As the barramundi season gets underway, the sector is relying on fashion and fertiliser to cut down on waste.

David MacDermott is the owner of Mermaid Leather in Esperance, WA.

Geoff Diver, chairman of the NT Barramundi Licensee Committee, said there was a desire in the industry to use 100 percent of the fish, and one idea that came out of that was turning barramundi skin into leather products.

“Also, a significant portion of the heads and frames will be going into fertiliser (and) I know some companies are looking at barra burgers, using anything that might previously have been an offcut.”

Northern Australia’s commercial barramundi business is considering some cutting-edge waste-reduction strategies. “So there’s about half a tonne of [barramundi] skins ready to be tanned as we speak,” he told ABC Rural.

Over beers, ideas

The concept came to his brother Andrew and his friend Bob while they were working in the fishing sector, according to David MacDermott, proprietor of Mermaid Leather in Esperance, WA, which has been creating fish leather items since the 1990s.

“For years we’ve been quietly banging on the door to try to make people aware and wake up that the commercial fishery needs to do something about its sustainability and more usage of the fish itself,” he said.

“Selling fish heads for cray bait, frames for fertiliser and skin for leather, for example [is great] … otherwise it all ends up in landfill, pretty much.”

“They saw the waste, the amount of waste generated by the commercial fishing boats they were both working on,” he said. “And the idea was developed around a BBQ over a couple of beers one day.”

He said that the business had struggled during the pandemic, but he was encouraged by the barramundi industry’s efforts to limit waste.

The most often used fish leather

Mr. MacDermott said he made handbags, wallets, and belts out of a variety of fish species. “Of all the fish leathers I do, the barramundi is by far the most popular; it appears to sell the best,” he remarked.

“The barramundi is a wonderful choice since it’s quite consistent and has a lovely large skin — for a fish.” He also stated that he wanted to eliminate waste in his own company.

“To make my business more sustainable, I also harvest the barramundi scales… I separate them and use them as a handicraft material; in fact, I use them to construct ear-rings.”

The Northern Territory’s yearly commercial barramundi fishing season runs from February 1 to September 30.

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