Meet a member: Bil Colthurst of Fishing International Supplies and Hardware
Bil Colthurst is the owner of Mooloolaba-based Fishing International Supplies and Hardware, the premier supplier of commercial fishing gear in Australia for more than 35 years. Tuna Australia spoke to Bil about how the business started and has grown, his product innovations and why sustainable fishing matters.
How did you get started in the commercial fishing industry?
I came to Australia in 1984 as the captain of a charter yacht to participate in the America’s Cup Race event in Fremantle (1986-87). I expected to spend 12-18 months in Australia and then move on to the Indian Ocean on my round-the-world voyage. However, after four years, I had fallen in love with Australia so much I decided to remain and apply for permanent residence, becoming an Australian citizen in 1992.
I founded Concerto Computers in Devonport, Tasmania in 1989, which grew to become the largest computer manufacturer in the state (not a big brag—it’s a small state). All three of my children were born in Tasmania and we still love it. But as many Tasmanian children reach their teens, all they can think about is getting off the island, so we relocated to Mooloolaba for grade school and high school.
How did you start your business, Fishing International Supplies and Hardware?
Concerto Computers bought a small Queensland company called Gloweez® in 2001 that had one item in five colours (glow sticks used by longliners to catch tuna and swordfish). It was the simplest, most modest business imaginable. I started in the garage of my house in Buderim, delivering glow sticks directly to the boats in Mooloolaba from my ute. In 2006, Concerto Computers rented a small 8x8-metre tin shed on the back of DeBrett’s Commercial wharf in Mooloolaba and bought several small commercial chandleries, combining them all under one trading name: Fishing International Supplies & Hardware (FISH). We have been trading under this name since 2006, but parts of the company are more than 60 years old.
What services does FISH provide?
We are now the premier supplier of commercial fishing gear in Australia. From the beginning of only one product in five colours, we now stock more than 6,000 individual items for fishermen worldwide! Every day of the week, we send commercial fishing supplies to every fishing port around Australia. We also regularly ship to New Zealand, South Pacific countries, South American countries and South Africa.
We are a one-stop shop for about anything commercial fisherman needs, from small single operators to large fleets operated by huge companies.
We are proud to be 100%-Australian owned and managed.
How does your business support tuna companies and Tuna Australia?
We listen to our customers, and we give them what they want. We are the trusted warehouse and inventory managers for all our customers. They trust us to have the best quality of every item they need in stock at fair prices and the ability to deliver to them on short notice anywhere in the country.
Often Phil Ravanello or David Ellis from Tuna Australia will come to us with an idea. Together we create a plan to test, develop, test again and improve over and over. Innovative ideas lead to improved methods and products to develop the tuna industry. Recently, we have worked with Tuna Australia on upgrades to the design of GloLeads, and to develop an artificial “squid” bait that is currently being tested in the fishery.
Who are the staff behind FISH?
The general manager, Craig Bath, has more than 25 years of experience in commercial boats and fishing supplies. The assistant manager Jonathan Linsdell is an expert in the hardware and engineering side of the company. Jonathan has been involved with FISH for more than 10 years. Peter Phelan (recently retired) has more than 40 years experience in commercial fishing supplies, having worked around Australia for several companies before joining FISH about 8 years ago. Koby Ottaway, the rookie is a superb businessman and IT specialist. Together they, along with a select group of casuals and part-time staff, keep costs down, efficiencies up and manage millions of dollars’ worth of inventory.
Why is sustainable fishing important in commercial tuna longlining?
Commercial fishermen depend on the pelagic fish returning year after year to remain in business. Australian commercial tuna fishermen are among the most environmentally conscious in the world.
Sustainability is the ONLY way to stay in business.
Fishing export-grade tuna and swordfish is a very capital-intensive business. It is folly to think only for today. My customers depend on sustainable fish stocks, and they are dedicated to protecting the resource—a valuable national asset that belongs to ALL Australians and recognised by the Marine Stewardship Council.
Australian commercial fishermen are the most regulated, ecologically efficient and environmentally responsible fishermen on planet earth. Administrative costs, licencing costs, operating costs, and fishing quota are all VERY expensive in Australia. Innovation is front of mind to survive in the long term.
What fishing products has FISH developed?
We have developed several innovative products for commercial fishing including:
- a patented and registered-designed deep-water Gloweez® glow stick
- an item that literally saves fishermen’s lives—the GloLead® that prevents dangerous flybacks of leaded swivels
- new hook shapes that reduce by-catch while increasing the catch of targeted species
- greatly improved tori lines (special devices to scare away endangered sea birds while setting the longline), by collaborating with brilliant scientists and clever fishermen.
Craig is never satisfied to sit back and watch it all happen. He is always thinking of new ways to improve our existing items. For instance, we are currently in discussion with chemists for developing new, environmentally responsible cleaning and maintenance products that meet commercial fishing and fresh fish exporter standards.
These innovations pay back in multiple ways. Not only do they avoid environmental damage by preventing the accidental killing of ecologically important sea birds, but they improve the fisherman’s profitability (any bait or hook taken by a bird or turtle will not catch a fish). By mitigating sea bird, turtle, toothed whale and shark catches, we catch more target fish.
It [product innovation] is a win-win for the industry, the ecology, the country of Australia and the clever and careful businessmen of the tuna fleet.
What is your favourite tuna or swordfish recipe or dish?
I love a fresh, thick tuna steak quickly seared on both sides by a very hot griddle, so it is sealed on the outside while warm, moist, and pink in the middle. Cook in butter or olive oil with a little salt and perhaps a drop of Tobasco. Put it on a plate with broccolini and salad. You can keep all the fancy recipes and sauces for the gourmands and tourists. I’ll have my fresh tuna steak washed down with an ice-cold IPA or glass of red.