Bill Passey, Director of Australia Bay Seafoods, started working on the west coast in a lobster processing factory at the age of 14 years old, living in a shack made with a few sheets of corrugated iron on the sand hills. As a second job, he worked part time as relief crew on cray boats.
“Working hard and saving all my money, I bought a small licenced cray boat when I was 18 years old and was able to start the season debt free,” Bill said.
After 22 years, Bill bought a large wooden vessel and with his teenage son Raymond and daughter Lorna, they sailed north to see what they could find, ending up in Darwin after 12 months, where they started drop-lining in the Timor Box. Bill became curious about what the 13 Thailand fish trawlers were doing in Australian waters.
“There was only one way to find out, so I set up an old net and went to sea and it was quite hard with a compass, paper charts and a slide rule. Turns out they were under license from the Commonwealth.” Bill said.
After 8 years, Bill partnered with Gary Kessell to take Australia Bay Seafoods to where it is today, thirty years after leaving Fremantle.
“There have been many changes but the most significant has been the vast improvement with the environmental practices. When we first started fish trawling the fish were good but there was nothing about what I was doing that I liked,” Bill said.
“There were issues like a tonne of sponge for every shot and up to 20 or 30 sharks and sting rays a day.”
Australia Bay Seafoods set about trying to improve their operations, and the first breakthrough came when they worked out how to lift the net off the bottom enough to reduce sponges by about 98 per cent.
“We put a large panel of T90 mesh (turn 90 degree to open mesh under pressure) near the cod end to let out small fish. We introduced trawl boards to swim and not rely on bottom contact to work,” Bill said.
Bill then invented a successful BRD (bycatch reduction device) for fish trawling which reduced sting rays and sharks by about 98 per cent.
For these initiatives, Australia Bay Seafood were awarded the National Environmental Award. Bill went on to be awarded the title of Australian Ambassador for the industry and was recently inducted into the Fishing Industry Hall of Fame.
“Quite a contrast from my family upbringing on the WA Gold fields,” Bill said.
Bill’s biggest professional achievement is developing the Saddle Tail Snapper industry that today supplies almost every Coles and Woolworth shop in Australia.
“Australians can now enjoy a weekly supply of fresh Snapper all year around,” Bill said.
“R U OK is another great initiative, and good on the government supporting this helpful project.
Bill would like to encourage the government to look at how they can help reduce the root cause of depression and anxiety in the seafood industry.
“The fishing Industry need more security around their property and access rights, they don’t need buy outs that result in someone sitting on the beach with a handful of money,” Bill said.
Australia Bay Seafoods hope to be allowed to fish all their quota, excluding Marine Parks.
Bill would also like to see further expansion of by-products such as Catfish, Trevally and Scad.
“There’s always something exciting with the whole world demanding good seafood,” Bill said
“What’s good for me is good for the industry, I believe in benefiting the entire seafood industry not just myself. That’s how I do business.”