too!
How to buy fresh prawns
When you eat fresh seafood, you want your prawns to be fresh and plump with a great flavour that has just a touch of the sea. Avoid prawns that have brown around their heads as they are older and less fresh. If you look carefully in this photo below, you’ll see some are a little darker around the head – don’t pick them.
Elaine says most of the trawl catch is snap frozen at sea immediately after it is cooked and graded.
“This ensures freshness from trawler to the table. Thawing of the prawns, crabs, bugs is the key to bringing back the product. Personally, I think that buying the frozen product and thawing it yourself is the best way to keep that freshness locked in until ready to prepare the meal.”
Elaine’s tips for thawing prawns and Moreton Bay bugs
Green prawns and bugs – Submerge in a large bowl of water in the refrigerator for a brief time. Ensure the bugs are fully thawed before attempting to remove flesh or cut.
Cooked prawns and bugs – Thaw in the refrigerator or, if in a hurry, submerge in a bowl of lightly salted water (to taste like the ocean) for 20- 30 mins in the refrigerator. Then drain and continue thaw in the refrigerator (this keeps maximum moisture).
Which is the freshest fish?
How do you buy the best fresh seafood near you? Fish that is stored chilled or on ice should have a gloss of freshness with clear eyes, and pink gills. Open the gills and look for a deep red colour. If the gills are pale pink, the fish is much older. The eye should also be plump and clear, without any red. The fish below has just a touch of red in the eye. It can be much more pronounced than this.
There should be no odour as fresh fish does not have a smell. Use these tips to pick fresh seafood.
Choosing the best crabs
When you want to buy fresh seafood, start by turning the crab over and looking under the flap to check the freshness. Avoid crabs with dark colouration. This applies to all types of crabs including spanner crabs and sand crabs.
My Dad had two top tips for buying mud crabs. First, always to look for ground down teeth on the claws and secondly, buy a crab that’s heavy for its size.
Dad thought that ground down teeth meant the crab had been eating up well and there would be plenty of juicy flesh inside. However, mud crab buying is an inexact science and even a lifetime of purchasing didn’t always guarantee Dad the best crab. Sometimes those sneaky crabs had filled up their shells with water.
Cooked Sand Crabs – Thaw in a refrigerator overnight. Not recommended to force thaw in water.
Here’s a recipe for all those beautiful spanner crabs you are going to buy – Matt Sinclair’s Spanner Crab Fried Rice.
The Gold Coast Fisherman’s Co-Op is a great place to purchase straight from the trawler. Photo: Kerry Heaney
How to find your local fishers
Buying direct always depends on weather and fishing closures. Most independent operators are active on Facebook when fishing is happening. Find the fishers that are local to you and watch their Facebook pages so you that you can enjoy their great local catch.
I have focused on fishers on Austalia’s eastern coastline from Northern New South Wales heading north. If this is not your area, try searching on Facebook for your closest marina or wharf and adding prawns to the search. You might be surprised by what turns up.
Yamba – Yamba Prawns
Brunswick Heads Nelle M
Tweed Heads – Sundown Karina Prawn Trawler
Spanner Crabs from the Spannerman
Fresh Cooked Prawns at Runaway Bay Marina
Deception Bay High Noon Seafoods
Shorncliffe Jo-anne Premium Seafoods,
Tin Can Bay
Wide Bay Wildcatch – Fishermen Direct Seafood
Hervey Bay Seafood- Fresh from the Fishermen
When you buy fresh seafood, is it Aussie?
The Seafood Industry Australia will tell you that 70 per cent of all seafood eaten in Australia is imported. I always make sure my seafood is locally caught or farmed. I refuse to eat seafood farmed in Asia, and you might be surprised to learn that often includes barramundi. Here’s where you can learn more about the fishy tales of Australia’s seafood.
Put a visit to the Straddie Oyster Festival on your list and also a stop in Bundaberg which is an epicentre for fresh local seafood. However, your biggest thrills will come from this amazing Tasmanian seafood cruise.