About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Monday, May 26, 2008
Of Mushrooms and Fish

This is my mate Henry Kernot, the last of several generations of a fishing family dynasty from Tooradin. What does a fisherman do when the weather turns cold? Pick mushrooms of course!

We filled the basket in a couple of hours last Saturday, with slippery jacks (Suillus luteus) and saffron milk caps (Lactarius deliciosus), otherwise known as pine mushrooms. With the long term continuation of dry weather, which now appears to have become a permanent feature, mushrooms of all descriptions are getting harder to find - just like the fish which were once so plentiful in Western Port.

Faced with declining fish stocks and pressure from amateur angling bodies, after a previous voluntary buy-back, the government has compulsorily acquired the last of the netting licenses for Western Port.

The latest acquisition hasn't affected Henry - he sold his license voluntarily when the realisation hit that the fish which formed his livelihood wouldn't come back because of the degraded state of Western Port. The seagrass beds, 70% of which were lost between the mid seventies and mid eighties, that were home to many of the commercial species like King George whiting, garfish, leatherjackets, calamari et al, have mostly died off and huge numbers of fish that relied on them have disappeared in an environmental disaster.

When I was a young lad watching forty years ago, Henry used to stand on the bow of his father's fishing boat as it worked up the extensive channel system of the bay and call out the fish he could see, through 20 feet of crystal clear water. Nowadays, one would be lucky to see the bottom through 5 feet of murkiness.

If this had happened in Port Phillip, there would have been outrage, enquiries and commissions, but Western Port has long been the poor cousin, to which the government could only muster the lame response of a licence buy-back in the hope that fish stocks will recover. But let me say this Mr Brumby, you could ban all fishing in Western Port, professional and amateur alike and the fish still won't come back - not until their habitat is restored.

Before, it was too easy to blame the pros, now you can't. But we can certainly blame you for not acting to take up the challenge of saving and returning to its former glory, what was once Victoria's finest fishery, bar none. Henry will help, he's got nothing else to do.
  posted at 8:14 am

At 1:35 pm, Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Oh Neil, Brumby sounds horrid, name suits him like.
The basket of mushrooms is beautiful and maybe a little scary to a mushroom dummy like me. My dad used to go hunting them, mother wouldn't let us touch them.

At 4:11 pm, Blogger Lucy said...

Am jealous that you managed to get your hands on some stunning, elusive wild 'shrooms.

How do you restore a habitat that's been utterly wiped out?

At 4:57 pm, Blogger t h e - g o b b l e r said...

Nice piece Neil, remarkable isn't it just how resourceful people who have honed their skills at gleaning are able to pick up another means to put bread on the table?
What a sad story & the grim expression on the face of your man belies the fact thats he's got a catch worthy of a two page spread in a food glossy. It is a real reminder that there are a few people out there remaining who have the skill set to fish, hunt, gather, forage for food, not cause its trendy but because it puts food on the table.

At 5:02 pm, Blogger Ed said...

Yes, I'm very jealous of the mushrooms too. We used to hunt them in a wood near Watford in England (in between blackberrying there in autumn) And I'm annoyed about the fish - there used to be a good fishmonger in Hastings with some of the freshest fish you can buy that side of the bay. It used to supply local restaurants.

At 6:43 pm, Anonymous kitchen hand said...

Mushrooming is a greatly underestimated pastime.

(ED, is that the fishmonger who used to sell from a spot near the wharf? I used to buy fish from him when on holiday in Somers.)

At 5:56 am, Blogger katiez said...

Gorgeous mushrooms!
Isn't amazing how we (humans) keep managing to muck up the planet (our house).
Love Henry... He looks like the kind of guy I'd like to tip a bottle with! And then do a lot of listening!

At 10:04 am, Blogger Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

I know a couple of mushroom foragers, but none of them will take me with them when they go to their special secret mushroom places in the woods! How lucky you are to have a friend who will share the experience.

At 2:15 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi tanna, they are beautiful and if you are ever over this way in the Atumn, I will give you a personal mushroom hunting tour.

Hi lucy, that's the $64 question. There have been attempts at replanting that haven't been successful as far as I know. They really need to discover why the seagrass has died, but there doesn't seem to be any studies about it so far, other than measuring the extent of the problem.

Hi gobbler, I was being ironic about Henry mushrooming, he came along with us. The tragedy for him was selling his only means of making a living for about two years of average wages. It was a real insult. How do you retrain someone who has known only fishing all his life?

Hi ed, did you serve your mushies with road kill, maggots and all? -;) I'm upset too about the loss of fish.

Hi kitchen hand, it's one of life's real pleasures. Have I ever seen you perhaps around Red Hill or Flinders?

Hi katiez, you'd love him, Henry has a great sense of humour and doesn't mind a drink or two!

Hi lydia, as I said to the gobbler, I was being ironic, we took henry to our spots, which aren't much of a secret. I'd take you anytime.

At 2:02 pm, Anonymous kitchen hand said...

No, Neil; Dad used to take us mushrooming around Oaklands Junction and Point Cook. Both locations are now under massice housing estates.


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