16 Dec 2021
True South Seafood’s Simon Owen reflects on growth during a global pandemic and the company’s plans for a sustainable future.
It’s been an amazing 3 years of growth for True South Seafood.
The company was formed from a merger between a Tasmanian abalone exporter and a New Zealand seafood business. In 2021, the business re-branded to True South Seafood to better represent the company, its location and its commitment to ethical business.
It is now a leading supplier of premium Tasmanian and New Zealand wild-caught, live abalone and Pāua. It is also one of Australia’s largest exporters of sea urchin products.
Every True South Seafood product is carefully selected and sustainably hand harvested. A team of expert divers bring generations of experience and a deep respect for the marine environment to the job. They skilfully deliver only the best abalone, Pāua, and urchins from seafloor to shore.
This passion for ethical and environmentally aware business practices saw True South Seafood recognised as the Sustainability category winner in the Australian Export Awards.
Growth in the face of COVID-19
True South Seafood did not start exporting sea urchin roe until 2018. Just 3 years later, 90% of its products are sold internationally. Year-on-year revenue increased by 80% in the 2020–21 financial year.
True South Seafood’s Manager Australian Operations Simon Owen is incredibly proud of the growth. Especially since it happened during a global pandemic.
‘When COVID-19 struck, we really didn’t know how hard the industry was going to be hit and how long those effects were going to last,’ he says. ‘It really knocked us to a standstill for about 3 months.
‘But through sheer grit, and assistance from all of our amazing stakeholders, we managed to push through. We had to find a way to keep the business running because so many people depend on it. Failure wasn’t an option.’
True South Seafood is active in markets throughout Asia and the US. It plans to further expand these in the coming year and begin exporting to Europe.
‘Export is critical to our business,’ says Owen. ‘We just don’t have the local demand to sustain a business of our size.’
Harvesting urchin: a win-win for the environment and the industry
True South Seafood has invested over $5 million to design and build its urchin processing facility. This reduces its dependence on comparatively high-risk, low-margin live abalone.
It’s also great for vulnerable marine ecosystems. Urchin harvesting and processing is a key control mechanism to preserve Tasmania’s precious coastal reefs.
True South Seafood has been working with the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) and The University of Tasmania (UTAS) to control the spread of the invasive long-spined urchin for more than 3 years.
True South Seafood has established markets for the valuable roe in the US, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Taiwan. The company has set itself the challenge of converting the natural waste into something usable.
Pioneering new sustainable products
‘We are currently pioneering an organic fertiliser product, under the brand Urchin Organics, from what used to be the waste from the sea urchin processing,’ says Owen.
‘As the waste accounts for over 90% of the total weight taken, it was a big problem. We’ve designed and tested a machine to do a job nobody really knew how to do.’
True South Seafood is working with DPIPWE, UTAS and the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture. Together, they have developed a product which is being tested on sunflowers, apples and grapes. Initial results have been promising.
This entire process is done using 100% renewable energy from a large solar panel installation at the True South Seafood factory in Electrona, Tasmania.
Plans for development in 2022
True South Seafood plans to start constructing a new factory in 2022. This facility will enable the company to produce value-added products from both urchins and abalone. It will also create 100 jobs.
The investment is a win-win for the environment, the industry and the community.
‘We’d like to grow this business, but we want to grow it sustainably,’ says Owen. ‘We set ourselves the ambitious target of zero fish waste by 2025. We are currently ahead of schedule in making this a reality.’
True South Seafood is also working on solutions to remove polystyrene and plastics from seafood packaging. ‘I think this is going to be our next big challenge,’ says Owen. ‘But it’s one we are steadfastly committed to.’
Supporting local families
True South Seafood employs more than 80 people south of Hobart. It also contracts about 25 diving families around the coast of Tasmania.
‘It's really important to us that we’re able to provide a livelihood for so many people,’ says Owen.
‘Our staff, our divers and our partners are incredibly hardworking. They’re so proud of the recognition the business is receiving through the Australian Export Awards. It’s great that we can give them the recognition that they all thoroughly deserve.’