Mendolia Seafoods chief executive Jim Mendolia with an Australian wild salmon. Picture: Danella Bevis
Prominent Fremantle fisherman Jim Mendolia will next week crank up the first dedicated seafood canning operation WA has seen this millennium.
At the same time, his business, Mendolia Seafoods, plans to turn Australian wild salmon, widely considered more suitable as bait or cat food, into a gourmet specialty, paving the way for better returns for WA fishers catching the under-utilised species.
A second-generation Sicilian fisherman who sets off from Fremantle at 2am every day to catch sardines, Mr Mendolia is tapping into his company’s established Australia-wide distribution network for fresh, frozen, marinated and crumbed sardines.
Mr Mendolia said he got the idea of processing the Australian salmon, caught between Esperance and Bunbury, because they had reached overpopulation levels in the ocean and were depleting sardine populations.
He buys the Australian salmon from fishermen who catch them for the limited bait market, offering them new opportunities.
The cannery will process about 100 tonnes in its first year. Picture: Danella Bevis
Mendolia Seafoods will also can longtail tuna, another under-utilised fish, caught north of Carnarvon.
“We want to encourage more consumption of local fish to replace the big amount of imports we see,” Mr Mendolia said.
He expects to broaden the appeal by combining the fish with locally produced olive oil and native botanicals such as wattle seed and lemon myrtle leaf, in recipes devised by local chef Peter Manifis, formerly of Incontro, South Perth.
“This is mostly a specialty store and fine foods product, but the demand is certainly there,” Mr Mendolia said.
The multimillion-dollar state-of-the-art canning operation in O’Connor, with most equipment imported from China, was made possible with financial support from local backers Nat Taddei and family, and Ennio Tavani, who is chairman of Mendolia Seafoods.
Fish will be cleaned and cooked at the new premises and canned, or put into plastic containers before undergoing a pasteurising process to extend shelf life.
Mr Mendolia expects in the first year the cannery will process about 100 tonnes of the Australian salmon and about 200 tonnes of tuna, as well as sardines, in 155g and 425g cans. The cans are imported from Indonesia, and the business will fill 150,000 cans in its first year.
At the outset, the plant will employ 25 people, but has room to grow as demand increases.
“We also could start processing the wild salmon for a gourmet pie, which we are working on with another partner on behalf of a big customer,” Mr Mendolia said.
“The pies have the potential to process another 10 tonnes of salmon a year,” he said.
Mr Mendolia is no stranger to the fish canning industry.
Twenty years ago Mr Mendolia’s family ran a canning business for sardines, but a virus caused by imported fish forced it to close.
There was also, until about a decade ago,a facility at Albany which predominantly canned fruit and vegetables, but did some Australian salmon as a sideline.