Star of the West: Fremantle Octopus swims to the top of menus globally

Diners worldwide are delighting in sustainably caught octopus from Western Australia.

Innovation and a commitment to sustainability is paying off for Western Australia’s Fremantle Octopus. The company’s wild-caught octopus is winning over chefs and diners worldwide.

Fremantle Octopus started when lobster fishers began catching the octopus that were stealing the lobsters from their pots. That was 24 years ago. Octopus was not recognised as a commercially viable product at the time, and the founders would take their catch to local markets.

The market has grown considerably since then. The fishery is now worth an estimated A$8.3 million. The Fremantle Octopus brand is now in retailers and on menus at Nobu in Australia, Whistlers Ski Resort in North America, Arcane in Asia and the Maison Estelle in the UK.

Innovative traps ensure commercial viability

Fremantle Octopus is responsible for the patented ‘trigger trap’, which significantly increased catch rates in the fishery. Traps are designed to catch only healthy, adult octopus and protect them from other predators. Adding a sustainable organic bait has further increased the traps’ effectiveness.

Since introducing the traps, the fisher’s productivity has increased 260%. While it is still small in global terms, it reported a catch of 744 tonnes in 2023. Fremantle Octopus was named the fastest-growing fishery in Australia between 2017 and 2023.

Sustainability achieves MSC certification

The traps’ design also eliminates by-catch and ensures they do not continue ‘ghost fishing’ if they become dislodged. Weighted lines reduce the risk of whale entanglements.

With support from the Western Australian Government, the fishery achieved Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification in 2019. It is one of only 2 MSC-certified octopus fisheries in the world, and the only one operating year-round.

Research suggests small-scale octopus fishing is likely to grow in importance as a sustainable food source. Octopus is a high-protein, low-fat food product. It is proving resilient to environmental changes such as ocean warming. The octopus’ breeding cycle also means stock replenish themselves on an annual basis.

Fremantle Octopus’ MSC certification, vertical integration and full traceability across its supply chain is increasingly attractive to domestic and international buyers. These buyers are concerned about seafood sourcing for environmental, sustainability and health reasons.

‘Sustainability is key from a foodservice and retail perspective,’ says Manuel Barbera, Austrade’s Senior Business Development Manager for Spain and Portugal. ‘Buyers in Europe want to know they're buying sustainable products. Australian regulations are strict and some of the best in the world in terms of environmental practices. This guarantees long-term, high-quality seafood exports, and sets Australia apart.’ 

A cooked octopus tentacle with a mini side salad.

Wild-caught octopus from Fremantle Octopus is appearing on menus worldwide.

Sustainability plus taste proves a winning combination

Western Australia’s unique species of octopus is officially named Octopus djinda, from a Noongar word meaning star. Growing in pristine waters, the octopus live on a diet of lobster, blue crabs, abalone, prawns and scallops.

‘If you are what you eat, these octopi are gourmet eaters,’ says General Manager, Emma Davison. ‘We process them naturally so you can taste the flavour of the lobster in the octopus.’

The unsurpassed taste, product quality and consistency are helping win over foodservice customers. ‘A comparison yield test can show our product has up to 2 or 3 times higher yield than competitors,’ says Davison. ‘It is more consistent and cooks faster. Our price might look higher per kilo in raw format, but we are able to demonstrate it’s cheaper cooked on the plate.’

Finding the right partners

In a difficult economic climate, price can be a barrier. All measures that bring the price down make a difference. In that respect, the removal of the 8% tariff under the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement (A-UK FTA) is helping.

‘We’re in discussions with some large buyers in the UK and elsewhere in the world who are having issues with consistency of their product. Of course, price is another factor that drives their decision. The A-UK FTA helps here too,’ says Davison.

However, the company is realistic that creating market relationships will take time.

‘It is really important for us to select the right the partners to work with. Partners who share our belief in the category growth,’ says Davison.

Those will usually be businesses, and their customers, who prioritise sustainable, naturally produced, additive-free products. That includes businesses like Whole Foods Market in the US and UK, which both now stock Fremantle Octopus products.

Austrade’s support helping win international markets

Attending trade shows such as Seafood Expo Global is an important way to get in front of customers.

‘It is also critical to access and validate in-market information,’ says Davison. ‘That’s where the local and industry expertise of someone like Manuel is invaluable. He’s been a great support and connection to local markets and buyers in Spain.

‘It is all about the repetition though,’ she adds. ‘It might take several years to win some markets over. We have to commit to going back every year to nurture those conversations.

‘Ultimately, we are confident we are providing our customers the best product available in the market. And in the end the product always delivers.’

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