Abacus counts on the crabs

Posted: April 1, 2010 in Marine

Shark Bay and Carnarvon port, home to the award winning business, Abacus Fisheries.

Peter and Sandy Jecks have built an award-winning business at Shark Bay, Western Australia. Blue swimmer crabs are their focus.

Once regarded as an inferior product – a humble by-catch of the trawl industry – the blue swimmer crab from Western Australia’s Shark Bay is today recognised as a world-class seafood.

Former shark fisherman Peter Jecks and his wife Sandy, owners of Abacus Fisheries in Carnarvon, 1000 km north of Perth, are key figures behind the rise of the Shark Bay blue swimmer crab to fine dining status.

As winners of several prestigious business awards, the Jecks have been praised for their  “imaginative, enthusiastic and aggressive promotion” of the prized blue swimmer crab from World Heritage listed Shark Bay.

The WA Fishing Industry Council said the Jecks had demonstrated a “wonderful pursuit of excellence” in all aspects of producing their premium product, from purpose built crab-catching vessels, to perfecting the processing of the crab, to national and international marketing, to promotion to both the hospitality sector and the consumer.

Peter Jecks, a man driven by a ceaseless quest for improvement, says it has been an “exciting ride” since they began fishing for blue swimmer crabs with an experimental licence in 1998.

 Today, the Jecks own three of the five licences available for Shark Bay, and Cummins is playing its part in the success story that is Abacus Fisheries.

 Harvested in pots daily, the live crabs are taken to Abacus Fisheries’ factory in Carnarvon where they are cooked, processed, packaged and chilled/frozen within an hour of their return.

They are sold as whole crabs or used to produce crab meat which is extracted by hand from the body and claw.

The Jecks are also developing new crab products by recovering and utilising what was previously waste meat and juices. “We are now basically utilising every skerrick of the crab,” Peter Jecks explains.

Close to 40% of Abacus Fisheries’ product is exported to Japan.

Peter Jecks… “The support from Cummins is fantastic.”

Two Cummins-powered vessels are playing a key role in the Abacus Fisheries business. Each of the purpose-built 12.5-metre catamarans  – designed by Mark Ellis – pulls and sets 450 crab pots a day.

“They’re a sensational boat, and the support from Cummins is fantastic,” says Peter Jecks.

“We got Peter Brookes from Cummins involved in the engine room layout when the boats were being built, and that has eradicated issues we had with previous vessels.

 “If we don’t have reliability we can lose a lot of money. Having a boat down for just a couple of days would cost us between $40,000 and $60,000.

“We actually carry a spare powertrain so that if we do have a major problem we probably only lose one day.

Both Abacus vessels are powered by dual mechanically-injected Cummins C8.3 engines rated at 430 hp and operate at speeds up to 30 knots. They clock up 1500 to 2000 hours a season (November 1 to June 30), and new engines are installed every 8000 hours to underpin reliability and keep maintenance costs to a minimum.

Peter Jecks has bigger 16-metre boats planned for the future, and the Cummins QSM11 engine is favoured for these.

“We’ve always found Cummins engines to be outstanding value for money,” he says.

His association with Cummins dates back to the early 1980s when he was a shark fisherman out of Perth, and Cummins’ back-up service since then has ensured his loyalty to the brand.

“I had an NH250 Cummins in a 50-foot plank boat that I first used for commercial shark fishing,” he recalls.

 The biggest shark caught by Jecks was a 4.2-metre (14 ft) white pointer that the West Australian newspaper photographed and labelled ‘Jaws Jecks’.

“I also had a K19 Cummins in a 65-foot purse seiner that we used for catching scaly mackerel out of Geraldton,” he says.

One of the two Cummins-powered vessels that play a key role in Abacus Fisheries’ business.

The K19-powered vessel was then used by the Jecks for their experimental Shark Bay licence for blue swimmer crabs, before their purpose-built crab boats went into service in 2002.

The Jecks also had stints fishing for cray and pink snapper prior to their Shark Bay crab venture. They exported sashimi-grade snapper to Japan– the springboard for developing their blue swimmer crab export business to Japan.

In 1998, the Jecks shipped their first container of frozen, cooked blue swimmer crabs to Japan. Two containers were sent that first year, and the business has since peaked at 25 containers for one year.

 In building their business from scratch, it certainly appears that Peter and Sandy Jecks now have every angle covered with Abacus Fisheries – from crab pot to chilli crab!

 

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