Tue 02 Jul

Five Foraged Seafood Species You Need to Try

Did you know the tradition of eating seafood is as old as our country itself? Indigenous Australians not only foraged for a range of species, but also developed sophisticated infrastructure such as traps, nets, and stone weirs to sustainably fish Australia's estuary systems. 

While commercial fishing methods have evolved significantly over the years, many consumers aren't aware of just how many Australian seafood species are still hand-harvested. From urchins to oysters, foraged seafood is responsibly sourced, diverse, and (most of all) delicious.  

National NAIDOC Week celebrations are held across Australia in the first week of July each year (Sunday to Sunday), to celebrate and recognise the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples... Making right now the perfect opportunity to delve a bit deeper into this topic.

Here are five of our favourite foraged species that we think you should try, if you haven’t already!    

Note: If you want to try foraging these species for yourself, make sure to do your research on the licenses required, and relevant catch limits in your area. All species mentioned are available for purchase at ۵ַ.  

  

Sea Urchin  

Australians truly don't know how lucky they are to have near-endless supply of cheap Sea Urchin on our doorstep. One of the most highly prized seafood species in the world, a bowl of Uni and rice could set you back up to $40 in Tokyo, while they sell for only $5 a pop at ۵ַ.  

Not only are Sea Urchin hand-harvested by divers, but they are also a pest species, meaning that their harvest actually improves coastal ecosystems!   

  

Cockles and Pipi  

Indigenous Australians have harvested Pipi (also known as Goolwa Cockles in South Australia) for the past 10,000 years. This is confirmed by the fact that middens in the vicinity of the Murray River mouth in South Australia are composed almost exclusively of the shells of adult Pipi. Many Australians, Indigenous or not, have childhood memories of digging through the sand for Pipi or Periwinkles on family holidays or at their local beach.  

The great news is that these various foraged bivalves have not lost any of their deliciousness since then. Commercially, all of the supply of these bivalve species is hand-harvested – much by Indigenous Australians, in places such as Eden – meaning that this industry is a truly artisanal one to this day.  

 

Periwinkles and Turban Shells  

Australia's coastline is home to a range of sea snails, with the most popular for eating being Periwinkles and Turban Shells. Those who turn their nose up at eating snails are encouraged to think of France's national dish, and reconsider their position – these little guys are delicious!  

Periwinkles are harvested by hand from intertidal zones around the entire Australian coast, while Turban Shells are mostly harvested by divers off eastern Tasmania, with some excellent fishers of note working on the mid-North coast of NSW (hi, Greg Finn). Supply of these species is limited to ensure their populations stay strong, so if you find them in a retailer at ۵ַ, consider it your lucky day.   

Take them home, boil or steam them in their shells for about 10 minutes (until the meat can be extracted using a fork, pin, or special pick), then serve with lashings of butter and garlic, a zingy dressing, in salads, or as a pickle.  

 

Oysters  

Before oysters were considered a luxury, they were a valuable food source for many Indigenous Australian communities. These communities historically collected oysters from rocky shores, estuaries and tidal flats. There has even been evidence found by scientists that some Aboriginal groups may have farmed oysters!  

While the commercial supply of oysters is now driven by aquaculture in various estuaries around Australia, this species is still technically and historically a foraged one.  

Some of our seafood educators have enjoyed an oyster or two straight from the rocks, but they point out that the carefully developed oysters that come from aquaculture are significantly bigger, and better developed than ones you can find yourself... So perhaps stick to slurping back a dozen from the shops unless you're feeling particularly adventurous!  

  

Octopus  

Once you’ve graduated from the above species, and you're feeling like your life lacks adventure, you’re ready to forage octopus. You’ll be part of a tradition that stretches as far back as inhabited Australia and will find out just how hard subsistence living can be on the body.   

What you’ll need to do is first, identify the territory favoured by the octopus. The only problem is that you are now on the trail of arguably the ocean’s most versatile and intelligent creature. Consider it the all-time reigning hide-and-seek champion of the sea, five hundred million years in a row.  

Fortunately, the males will be easier to find, as part of their strategy to attract a passing female is to scatter their hunting trophies around their burrows. Crab shells, bivalve shells, and any inedible refuse that can demonstrate their capacity to provide (note: this does not work on human women).   

So, if you can see a hole in the muddy or sandy bottom, surrounded by this refuse, you can assume that there is an octopus inside. Now, all you need to do is stick your precious hand inside a dark hole to grab a creature with a beak that can snip through bones like butter. It should be noted that a 5kg octopus can fit through a hole smaller than a golf ball, so you may end up with a lot more animals than you anticipated.  

  

Whether you try foraging for these species yourself or just purchase them from the shops, hopefully, this list has given you some appreciation of not only how labour-intensive hand-harvesting can be, but also how delicious the resultant seafood supply is, and how lucky we Australians are to have affordable access to it. 

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