WA Day brings together people from all walks of life to celebrate the uniqueness of Western Australia and what’s great on the plate.

There’s a day in June filled with family traditions and culinary get-togethers that showcase the richness of the state’s coastal bounty with plenty of seafood on the menu where western rock lobster takes pride of place – and for a good reason. Western Rock Lobster fishers have long been the stewards of WA’s seas, with multi-generational families who have a deep knowledge of the seafood they catch and the rhythms of the ocean where they work.

This world-class fishery is based on the spiny lobster (Panulirus cygnus) found along Western Australia’s coastline, stretching from North West Cape to Cape Leeuwin. In 2000, the WA rock lobster fishery became the first in the world to be certified as ecologically sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). It’s an ongoing commitment to responsible fishing practices for generations to come.

A Taste of Tradition

Behind every lobster fisher lies a story of hard work, passion, and a deep connection to the sea. Take Fedele Camarda, a seasoned fisherman from Fremantle whose expertise in catching western rock lobster is in his heritage. A third-generation lobster fisherman with over 30 years of experience, Fedele’s family’s fishing legacy spans five generations, starting with his Italian migrant grandfather in Cockburn Sound during the 1890s, with Fedele following in the footsteps of his father, Jim, to pursue a life at sea. “It’s in the blood!” says Fedele, who began fishing at 18 and worked during his school holidays while studying for a teaching degree at university. “At first, I had to get used to the hard work and suffered from some cray poisoning. In time, I grew to love the job and realised I could still teach in off seasons.” 

Today, along with his brother Joe and son James, Fedele skippers their boat, Neptune 3, taking it out to the ocean three to four times a week. Their family approach is a testament to their love for the ocean and commitment to their craft. “I feel very fortunate to do what I do,” he says. “Western rock lobster is unique because it is caught in the pristine waters of our West Australian coast, which makes it the best product in the world, in my opinion. And it feels very West Aussie; it’s the perfect meal in any season with family or friends.”

 

Fedele Camarda (R) is a seasoned fisherman from Fremantle © DG Imagery

Respecting Western Australia’s coastal ecosystem

Venturing further north to the Abrolhos Islands, Justin Pirrottina’s family has also been fishing these waters for generations. Justin’s knowledge of the Indian Ocean’s rhythms and the habits of the western rock lobster is imprinted from childhood. As is his dedication to preserving the natural environment with respect for Western Australia’s coastal ecosystem.

A second-generation fisherman with three decades of experience, skippering his boat for the last 25 years, Justin operates out of Geraldton and Jackson Island in the Abrolhos, near where he grew up in the 1970s on a coral atoll 70 kilometres in the Indian Ocean. It was an unconventional childhood, but he relished, “I could never have imagined growing up that way. Even today, it’s so isolated. There are no cars or phones. Every day, I feel lucky. It’s like a calling, boats and the sea.”

Justin’s father, Pinny, started fishing in the Abrolhos in the ’60s, creating a life of waterside adventure that hooked Justin from his youth. Today, with his brother, lobster fishing is ingrained in his family’s history. “It’s the most pristine, untreated environment anywhere in the world,” he says, adding, “I can’t believe this little place is stuck in the middle of nowhere. When I bring people here, they are awestruck.” 

 

Western rock lobster takes pride of place on the table © DG Imagery

Father-son whose love for fishing runs deep

In Dongara, a coastal town steeped in maritime history, George and Clay Bass are a father-son duo whose love for fishing runs deep. Their shared passion for bringing the finest western rock lobster to local markets and dining tables is part of their bond. Their efforts not only support the local economy but also promote the sustainability of this seafood resource. “Our fishery is truly sustainable for wild-caught species,” says Clay. “Quite a lot of lobster farming is done by raising them overseas. So, having an ultra-sustainable resource makes western rock lobster unique and benefits the whole community through the sustainability means we have taken. Making it easy for the recreational fishers for generations to come.” 

Clay’s dad, George, began lobster fishing with his father around Dongara in 1962 while still at school. Today, he leads three generations of the family in the business, which has been involved in Western Australia’s fishing industry for decades. The Bass clan owns Australia’s largest rock lobster fishing boat, POPPA G, which stretches 24 meters long and can hold up to 200 lobster crates, over six tonnes.

“We love lobster, and there are so many different ways to cook it in the kitchen. You can enjoy cooked lobster on fresh bread or as part of one of the most delicate meals. My favourite is little lobster bites wrapped in bacon, then barbequed or pan-fried. The bacon’s saltiness and the lobster’s delicacy are the best match – with a chilled beer or glass of SB!”

 

‘Back of Boat Lobsters’ stationed at key points from Fremantle up the coast to Kalbarri © WRL

WA Day My Way

WA Day is a celebration of Western Australia’s rich tapestry of cultures and creativity that define the state and its cuisine. It takes place over the first weekend of June, with events ranging from family-friendly activities to cultural performances and culinary get-togethers. Families gather for feasts, restaurants craft exquisite lobster dishes, and communities come together to honour their shared heritage. It’s a day when the humble crustacean becomes a symbol of the traditions that define Western Australia’s deep connection to the ocean.

Keep an eye out for western rock lobster at various locations across the state as part of ‘Back of Boat Lobsters’ stationed at key points from Fremantle up the coast to Kalbarri, where you can purchase fresh lobster from local fishers from the morning’s catch.

For more information, visit backofboat.com

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Main image © Ian Anderick

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