Business

Harvest of the ocean

At 11am on Saturday morning the tiny fishing town of Cervantes, due west of Badgingara, is lazily basking in the early summer sun. A young family is occupied unloading their kayak for a day on Thirsty Point and a lone powerboat drones past, temporarily causing the calm turquoise water to erupt in a fountain of white surf.

At the north end of town, a fleet of commercial cray boats bobbing in the bay marks the position of the local Thompson family’s lobster processing and export plant — an enterprise started here back in 1966 by patriarch David (Dogga) Thompson with a single boat and a singularly grand vision. This vision which has carried forward through the generations and now includes a tourism facility which welcomes up to 90,000 visitors annually.

At 12 noon the formerly deserted car park outside the Lobster Shack is suddenly abuzz. Massive tour buses heave in, each unloading up to 50 tourists – primarily Chinese – and they are all hungry.

A day trip to the nearby Pinnacles has whet their appetite for the spoils of Aussie culture and lunch at the Lobster Shack –most of whose 13,000 Facebook followers are from Asia– is long anticipated.

Tourism and restaurant manager Abi Brogan is well prepared. Meals for the hungry crowd have been pre-ordered and are well underway as the guests disembark their air- conditioned coaches to experience first-hand the business of the Western Rock Lobster. As they are led through the processing facility they learn about the fishing, grading and packing process in a choice of 6 languages via the headsets provided.
Eating lobster or ‘dragons of the sea’ has a special meaning in Chinese culture where the crustaceans symbolize a dragon food as part of the dragon and phoenix (chicken) combination for a good marriage. Lobsters are often served at special occasions, but with the rise of the ever-powerful Chinese middle class they are no longer just a delicacy. The Western Rock Lobster industry was worth $400 million to the WA economy last year, and 90% of the catch was exported live to China.

Back at the shack, an average of 350 delicious lobster and seafood meals are served each day, but that figure could soon double according to Abi who opens the doors of her new beachfront extension to the restaurant on December 9.

Abi was literally thrown into the deep end when she joined the family business four years ago as a 23 year-old after meeting her partner, third generation crayfisherman Brent Thompson. She took over running the Shack from her soon-to-be sister-in-law Nikki Thompson and has grown along with the business.

The idea for the rustic style cafe originated out of customer demand – tour bus company Adams asked if they could bring tourists through the factory after visiting the Pinnacles – and they loved it.

Owner David Thompson (Dogga’s son), who runs the fishing side of the Thompson enterprise wasn’t one to miss a business opportunity, and in 2011 the Lobster Shack was opened with Nikki at the helm. Along with freshly cooked lobster meals, you can buy freshly steamed, live or frozen crays to enjoy at home, with prices ranging from $35-$90 each depending on size.

A fire last year which burned out a two storey building and kitchen has allowed the shack to shed it’s former shell and expand to include the new seating area which commands 180 degree views of the glittering ocean and allows visitors direct access to sandy white beach.
“David has many great visions. He is definitely the ideas man,” says Abi, “Future plans include a flybridge seating area out the front which will hold another 250 people, and also a jetty.”

The Lobster Shack is open every day of the year except Christmas Day and is a must-see for overseas guests as well as local lobster-lovers looking to enjoy this delicious ocean-fresh harvest over the festive season.

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