In the early 1960s it became apparent that the commercial crayfish fishery had to be managed and a three month closure was subsequently implemented. It was during this enforced time off that several rock lobster fishers began exploring the deeper water off Bicheno with drop-lines, searching for blue eye trevalla and other deep sea fish.
Allan Yates was amongst the first to explore these waters. ‘We went exploring out in deeper water here off Bicheno. But our monofilament snoods [short line attaching a hook to a main line in sea fishing] kept getting bitten off. We later found out they were gem fish. Anyway, we experimented, and came up with this system of wire snoods. Next thing, we come across these blue-eye trevalla. Anyway, we unloaded this 600lb of fish [blue-eye] at the processor. Let ourselves in and locked up on the way out. Next morning Tommy Cooper, the Manager, rang saying that they didn’t want the fish, couldn’t sell them. So I had to go around and collect them up and dump them on the tip.’
During another oral history interview with Grace Bailey, the wife of the late Tim Bailey, and her son Andrew, it was revealed that the other person involved with this early exploration was in fact Tim Bailey. ‘This beautiful fish and we couldn’t sell it. He [Tim] put them on the market [on the mainland] and sold them as barramundi. And that’s how they got going’ recalled Grace.
The two fishermen also persisted with the local markets as well, finding a niche market within the Tasmanian counter meal scene. ‘We had a chap here that owned Silver Sands. He had just started Silver Sands and they had a big freezer there. And he came to us and said “these are the best fish we’ve ever had”. He said “we want to continue this for counter lunches.” So anyway we would catch them, fillet them and put them in plastic bags and get cash over the counter. They filled their freezer up’ recalled Allan. ‘He was also involved with…the Inn Keepers [group], they had restaurants all around the state from Strahan right round to Lenna at Battery Point [in Hobart]. A local, Bill Bailey, used to go around all his motels and keep the stock up. Have a look in the freezer and send some up. This is the trade we built, that’s how it started. They had counter meals all around Tassie. And we got paid under 2 shillings a pound.’
Andrew Bailey added to this story, ‘it was actually dad [Tim Bailey] who went down and cooked them for the patrons at Silver Sands. He’d don the old chef’s hat and went in and cooked them all up. “What do you think of this?” And of course it was an instant hit.’
‘And in the fish book they were supposed to be 10 inches long and caught off South Africa and New Zealand or somewhere.’
Andrew also remembered finding new fishing grounds and encountering new species with his father. ‘Dad was coming back from Flinders Island, he’d always have his sounder on. And he ran over this little bit of a pinnacle. So he joined a couple of trevalla lines together because it was pretty deep. And these colossal great big trevalla came up. We went back again, and every hook got cardinal fish on them. So we ended up cutting a few fillets off and giving them to one bloke here [at Bicheno] to see if it killed him. Gave him a feed to see if they were alright. And we sent four bins down to CSIRO to see what they were. And in the fish book they were supposed to be 10 inches long and caught off South Africa and New Zealand or somewhere. These [cardinal fish] were 3 foot long and like a great Atlantic salmon or something. And of course that [the pinnacle] became St Helens Hill and the orange roughy fishery.’
Bicheno has a very long history with the commercial fishing industry, with species such as crayfish, abalone and scallops being the lifeblood of the town for many decades.